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If you only saw former Raven Orlando “Zeus” Brown play football, you might think he’s a mean person. He was a mean football player, an absolute terror to opponents in games and to his teammates in practice. He stood 6’8″ tall and weighed closer to 400 than 300 pounds, and he wore a black visor that didn’t hide his angry on-field scowl. Ravens linebacker Jaret Johnson says Brown is the most intimidating offensive lineman he ever encountered.
For all of the meanness that Brown embodied on the field, I will always remember him as the gentleman he was away from the heat of competition. Zeus (his nickname) lived near the Inner Harbor in South Baltimore and I considered him a neighbor. I’d often see him strolling through Cross Street Market with his big, sheepish smile. So big in size and personality, you couldn’t miss him, and regular folk couldn’t help but stop him for a chat, a photograph and an autograph, which he would humbly and politely oblige.
In my years covering the Ravens, I had many encounters with Orlando Brown- many of them memorable. Once during training camp in Westminster, following a hot August workout, I approached Zeus to be a guest on my live radio broadcast. He had just engaged in heated battle with a rookie defensive lineman and was jawing with the youngster even as practice ended. Knowing Brown’s intensity (and tendency to use salty language while on the field), I held up the microphone and carefully reminded the giant lineman that we were on “live” radio. He said, “I’m cool, I’m cool.” But, because he was on the field, he was far from “cool,” he was hot. And just as I began to ask him a question, Brown unleashed a torrent of curse words toward his rookie antagonizer. Even the electronic broadcast delay couldn’t silence the giant when he was angry. We conducted the interview during which Orlando was his usual, gracious self. It was if he could flip a switch from angry football player to become a friendly, thoughtful guy.
Upon his sudden passing at the age of 40, many of us are remembering Orlando Brown as a gentle giant. The ultimate example of that for me was an encounter I had with him in the Ravens locker room after practice many years ago. Brown sought me out among the reporters in the room and asked me to come to his locker so he could show me something. We went to his locker and he reached up to a shelf and pulled down a photograph of me and him on the field at Ravens Stadium. It was a picture of me interviewing him following a game earlier that season. “Will you autograph this for me,” the big man quietly asked. I thought it was a prank, so I looked around to see if his teammates were in on a gag. “No, I’m serious,” Zeus said. “I appreciate that you interviewed me and it’s a great picture. The only other autograph I have from a media person is George Michael. I want you to autograph this.” So I did. And I handed the photo back to Orlando and the smile of pride and joy on his face was that of a child. “Thanks, man. Thanks so much,” he said.
No, thank you, Orlando. Thank you for the passion you brought to football and to life. Thank you for being child-like and humble in your demeanor off the field. May you rest in peace.
–By Mark Viviano