PASADENA, Calif. — Pharaoh Brown sat and watched Erick Dargan dance. 

It was after the Rose Bowl, the game where the Ducks demolished Florida State to clinch the team’s second national title berth this decade. The locker room scene afterward was a mixture of chaos and jubilation. Music blared, reporters scurried and Dargan danced.

Everything was moving, except for Brown, who was confined to a chair with his heavily braced right leg extended out. A rose rested above his right ear. 

“I’m going to save it, have my mom frame it off,” he said. “She’s done that with my old jerseys and gloves. She frames them.”

The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder filled with a mixture of pride and sorrow at the thought of the rose. There’s a chance the Oregon Ducks wouldn’t be in that locker room in Pasadena without the emergence of the junior tight end, whose career-best junior season ended Nov. 8 after he suffered a massive, unspecified leg injury in a 51-27 victory at Utah. But on Thursday Brown played no role in the victory.

Since that night in November, the one where his knee buckled, bent and broke, he’s been on crutches and stuck in a house. For the first time in three years he spent Thanksgiving with his family. He didn’t have to fly home for Christmas, he was already there. As the Ducks won their final three games of the year, he watched from the basement of his family’s Cleveland home, a “man cave” with a 65-inch flat screen that harbored some of Brown’s most depressing moments. The pain right after the injury was one thing — the worst he’d ever felt. But the pain alone was the focus of a weird and lonely stay at a hospital in Salt Lake City. It was when he was back home, in that basement, where he hit rock bottom. Boredom set in. He’d sleep in late, sometimes until 4 p.m., hoping the days went by faster. Family and friends came by to watch the Ducks play on TV, which brought on a different type of pain.  

“I’ve had so many moments, but not being able to play, that’s probably the worst,” he said. “You’re just at home and you can’t even move. One hour before you can do everything and the next, you’re not a vegetable, but you’re a vegetable. I can’t even go get a water bottle.” 

Brown talked about the bad moments in the past tense, though. He knows he has a long road ahead of him. To get back for the 2015 Oregon season, Brown’s leg has to completely heal before he can begin extensive rehabilitation. It will be a grueling process, a challenge he knows he’s fortunate to undertake. 

He hasn’t seen video of the injury, which depicts his lower-leg bending nearly 90 degrees in the wrong direction, and doesn’t plan on it. But from what he felt, and those he’s talked to, he knows he’s lucky to be able to walk again. Football is gravy. 

“It wasn’t a huge procedure. The doctor said I was pretty blessed,” he said. “You look at the play and see what I messed up, it was a blessing that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Everything that happened was the best-case scenario.” 

He’s been humbled by the outpouring of support. Oregon officials sent him a box of letters. Cards and words came in from across the country and all over the world. Brown said he even got a few from service members in the Middle East. 

And then, there was a text from Marcus Mariota. Immediately after the Heisman win, Brown texted Mariota congratulations. He wasn’t expecting to get anything in return. 

“He texted back 20 minutes later,” Brown said. “You can imagine how many people were trying to text him.” 

The Ducks have moved on without Brown, just as they’ve survived the losses of Bralon Addison, myriad offensive lineman and now Devon Allen. In the Rose Bowl, Evan Baylis had the best game of his career at tight end, catching six passes for 73 yards. Since Brown went down, Oregon hasn’t skipped a beat. But when he showed up at practice earlier in the week, it shocked his teammates that hadn’t seen him since Utah. Spirits were raised. It was an inspiration, they said. 

“I was in the treatment center getting taped, laying down, and hearing his voice I just popped up,” said All-American center Hroniss Grasu. “When I heard his voice I was just so happy to see him. He brought so much energy to the whole team and just having his presence there was unbelievable.” 

And in that locker room Thursday night, even though Brown couldn’t join the players dancing in front of him, not a soul would argue that Brown didn’t deserve the rose that now rested in his hands. The depression of the injury is mostly gone. He’s got a goal – the 2015 season – and optimism has set in. Things are looking up, he said, toying with the flower.

“This is my first rose and I’m going to hang onto it,” he said. “Maybe I’ll try and get a date with it, first.” 

— Tyson Alger | @tysonalger

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