The news that former Fire defender C.J. Brown had been selected by the club and Ring of Fire membership to join their ranks came on Valentine’s Day this year.
There are few things in my time with the Fire that made me quite as happy as that moment. Growing up, I admired C.J. just as much as someone like Brian McBride and I always considered it a privilege to be around the two for their final season in 2010.
My admiration of the pair did come with different reasons though.
McBride is an American soccer hero who’d scored goals and bled for the U.S. in the World Cup. He’d carved out one of the most successful careers of any American player abroad and will be a first-ballot entry into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2014.
C.J. on the other hand was a player that a fledgling league built its back on. One who admittedly was never the most talented player on the field but was the very model of hard-work, determination and character.
Though his accomplishments aren’t as vast as McBride’s, for his 13-years of dedication to one MLS club, C.J. is an unsung story of success during a time in modern American sport where so few athletes stay in one place.
Shortly after the announcement I spoke to C.J. for this story and while everything he said about the honor was great, looking back, this quote sticks out to me still.
“…I remember coming on the field, looking up before games and thinking ‘I want my name up there one day.’ Once it’s up there, it’s up there. You look up and see it’s a good group of guys that truly get it and are great players and great people. To see that my name will be among that company, if I never live in Chicago again, my name is still there.
Having my name up in Toyota Park, known for being a good person and someone that matters to the club, I think it’s better than any type of money or bonus. [The Ring of Fire is] something I worked very hard to be a part of…”
There were few dry eyes in Toyota Park when the #2 shirt was unveiled on the east fascia at halftime of the May 9 game vs. Real Salt Lake.
His RSL training top covered by the Ring of Fire blazer and a scarf given to him by Section 8, Brown gave an emotional speech as he took his rightful place in Fire history.
WATCH: C.J. Brown discusses Ring of Fire induction post-game