OWINGS MILLS - Intimidating on the football field and quick with a belly laugh in the locker room, massive former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Orlando "Zeus" Brown was found dead at his South Baltimore apartment Friday morning. Brown was 40 years old, and is survived by his three sons. No cause of death was immediately determined for the 6-foot-7, 370-pounder, and an autopsy is pending.
With a reputation for a mean streak, Brown was also known as a devoted father and a loyal teammate.
"He's one of the greatest men I know, really a gentle giant away from the game," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said "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. Oh, how he loved his sons. They lost a great father. So sad, just so sad."
There were no signs of foul play or trauma and Brown was discovered by firefighters at his HarborView apartment after he hadn't been heard from by family members in a few days.
The Ravens learned of his death during practice after being informed by Baltimore police.
"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,'" said Ravens director of player development Harry Swayne, a former teammate. "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."
Brown played in the NFL for 11 seasons, indoctrinating several current Ravens to the NFL with his special brand of tough love.
Squaring off with Brown wasn't for the faint of heart.
"My first image of the NFL was when I first saw Zeus, I thought, ‘They're sure a lot bigger here,'" Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He had that dark visor on his helmet, wearing those throwback jerseys under his pads. 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."
Brown retired after playing the 2005 season with the Ravens during his second stint with the team.
He had two stints with the Ravens, playing for them after coming over from the original Cleveland Browns from 1996 to 1998 and then playing for Baltimore from 2003 to 2005.
"There was no better friend, no one more loyal than Zeus was to his teammates and those in the Ravens," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "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. He loved being part of the team."
The Washington native started 80 games for the Ravens in six seasons after joining the Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent from South Carolina State in 1993 playing for coach Bill Belichick in Cleveland.
"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," Belichick said. "Orlando was a true throwback player who loved football and was as tough as they come."
During a Dec. 19, 1999 game while playing for the Browns agains the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brown was accidentally struck in the eye with a weighted penalty flag by referee Jeff Triplette.
Triplette was shoved to the ground by Brown, who was ejected and suspended. The suspension was later lifted because Brown's eyesight was damaged and he was unable to play for three seasons.
Brown sued the NFL for $200 million, ultimately settling the lawsuit for $25 million.
"Orlando will always be one of my favorites," former Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He brought such passion and physicality to practices and games. There is no way to quantify his heart, his actual love to play football. The game was so important to him. This is such sad news. He was bigger than life."
Following his retirement, Brown entered the restaurant business and owned the first Fatburger franchise in Maryland in Elkridge.
Two years ago, Brown was arrested and charged with third-degree burglary and destruction of property after allegedly breaking into his ex-wife's Cockeysville residence. However, the charges were dropped last year.
Brown was remembered by free safety Ed Reed for how he sparked practice sessions with his intensity.
"He definitely showed me several 'Welcome to the NFL' moments," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He never went easy on me, and he made me work hard to become better every day. It's just sad.
"He was a beast on the field and a gentle giant off of it. It's just very unfortunate that he had to leave us so young. My heart goes out to his family."
Even in his retirement, Brown was a frequent visitor to the Ravens' training complex. He attended several practices and mentored young offensive tackles Ramon Harewood and Jah Reid.
"I am at a loss right now," Harewood said. "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. 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 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. "
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