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Roadside Attraction

Brown once made his kicks near Route 66, and the 'world's largest totem pole,' in tiny Foyil, Okla.; now he stands tall for Seahawks

January 31, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

FOYIL, Okla. — Come summertime, folks in cars and RVs tracing the path of historic Route 66 -- even the occasional tour bus -- will see the sign and turn off the main highway toward the house where Seattle Seahawk kicker Josh Brown's parents still live.

Their destination is on the other side of the two-lane country road from the Browns' brick ranch house: a towering piece of folk art made of painted concrete and advertised as the world's largest totem pole.

"Just down the end of our driveway, probably 300 or 400 yards, a 90-foot totem pole," said Brown, who could see it from the window of his bedroom, still a shrine to the athletic accomplishments of an eight-man football phenom who will represent his little town -- population 234 at last official count -- in Super Bowl XL.

"It's pretty fun. I tell people, 'Why wouldn't you go to Foyil? The world's largest totem pole is there.' "

Brown, 26, is among several small-town boys who have made it to the biggest spectacle in sports, quite a ways from the house overlooking what amounts to the Watts Towers of the plains, completed in 1948 after 11 years of toil by one man and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 02, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football -- In Tuesday's Sports section, a graphic about the hometown of Seattle Seahawk kicker Josh Brown cited Foyil, Okla., as home to the world's tallest totem pole. The 90-foot-tall, 18-foot-diameter concrete totem is reputedly the world's largest, not tallest. Among those that claim to be taller is a 173-foot pole in Alert Bay, Canada.

As Sunday's game between the Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers approaches, there is pride all around Foyil, from the totem-pole gift shop to the 155-student high school to the House of Prayer Holiness Church on the outskirts of town, where an autographed photo of Brown is displayed just outside the sanctuary.

"We might be a little strange, but I have a picture of him hanging in the foyer," said House of Prayer Pastor Richard Hubbard, better known as Brother Hubbard to his congregation.

"It has a message: Josh is a nobody from a nothin' town and a nothin' school who played eight-man football and his daddy wasn't a coach. He did it all on his own," Hubbard said.

He also knows Brown made missteps. During college at Nebraska, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault after a fight and later was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, but he put those mistakes behind him and now volunteers at Vacation Bible School every summer.

"That's what I want people to understand. They can too," Hubbard said.

With its one-room city hall and two-block downtown, Foyil looks far from so-called civilization, even though it is only a 35-minute commute to Tulsa. But it is the sort of place where families stay for generations, and where former city dwellers like the Browns come for a little elbow room and schools where you don't have to pass through a metal detector to go to class.

There wasn't a lot for Josh to do in high school but play sports, and that was the way Kenneth and Quana Brown liked it.

"We tried to keep him tied up," Quana said.

Josh felt like "the city kid coming to the middle of the country" after moving from Tulsa, he said.

"There was a lot of violence around the school I was at," Brown added. "It wasn't what my parents wanted for me. We bought a house and moved out there. It was almost a dream that people are as wonderful as they are. Everybody knows your name.

"There isn't really even a town. There's the gas station, the Top Hat Dairy Bar, an air conditioning place. ... There used to be a deli, where the old men would sit and drink coffee. High school football was all there was. The older gentlemen would come to practice. I compare it a lot to the movie 'Varsity Blues.' "

The youngest of four children, Josh was in eighth grade when the family moved, and he didn't waste time before introducing himself to football coach Rick Antle, now the Foyil High principal.

"The first thing he said to me was, 'I'm a kicker. When are you having kicker tryouts?' " Antle said. "I said, 'Son, this is eight-man football. We don't kick PATs and field goals, and junior-high kicker tryouts are on the day of the game.' "

Antle was going over his game plan before the season opener when his assistant coach came in to tell him what the kid they'd named varsity manager and cameraman was doing.

"He says, 'Antle, have you seen the new kicker, the Brown kid? He's out there kicking,' " said Antle, who played linebacker at Oklahoma State. "I said, 'Dad-gum, I told him not to be jacking around, horse-playing.'

"I stepped outside and the first thing I noticed was it sounded different. I heard that 'boom' when his foot hit the ball. He was hitting 30- and 35-yarders as an eighth-grader and kept moving the tee back. I watched five or six kicks and I said, 'I think we're going to start kicking field goals and PATs.' "

Eight-man football is its own game, football minus two tackles and a receiver and more akin to arena ball than the big-time football Brown played at Nebraska before the Seahawks drafted him in the seventh round in 2003.

With the scores often lopsided, there's a mercy rule: The game ends if either team gets a 45-point lead.

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