Ross Browner with classmate and friend Peter Zabroski in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Peter Zabroski)

A Notre Dame Football giant passed away January 4. He leaves an exemplary legacy that he built both on the gridiron and off.

Ross Browner, ND defensive end 1973-1977. Two time national champion, two time unanimous All-American, College football Hall of Fame, game wrecker.

Browner was ferocious on the field and a loyal friend and Notre Dame Man off.

In a 2014 interview with The Observer, he succinctly described his approach to the game, “I went in with a total mentality of go in and be a destroyer of offenses.”

Mission accomplished.

Sought after by many big time schools out of high school in Warren, Ohio, he resisted a hard sell from Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes to stay home and play for the Buckeyes. He had been greatly impressed by Ara Parseghian and liked the size of the Notre Dame campus compared to OSU as he recounted in the book What it Means to be Fighting Irish, (Triumph books, 2004), “Ohio State has a very impressive campus, but eighty-six thousand students or whatever it was really concerned me, compared to just six thousand at Notre Dame.”

Browner was a four-year starter under Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine. He played on the 1973 and 1977 national championship teams. In his career he totaled 340 tackles, 77.0 tackles-for-loss, 12 fumble recoveries, 10 deflected passes and two blocked kicks. He holds school records for career tackles by a defensive lineman, tackles-for-loss in a single season (28.0, 1976), career fumbles recovered (12) and career tackles-for-loss (77.0).

In his junior season of 1976, Browner was a unanimous All-American and was named the Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s best defensive lineman. He was also named the United Press International Lineman of the Year in 1976.

During his senior campaign, he was again a unanimous All-American and also again, UPI Lineman of the Year, the only player to ever win the award twice. More awards came his way, The Maxwell Award winner as the nation’s best player and the Lombardi Award as the nation’s best lineman. Browner finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Picked eighth overall in the 1978 NFL draft, by the Cincinnati Bengals, he went on to a 10 year pro career. He earned team MVP honors his rookie season and set the Super Bowl record for tackles by a defensive lineman (10) in Super Bowl XVI against the 49ers. In that game, one of his tackles was a sack of former teammate, Joe Montana. He played nine seasons with the Bengals (1978-86), started in 121 games and is ranked fifth on the Bengals all-time sack list with 58.

One long time observer of Notre Dame football, Tim Prister, senior editor of IrishIllustrated.com saw Browner play and expressed a strong opinion of how good he was, “Ross Browner was the most dominant defensive player in the history of Notre Dame Football. He was a man-child as a freshman, a Heisman Trophy like presence on the ’77 national championship team, a proud representative of his alma mater and a great NFL player. There are not enough superlatives to describe his prowess on the football field.”

Off the field, by all accounts, Browner was a joy to be around. A classmate of Browner’s and long time friend, Peter Zabroski, who was a varsity baseball player at ND and graduated in 1978, had this to say about his friend, “(Browner was) the nicest, most out going person you could ever meet. We always laughed, smiled, laughed some more, his deep laugh shaking the room….We always ended our conversations with “I love you bro”.

Zabroski went on to say, “Ross was a ‘goodwill ambassador’ wherever he went. He spread laughter and smiles, his gregariousness, made those he encountered smile and laugh as well. He loved ND and what meant more to him than his football awards was his diploma… because he worked so hard for that.”

Ross Browner established a reputation in the 1970’s as arguably the most dominant defensive player to ever wear the blue and gold. That reputation persists to this day and therefore Ross Browner is a most deserving recipient of the title, All-Time Irish Hero.

May he rest in peace.

By Phil Houk

For 25 years, bringing you the glory of Notre Dame football.

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