When Ross Browner volunteered as the defensive coordinator at
Sutton Middle School in Atlanta this fall, some of his son
Rylan's seventh-grade teammates had doubts about Browner's
ability to coach. Relying on a cane to get around after having
had five operations on an infected foot over the previous year,
Browner came across to them as a hobbling old man. "The kids
didn't know anything about my career," says Browner, 49, who
played defensive end on two national champions at Notre Dame
(1973 and '77) and then played pro football for 11 seasons, nine
with the Cincinnati Bengals, one with the Green Bay Packers and
one in the USFL. "Some of them finally went on the Internet and
looked up my resume and came back saying, 'He's legit.'"
As a four-year starter for the Irish, Browner made 340 tackles
and recovered 12 fumbles. He won the Outland Trophy in 1976, was
named the Lombardi award winner and finished fifth in the Heisman
voting in '77, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of
Fame four years ago. Selected eighth in the '78 NFL draft by the
Bengals, Browner became a starter during his rookie season. In
his one Super Bowl appearance, in 1982, he made 10 unassisted
tackles in Cincinnati's 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
When he's not coaching or writing a column for Notre Dame's
website, IrishToday.com, Browner sells supplemental life
insurance. A full-time Atlanta resident since 1992, he is heavily
involved in the city's NFL Players Association alumni chapter,
having served as its president in '95. "You never realize when
you're playing how important retirement benefits are," he says.
"We're working hard to get the NFL pension system up to speed
with Major League Baseball's and the NBA's."
Browner also has been catching up with a son he didn't know he
had until Valentine's Day, 1998, when he received a call from a
former girlfriend. She informed him that he was the father of her
son, Max Starks, at the time a 6'8", 340-pound offensive lineman
at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando. When he met the young man
several months later, Browner was struck by the resemblance--"I
saw myself staring back at me," he says.
Browner, his wife of 17 years, Shayla, and Rylan welcomed Max
into their family, and Ross stays in close contact. A senior
tackle at Florida, Max is projected as a first-or second-round
pick in the April draft. If he makes an NFL roster, Max will join
the company of his father and three of Ross's five brothers--Jim,
48, Joey, 43, and Keith, 41--all of whom played at least one
season in the league.
Though he retired as a player 15 years ago, Browner found that
his new role at Sutton has revived his competitiveness. "I'm
pretty happy with my performance as coach," he says. "I've got
the itch to get back into football full time." --Farrell Evans
A four-year standout at Notre Dame and a 10-year NFL veteran,
Browner has welcomed a new football player to his family.