The Unbelievable Roller Coaster Ride of Ravens Receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown

The unbelievably true story of Marquise "Hollywood" Brown's roller coaster ride from scarcity to stardom.

The Roller Coaster Ride of Marquise Brown
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Short in stature and unapologetically quiet, he stands with perfect posture against the wall of the media tent. His gaze is fixed on the cellphone in his hand, trying to return the texts of all his well-wishers. He wears a diamond chain around his neck that probably weighs more than he does. It reads simply: "Hollywood."

If ever there was such an unfitting nickname for someone so soft-spoken and shy. He's not a movie star, he's not flashy, or glamorous. He's perfectly happy and self-assured as he gazes out across the assembled media with a smile so radiant it would brighten a winter day.

As he's about to speak, he's cut off by someone else. A figure that is flashy and famous, someone who is larger than life and may soon be the next MVP of the National Football League.

"We're here in California, and you guys are all in for a treat because we got 'Hollywood' coming up next."

It's Lamar Jackson. Arguably the best football in player in the game, stepping aside for someone else, on a historic night for which he threw five touchdown passes in his Monday Night Football debut. Most nights the noise is all about Jackson, but tonight, behind the backdrop of the Hollywood sign that epitomizes his nickname, it's all about Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.

Marquise Brown wasn't born under the bright lights of Los Angeles, but his story is something you would see on the silver screen. He was born in Hollywood, but some 3,000 miles away from the glitz and glamor of Sunset Boulevard, in a small Florida town just north of Miami of the same name.

When his mother, Shannon James, was pregnant with Marquise, doctors told her that carrying the pregnancy to full-term was extremely high-risk. They told her that her kidneys would fail if she went through with it. She was given a choice: give up her baby to save her own life, or give her baby life at the risk of her own.

"I chose to keep my baby," she told the Tulsa World back in 2017. "He was my miracle baby."

Brown was born small and premature, traits that would define him throughout his life, but never limit him. James' kidneys did eventually fail, and she spent the next five years on dialysis. She labored for months at a time in hospitals, she coded twice and had to be resuscitated, there were many times Marquise and his family thought she had died.

Because of her condition, James couldn't work. She raised Marquise and his sister Shanice off the income from social security checks. It was barely enough to afford food or rent, they constantly struggled to survive.

When he was two years old, James gave Marquise a Dan Marino jersey for Halloween. From that moment forward he never wanted to take it off. While most kids would watch cartoons or play video games, all Marquise wanted to do was watch football on television wearing his Marino jersey. That's when James said she knew Marquise was destined for something great.

Always undersized, Brown was overlooked whenever he stepped onto a football field. Known only for his speed, Brown was a kick return specialist and deep threat at Chaminade-Madonna High School. Standing five feet, eight-inches tall, and barely 130 pounds soaking wet, he was not heavily recruited by any Division I university.

"A lot of the bigger schools were probably put off [by his size]," said his future head coach at College of the Canyons Ted Iacenda.

With Brown's dreams of playing for a Division I school momentarily dashed, he spent the fall of 2015 looking for a job or a place to play football. With the odds stacked heavily against him, he would wake up early every morning, grab a set of cones, and walk down to the local park where he would work out and run drills on his own.

"He would still focus like he was on a team," his mother said. "There was no stopping Marquise."

Brown had family in Southern California, and they suggested he come out and tour some of the junior colleges in the area. A friend got him in contact with coach Iacenda at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, and after a visit he decided to move across the country to pursue his dream.

California junior colleges do not issue athletic scholarships, so in order for Brown to forge ahead on his football aspirations he would have to pay his way through school. So Brown got a job at nearby Six Flags Magic Mountain. Of course it was only fitting that the boy whose been on a roller coaster ride since birth would become a roller coaster operator for "Full Throttle," a ride the amusement park calls the tallest and fastest looping roller coaster in the world.

The fast part Brown could relate to, it was the tall part that was troublesome. Ironically, Brown was afraid of roller coasters, and even though he operated them, he rarely road them.

"I'm not a ride person," Brown told the LA Times. "I don't really see the kick out of it. They made me try it one time and I regretted it. That's not my thing."

Brown remembers fondly his days at Magic Mountain. Without any form of transportation, he would walk from campus to the park. Once at work, he enjoyed teasing the passengers before they took off.

"I'd go, 'Five, four, three'—and then I'd stop," Brown recalled laughing at the memories. "Then I'd say, 'Y'all want me to keep counting?' and before they could respond I'd hit the button and the ride would take off."

Unfortunately for Brown, his time at College of the Canyons wasn't all laughs. He rented a small room in a home nearby, and slept on an air mattress. After tuition, rent, and bills, he barely had enough money left over for food, let alone enough for a college athlete to gain the weight needed to play football.

"I ate a lot of ramen-noodles, and cheap frozen foods," he said. "Anything I could get from the dollar store." 

Ethan Lazarek, his teammate at College of the Canyons once went back to his room after practice to hang out. Once he saw how Brown was living, his jaw dropped.

"His story is insane," Lazarek told Bleacher Report last year. "How he got to College of the Canyons, how he figured out how to live, where he lived, everything. From the first time I met him, you could just tell this guy was chasing a dream. His size wasn't going to stop him." 

Brown continued to chase his dream over ten games for the Cougars during the 2016-2017 season. After each and every game, Brown would make a highlight worthy play, that turned heads. Iacenda put them all on tape and began to send them out to all the Power Five schools across the country.

"We would do this highlight tape every week," said Iacenda. "We would update it, and of course it would have like a new 90-yard catch or something."

The offers slowly trickled in. First one, then five, then ten, pretty soon all the big schools were interested in Brown; Oregon, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, USC, UCLA, and Tennessee. He finished the season with 50 receptions for 754 yards and 10 touchdowns.

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After one year at College of the Canyons, Brown decided to transfer to Oklahoma where future Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were on the roster. 

In his first season at Oklahoma, Brown battled for playing time. He struggled early, and didn't even see the field in the team's upset victory over No. 2 Ohio State. In November, in the school's in-state rivalry game against Oklahoma State, Brown broke out in a big way.

Brown had nine catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns in the Sooner's wild 62-52 victory over the Cowboys, the most yards ever by a Sooner receiver in a single game.

With 11:54 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma up by just three points, Mayfield dropped back and went deep to Brown streaking down the sideline for a 77-yard touchdown catch. Fox Sports announcer Gus Johnson was on the call, and just as smoothly as he shouts out his catchphrases, "hurt my feelings!" or "Cold-Blooded," Johnson bellowed, "Hollywood!" emboldening him with the nickname of his home town.

The nickname stuck, and the legend of Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was born.

Two years later, Brown was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tennessee.

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On Monday night, the roller coaster ride went for another loop. Returning Brown back to Southern California for a nationally televised showdown with the reigning NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum.

It was Brown's first game back in SoCal since his dream of playing in the NFL had come true. He wanted everyone to be there, friends, family, his old teammates, and most importantly coach Iacenda who was the first to give Brown a chance.

In front of a packed house, Brown dazzled, grabbing five catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens rout of the Rams, 45-6. After the game, Brown spoke with NBC LA to talk about his return to Los Angeles and reflect on his journey from Hollywood, Florida to Hollywood, CA.

"It was very fun," he said with a smile. "All of my coaches from College of the Canyons were here. My family was here. They never get to see me play in person, so for them to get to see me play today was pretty cool. Life came full circle."

As for his mother, the roller coaster ride came full circle for her too. After five years on a waiting list, she finally received a kidney transplant and her health steadily improved. She went back to school to study cosmetology, and got a job as a hair stylist. When Brown signed his rookie contract with the Ravens in June, he finally was able to return the favor for the woman who risked her own life to save his. He surprised his mom with a house and car in Florida.

Beneath the small frame, the uniform, and diamond necklace, beams the miracle baby who did whatever he could to achieve his dreams. So the next time you look up at the Hollywood sign, nestled in the hills of the Santa Monica mountains, remember the little guy, the underdog, the ones who are constantly told "you can't." That sign is not just a cultural landmark for fame and fortune, but a symbol for the dreamers like Brown, who never stopped believing that theirs could come true.

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