July 16, 1997
July 16, 1997

Table of Contents
July 16, 1997



It happened almost 10 years ago. But the moment is still so
fresh in Orlando Brown's mind that when he tells the story, he
peers down at his open palms as if he were expecting to see
blood on them, and he sucks in a chestful of air as if the
smells were still lingering around him. Brown was in 10th grade,
hanging on a street corner in his native Washington, D.C., when
the boy standing next to him was shot in the head and instantly

This is an article from the July 16, 1997 issue

"When someone gets shot like that, their body just goes totally
limp and sort of folds over right onto itself," says Brown,
lowering his face and shaking his head slowly. "Brains and blood
go everywhere--and they have a terrible smell."

He still can't be certain that the bullet wasn't meant for him.
When you grow up in the war zone that is northeast D.C., you
can't be sure about much. Brown, 26, a right offensive tackle
for the Baltimore Ravens, has been driven by that nagging
doubt--and by other horrifying events, like the time he watched
gang members shoot up the casket at his 14-year-old cousin's
funeral--almost every day of his life. And it is this force,
along with the guidance of his sweet and stubborn mother,
Catherine, that propelled him out of the inner city. It
transformed him from a raw, undrafted small-college lineman into
a sculpted 6'7", 340-pound blocker with a million-dollar bank
account who is now on the verge of going to the Pro Bowl.

Brown wasn't even invited to his first--and only--workout
following his relatively undistinguished career at South
Carolina State. In 1993, Scott Pioli, then a scout for
Cleveland, was on campus to work out a defensive back when
Brown, who was nicknamed Zeus by his mother, stepped into
Pioli's face and announced he would be joining them. When Pioli
said no, Brown asked again and again until Pioli relented.
Although Brown had next to no technique, his combination of
size, power and quick feet astounded the scout. "I knew I had to
do something to make him remember me," recalls Brown. "So I got
down in my stance and I hit [Pioli] as hard as I could, and he
fell back on his butt and slid about 10 feet on the floor. He
got up and asked me my name. And then he told me to never do
that again. The next play I did it again, only harder."

Brown, who in 1993 had declined a $400,000 offer from the World
Wrestling Federation to seek his fortune in football, made an
impression. But he didn't make the team until a workout in
Cleveland a few weeks later in front of then coach Bill
Belichick. "They asked me to pass-block and, well, I didn't know
how," says Brown. "So I did what I do best. I tried to crush
somebody." That person was the Browns' assistant equipment
manager, J.J. Miller, who, because of a lack of available
bodies, was filling in on defense by holding a blocking dummy.
Brown ran him into the ground and broke his shoulder. "And for
the rest of that year, I couldn't get any new socks, no new
shoes, nothing. J.J. never forgot what I did," he says. "But I
asked Bill later at what point he decided to keep me, and he
said, 'After you broke J.J.'s shoulder, you were officially on
the team.'"

Brown spent his entire rookie year on injured reserve with a
hurt shoulder of his own. The season wasn't wasted, though.
Seven days a week, for eight hours a day beginning at 5:30 a.m.,
Brown was torn down and rebuilt into an NFL lineman by strength
coach Jerry Simmons and former Cleveland assistant line coach
Pat Hill. "What we did to him that year was absolutely
unmerciful," says Simmons. "And every day he looked me in the
eye and begged me, seriously, to help him get better because he
didn't want to go back to D.C. For him it was a do-or-die

Brown ran hills, watched endless film of the ideal blocking form
of Rams tackle Jackie Slater, worked on his flexibility until he
screamed in agony and learned the offense by lining up plastic
chairs to represent defenders. And since then Brown, one of the
biggest and strongest linemen in the league (he can squat 1,000
pounds), has tossed most opponents aside as if they were made of

Brown says that the first time Belichick put him into a
preseason game, against the Giants in 1994, he knew only one
running play--roll 34 right--so they rolled right five times in
a row. And five times in a row Brown pancaked his man. He
started Cleveland's final eight games that year and turned in a
dominating performance against future Hall of Famer Reggie
White. With Zeus on the loose, the Browns that year gave up a
team-record-low 14 sacks and increased their rushing average by
25 yards per game. "Guys like White, Neil Smith, William
Fuller," Brown says, "I've beat up the best."

Brown signed a four-year, $1.35 million per year deal in 1995;
now he anchors the Ravens' line. And he's gone from the ghetto
for good. He recently designed and built a 5,800-square-foot
home, just down the road from Cal Ripken in Hunt Valley, a
suburb of Baltimore. About the only place his past bubbles to
the surface is on the field. There he's still a kid, afraid that
if he misses one assignment he'll be cut and, as he says, sent
home "to be killed or jailed." So he plays and practices with a
violent abandon unmatched in the league. Hill says, "He's got
one hell of a mean streak. There were times when I thought he
might kill someone out there."

"I take my pass sets just like a fight on the street," says
Brown, who is now one of the Ravens' seven captains. "That's how
I play the game. I'm gonna punch you everywhere I can, from your
stomach to your neck to your face. And if you touch my
quarterback, even if you just bump him after a play, I'm gonna
kill you the rest of the game."

Brown speaks these words while standing on peach-colored carpet
near the giant bay window of his new home. The window looks out
on a field of meticulously groomed grass and shrubs. Contrasts
between his two lives are all around him now. His mother used to
work four jobs so she could afford to buy him sneakers. Now, the
crates of shoes that Nike sends him sit in his giant garage,
untouched in their plastic wrappers.

Brown worries aloud about Catherine, whom he can't persuade to
leave D.C. He wants his parents to come and live in this house
with him, together with his fiancee, Mira Evans, their
one-year-old son, Orlando Jr. (already 45 pounds) and the child
they are expecting in October. But Catherine just won't budge.

"I'll convince her sooner or later," he says, gazing out the
window. "It just takes time, believe me, to realize that this is
home now."


COLOR PHOTO: PAUL CHAPMAN/BRSP Baltimore's 340-pound tackle is motivated by the fear of where he came from. [Orlando Brown]COLOR PHOTO: VINCENT MANNIELLO/SPORTSCHROME Brown approaches the game as if it were a street fight, and punishes opponents with his rare size, speed and strength. [Orlando Brown and others in game]