Orlando "Zeus" Brown, a 6-foot-7 offensive tackle who played for the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in a career that lasted from 1994 through 2005, was recently found dead in his Baltimore condominium. The Ravens confirmed the news on Friday. The cause of death has not been announced.
"We send our condolences to the family of Orlando Brown," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after Friday practice. "Everybody knew what he meant to this organization. We're forever grateful for what he did for the present team. We can't express enough sorrow for his loss."
"Zeus was just one of those characters," linebacker Jarret Johnson told the Carroll County Times. "Huge to this organization. He came over with this team from the Browns, so a lot of people in the facility know him. Just devastating news. Zeus was one of the guys who came around a lot. He'd just come hang out in the training room, come hang out back in the equipment room. Just can't say enough about the guy. Just such a terrible loss."
Brown's football career came with one notable hiccup in the middle. In 1999, he was hit in the eye with a penalty flag thrown by official Jeff Triplette during a Browns game. Brown left the field, came back on the field, and shoved Triplette. He was suspended by the league until it was discovered that the thrown flag caused Brown to suffer temporary blindness in one eye.
Brown filed a $200 million lawsuit against the NFL, claiming that his career was prematurely shortened. He eventually came to a settlement in 2002 that brought him at least $15 million. That settlement was based on the contingency that if he ever came back to the NFL, the league would receive half of his after-tax football income up to $1 million per season.
Brown did come back, signing with the Baltimore Ravens in 2003 and starting 34 games before his retirement in 2005. The NFL sued Brown in 2004 with the claim that he ignored requests to pay back the money.
Ravens director of player development Harry Swayne, who played with Brown, was particularly affected. "We just found out before the end of practice," Swayne said on Friday. "We were close friends. It's tough, it's tough. I talked to him a month ago and told him, 'Zeus, you didn't have to block half the people you played against because they were scared of you.'
"He was a puppy dog, a big old puppy dog with a little bit of a bark. He had a lot of friends around the league. He was one of the best guys. It's a tough loss."
"This is a sad day," said safety Ed Reed. "Zeus was a fire-starter. He would get us going [with his energy] at practices, in training camp and in games."
"He was the original Raven," added linebacker Ray Lewis. "He set the tone for how we were going to play -- tough and physical, backing down from no opponent."
Bill Belichick, who drafted Brown as Cleveland's head coach in 1994 and coached him for two seasons, had this to say:
"I am extremely shocked and saddened to hear the news about Orlando Brown. Orlando improved as a player as much as anyone I have ever seen, as he went from being a defensive lineman at South Carolina State to becoming one of the game's top offensive tackles, when he sustained his unfortunate eye injury. Orlando was a true throwback player who loved football and was as tough as they come. Without question, Orlando was an integral part of the Browns turnaround during the mid '90s and he will be missed. I offer my deepest condolences to the Brown family."