When the football world heard about the unfortunate, untimely death of 40-year-old Orlando Brown, the former Baltimore Ravens tackle who was found dead in his downtown Baltimore condominium, the first thought that came to the minds of millions of NFL fans was the raging outburst of his actions against referee Jeff Triplette.
While Brown will be nationally known for his incident against Triplette and his run-ins with the law, the Ravens remember a friend and a good man.
“There was no better friend, no one more loyal than Zeus was to his teammates and those in the Ravens,” said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. “If he felt that you respected him, that you were willing to teach him or showed him care, you had a loyal friend for eternity. Loyalty is one of the first words I think when Zeus pops in my mind.”
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs is one of the many who feels the same way about Brown, who is better known as “Zeus,” and credits the former big offensive lineman for pushing him to be a better player.
“The man you saw on the field wasn’t the person who he was off of it,” said Suggs. “He was definitely a gentle giant who always had a smile on his face. I’m not really sure what to say right now; I’m just in awe. My heart goes out to his family.
“In terms of football, his first season back in Baltimore was my rookie year [in 2003],” he added. “He definitely showed me several ‘welcome to the NFL’ moments. He never went easy on me, and he made me work hard to become better every day.”
On Dec. 19, 1999, as a member of the Cleveland Browns (who played against the Jacksonville Jaguars), Brown was hit in the eye with the penalty maker, (loaded with BBs for control) by Triplette mistakenly. What were the odds of a penalty maker being threw between a football helmet’s grill into the face of a player with yards of space surrounding them?
In rage with pain and the thoughts of his father who lost his sight due to glaucoma, Brown rushed back onto the playing field and pushed Triplette, which caused him to get suspended.
“Sadness, this is a sad day. Zeus was a fire-starter," said Ravens safety Ed Reed. "His energy – he would get us going at practices, in training camp and games. How he loved to play football. Heck, he looked like he could still play. I send prayers to his family, to his boys. Be strong. God has their father in a better place.”
Originally, NFL referees were instructed to throw their penalty markers towards the area where the foul occurred, despite players being around. Due to the incident to Brown, NFL referee are instructed to throw their penalty makers away from the area of players.
Brown was released by the Browns in 2000 and was forced to sit out three seasons due to his unfortunate eye injury, which caused him to temporarily lose his vision in his right eye, with concerns of never playing in the NFL again. Initially, Brown sued the NFL for $200 million, but settled for $25 million.
In 2003, the undrafted free agent from 1993 signed with the Ravens, after spending time with the club when the Browns moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996 and played for three seasons.
Brown, a native of Washington D.C., was an intimidating looking man, and standing 6’7,” 360 pounds, he was a solid pro who led by example and looked to get the best out of everyone. He probably was the first Raven who embodied a nastiness on the field, which help launched the intense passion the Ravens defense play with today.
Moreover, the news of Brown’s death was probably most shocking to Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who played with his friend during both of his stints in Baltimore, because he spend time with his recently.
“I just saw him a few days ago. He’s one of the greatest men I know – really a gentle giant away from the game,” said Lewis. “He was the original Raven. He set the tone for how we were going to play tough and physical, backing down from no opponent. When you heard his voice on the field, you knew things were going to be all right.
“He would say: ‘Keep playing. Keep fighting,'” he added. “'Do it for us. Do it for your teammates. Lew, Lew, keep it up!’ I can almost hear that voice right now. And, oh, how he loved his sons. They lost a great father. So sad, just so sad.”
Brown’s present was always felt, whether on gameday or at practice. The South Carolina State University graduate was never a stranger to hard work.
“My first image of the NFL was when I first saw Zeus. I thought, ‘They’re sure a lot bigger here.’ He had that dark visor on his helmet, wearing those throwback jerseys under his pads,” said Ravens linebacker Jarrett Johnson, who was a teammate of Brown from 2003 to 2005. “He was most intimidating and dared you to back down from him. If you did, you were done. He embodied what the NFL – what the Ravens are all about. His willingness to battle along with you – the way he stood up for his teammates – was special.
“This sounds corny, but he was literally the first on the field and the last off,” he continued. “He’d be out there before practice with his helmet on working on something to make himself better. He’d find teammates to stay with him after practice to work on his pass blocking. He challenged me every day and made me a better player. I’ll always be thankful for that.”
Brown loved to drive around Baltimore in his huge truck and enjoyed serving customers at his burger shop in Columbia, MD, as a proud owner of Fatburger, the only franchise in Maryland.
Brown was larger than life and his love for life was unanswered, as he touched countless people.
“Orlando will always be one of my favorites,” said former Ravens head coach, now NFL analyst for FOX Sports and the NFL Network Brian Billick. “I just told a story about him at our production meeting [with FOX-TV] last week. He brought such passion and physicality to practices and games."
“There is no way to quantify his heart, his actual love to play football,” said Billick. “The game was so important to him. This is such sad news. He was bigger than life. You just feel for his family right now.”
Ravens offensive tackle Ramon Harewood, who was a sixth-round selection from the 2010 NFL Draft out of Morehouse, was mentored by Brown and will forever be impacted by his friend.
“I am at a loss right now. When I think of Zeus, I just have to smile,” said Harewood. “He was always there to pick you up on a bad day and always had a smile on his face. He was a gentle giant and always seemed to be able to put anyone around him in a good mood.
“He took time out of his busy schedule over the last couple of months to work with me to help me grow as a player,” said Harewood. “To have a player and man of his stature do that for a young player like myself says all you need to know about him. He was always upbeat, always encouraging and would never let me get down on myself.
“We had similar backgrounds, with me only playing football for four years and him having to work his way into the NFL the hard way,” he added. “He was an inspiration both as a player and as a human being. I will miss him, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
The cause of Brown’s death is unknown, but what is known is that a good man passed long before he should have. Zeus was known as a “real dude, a man’s man” in the eyes of many who he friended.
Many speculations of Brown’s death will come about. However, there’s no speculation on how good of a father he was (as he is survived by three children) and how great his present was when he was here.
“I want to give our heart-felt condolences to the family of Orlando Brown – to his three sons,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think everybody knows what he meant to this organization, to this team and to the Ravens. He’s still a big part of us."
“He’s been coming around a lot, working with some of our young players, and we’re forever grateful just for everything he did for the Ravens organization,” he added. “What he did for the present team, that’s just who he is as a person and who he’s been. I just can’t express our sorrow enough.”
Barry Barnes is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand through a Ravens press release.