Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 18 of 55

BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM SEPT. 17, 2022 19 turned. Brown would have to take out stu- dent loans and take on a job in South Bend to attend Notre Dame, but it still came down to a 50-50 proposition. He called his pastor the day before he had to decide. "He said, 'Son, go with your heart,'" Brown said. "I said, 'Well, my heart is at Notre Dame.'" That was that. Brown packed his bags and headed southeast. A CAMPUS ICON Brown immersed himself in Notre Dame's culture. It was the only way he operated. "Everything I've done my whole life, I've poured my heart and soul into it," Brown said. "No matter what it is." He joined the gospel choir and a dance group. He even created his own dance group, the First-Class Steppers. He was a member of the League of Black Busi- ness Students and a student-alumni relations group. He played fully padded Interhall football to get his sports fix. But that wasn't enough to satisfy the athletic gene. When Brown knew he wouldn't be going overseas, he took the Leprechaun idea seriously. He saw an ad for tryouts in The Observer, Notre Dame's student newspaper. Of course, he poured his heart and soul into the audition. He won the job. And the rest is history. For two years, Brown was the heart and soul — those two words again — of the spirit of Notre Dame. From beating up on Michigan State's Sparty in front of a roaring Notre Dame Stadium crowd in his second home game as the Leprechaun in 1999 to making ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10 for knocking down Oregon State's Beaver mascot with a 20-yard running start at the Fiesta Bowl his senior year, Brown turned himself into a South Bend celebrity with the quality of his energetic antics on the Notre Dame sideline. "Mike was an absolute campus icon at the time," said Cara Crenn, a 2004 Notre Dame graduate and a teammate of Brown's on the Irish cheer team for one year. "When he became the Lep- rechaun, it was almost like he was the school's biggest celebrity because of his charisma. "Obviously the Leprechaun is a fix- ture every year, but Mike brought such an energy and charisma that made it a very, very special time for that role." A STORY OF LOVE Such a special time that it had to be documented. Crenn and Brown co-authored a chil- dren's book called "The Leprechaun's Game Day at Notre Dame." It depicts illustrations from Maryn Arreguín, a 2003 Notre Dame graduate and a walk- on on the Irish soccer team, that take readers through the sights and sounds of a South Bend Saturday. The main character is unmistakably Brown, right down to his skin tone. "We didn't want to hide it," Brown said. "The illustrator said, 'You were a Black Leprechaun, so there is going to be a Black Leprechaun on this book." Typically, Brown left personal outward projections on the field. Game days were his time to shine, but even then it wasn't all about himself. It was about the thou- sands of fans he went into character for. A selfless person by nature, it was new for Brown to write about himself. That's why the Leprechaun's game day book was not his first to publish. Brown is also the author of "Little Net- ta's Gift." It's about his late cousin, Jea- netta Lacole Robinson, who held a 6th birthday party on Dec. 27, 1980. Jeanetta asked partygoers what they received for Christmas. Some of them said nothing. She bestowed upon them gifts of her own. Her altruism lives on through Brown's ac- count, even after she was murdered along with Cheryl Robinson, Jeanetta's mother and Brown's aunt, at 9 years old in 1984. Brown wrote the tribute children's book in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest dominated everyday lives in the United States. It's a part of SOULSTIR, the company Brown created as "a social enterprise focused on enrich- ing lives by creating soul-stirring expe- riences that inspire empowerment and action." (See SOULSTIR's ad on page 9.) "I tried to really dig deep within my- self and figure out, what can I do?" Brown said. "What can I do to help? I'm not one to protest or march. So what can I do? I wrote. I used my cousin's story as a story of love, a story of kindness, a story of hav- ing compassion and empathy for others. I felt that was a story the world needed." That's what the world needed. What Brown needed was an editor. He found one in an old friend: Crenn. Brown enacted a simple LinkedIn search. Crenn came up. A wordsmith as an editor, writer and poet, Crenn helped Brown publish Netta's story. She's also the one who pressed him to write "The Leprechaun's Game Day at Notre Dame," just like when Brown's friends encouraged him to try out to be the Leprechaun over two decades prior. "I'm so proud we have a physical em- bodiment of Mike's legacy," Crenn said. "He's such an important figure for the university and to this day really inspires people. So the idea that we have a con- crete thing we can pass on to the next generation is so exciting." A door closed on Brown when he wasn't selected to study abroad in col- lege. So many doors closed on the world when lives changed forever in 2020. Brown viewed the latter just as he viewed the former: as a "London moment." "The book isn't something I wrote for myself," he said. "It's a book I wrote for kids and families who enjoy Notre Dame, who love the magic and spirit of Notre Dame. The book is just a vehicle through which that magic can spread." ✦ Brown (middle) teamed up with "The Leprechaun's Game Day at Notre Dame" co-author Cara Crenn (right) and illustrator Maryn Arreguín (left) to share "the magic and spirit of Notre Dame" with others. PHOTO COURTESY MIKE BROWN

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