Firm Foundation: Brian Brennan
It is a well-recognized truth that Irish Americans, once having been given the chance to breath the rarified air of American freedom, flourished in it, making their marks in public life, in organized labor, as writers and in the trades. Less frequently recognized are the contributions made by Irish Americans to professional sports.
Few Greater Clevelanders, particularly of a certain age, will soon forget Brian Brennan, the Browns wide receiver who brought such hard-fought glory in his NFL career, particularly on the oft-frozen grounds of Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Brian was born in Detroit, Michigan to Martin Aloysius Jr, and Eileen Rogers Brennan, the second of six children: Martin Jr., Brian, James, Theresa, Bridget and Charlie. His Mom’s dad, Charles Rogers, hailed from County Cavan, while his great grandfather, Martin Brennan, was born in Kilkenny. Brian’s father ran his own company, Brennan Development, which specialized in excavation. He recalls that most summers he and his brothers worked as laborers for the company, an experience that left a lasting impression of what hard work means for the development of character.
The family ultimately moved to Bloomfield, Michigan, where the children attended St. Hugo of the Hills elementary school and were taught by the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The girls in the family went to near-by Marion High School, while he and his brothers attended Brother Rice High School, run by the Irish Christian Brothers. Brother Rice is perennially a competitive sports school, analogous to St. Ignatius or St. Edward., attended by 1,100 boys. Brian competed in basketball, track (when asked he recalls running a 4.5 40) and, plausibly, football.
Of his upbringing, he says that “Mom and Dad were very faithful Catholics, and were proud of the fact that they could provide a faithful experience for us all during our formative years” His Dad died in 2014 but Eileen is still a daily communicant.
Because of his football exploits at Brother Rice, a several college programs came calling, both for his football and basketball talents. He ultimately chose Boston College, where he was named a senior All American, played with Doug Flutie, and still ranks as one of the top receivers in BC history. After the end of the season, he recalls “as if it was yesterday” getting a call in May of 1984 in his dorm room at BC: “Brian, this is Paul Warfield-welcome to the Cleveland Browns. We drafted you in the 4th round.” He then handed the phone to Sam Rutigliano.
At the end of his senior year, Brian received both the Scanlon award, the highest award for football, as well as the Eagle Award, which recognized his efforts in a number of sports. Notwithstanding his many accomplishments at Boston College, the most profound experience was meeting his future wife, Bethany in 1984, from Marblehead Massachusetts. Not every young professional athlete is prepared to commit to a permanent relationship with the celebrity that attends professional athletes, but Brian and Bethany were married the year after he was drafted, at her parish, Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in 1985. “She was the most engaging, and most beautiful, person I have ever met, and still is today.” The couple have three children, Courtney, Brian Jr. and Grace, who have all attended Gilmour Academy along the way to accomplishment as young business professionals.
Brian went on to play nine seasons in the NFL and finished his career as the 4th all-time leading receiver in Cleveland Browns history.
Of his background, he has learned that “nobody does it alone—it takes faith (and good Catholic sports programs). The more I give, like to Boys Hope and Girls Hope, the more I benefit.”
Brian Brennan is the National Head at Fixed Income and Derivatives and Keybanc National Market and has served as head football coach at Gilmore Academy and coached CYO basketball. He has served on the Boards of Notre Dame College and Gilmour. Michigan has truly bestowed an Irish American gift on us.
*Callahan is a retired Common Pleas Judge and a partner at Collins Scanlon, LLP.