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June 17, 2006

All good memories from Browner's ND days

Do you ever wonder what became of your favorite college football stars from yesteryear? Do you think about how often they're reminded of their crowning achievements?

Wonder no more.

Rivals.com is spending the summer tracking down some of the college players who delivered the most memorable moments of the last generation.

The events which made them famous or infamous may have happened years ago, but in many ways they may as well have taken place yesterday. The moments are still that fresh in the minds of each player.

They are often asked about their achievements. And they're only too happy to share their memories.

Ross Browner, Notre Dame
Name: Ross Browner
Age: 52
Residence: Nashville, Tenn.
Claim to fame: A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Browner is one of the greatest defensive linemen in Notre Dame history. He is one of only 16 two-time consensus All-Americans for the Irish. He won the Outland Trophy as a junior in 1976 and backed that up by winning the Lombardi and Maxwell trophies as a senior and finishing fifth in the Heisman balloting. He was a member of two national championship teams (1973, 1977), and he still holds the Notre Dame career marks for tackles for loss (77) and fumble recoveries (12).

How often he's reminded about his college career: "It's almost constant. I'm around youth every day with where I work. I'm always out in the community advocating for youth getting the right help like I had when I was developing.

It's an honor to be remembered for what I did at Notre Dame. And it's fun to share the stories with the kids."

Memories of his college career: "When I arrived as a freshman (1973), I wasn't sure I could play. We had Steve Niehaus, he was like 6-5, 280, and Mike Fanning was 6-8, 260. There were a couple of other big guys. I was like, 'My goodness. I'm just a little, small thing.' I thought maybe I could be a kamikaze on the kickoff team and make some big hits and get noticed that way.

The only thing I did was pray and say 'God, make a direction for me and give me an opening, and I'll make it from there.' When Ara Parseghian saw our first scrimmage against the varsity, we were stuffing the offense and sacking them right and left. He said right then and there he was going to move some of us up to first team. Luther Bradley and myself moved up to the first team. Some other freshmen Al Hunter, Willie Fry, Marvin Russell, all of us got moved up off that first scrimmage. I was delighted that Coach Parseghian gave us that chance.

We played No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. What a tight struggle. Alabama had some great players on that team. We fought all the way until the fourth quarter. It came down to a Tommy Clements-to-Robin Weber pass on a third-and-long deep in our own territory to run out the clock. We won by one point and were named national champions. It was unbelievable to be a part of that as a freshman.

I had a very big year in 1976 (Browner's junior year). I had lost my father in the summer before the season started. The team and Coach (Dan) Devine were a very strong support system for me at that time. They all told me how much they loved me and they loved my father, and that we were a family, too. About 20 players and all of the coaching staff came to my father's funeral. I decided that the rest of my playing days would be for my father. He loved how I played, but he didn't get to see me that much because he worked a lot. He'd follow games in the newspaper and let me know I was doing all right. He only finished second grade. He worked about 10 different jobs to support the family. He came down with cancer and it took him in one year. It was a rough time, but I was so happy that I had a big year. To win the Outland Trophy was tremendous for me and my father.

We were highly ranked in my senior year, but we lost in September to Ole Miss. I tell you what, that was a hot, hot game. We were a large team and going into that heat in early September was just ewww, grueling for us. We might have had the strength, but we were absolutely drained. The had quick, fast backs - including the quarterback - and they just wore us down (the Irish lost 20-13).

Our next game after we lost was against Purdue. Joe Montana came in in the second quarter against the Boilermakers and he rallied us. From that point on he was the starter. The third game is when Joe started and that's when we knew we had a chance to win the national title.

We got USC at home toward the end of October (Oct. 22, 1977). Southern Cal had monsters out there, all kinds of great talent. Rob Hertel was the quarterback, and you had Anthony Munoz and Brad Budde on the offensive line. They had an awesome team. Coach Devine was trying to get an edge, and he called the captains into his office one day after practice. The captains were Jerry Eurick, Willie Fry and myself, and Coach Devine wasn't particularly happy with practice that day. He got onto us, then he asked us what he could to inspire us to beat Southern Cal. He said he had an idea. He brought the manager in, and he came out with this green jersey with gold numbers. Coach Devine said, 'What do you think of this?' We said, 'Coach, that will do it!' We had to keep it a secret from everybody. The only people who knew were Coach Devine, the three captains and a couple of the managers. Our scheme was to go out for warm-ups in our regular blue jerseys, and then we went back into the locker room to find the green jerseys in our lockers. Boy, it was a wonderful plan. Coach Devine only had to say two words: 'Let's go!' Bob Golic, Montana, all of us were ready to go. We went out and dominated (the Irish won 49-19).

I think we were ranked No. 5 going into the Cotton Bowl to play No. 1 Texas. That was Earl Campbell and (Johnny) 'Lam' Jones and (Johnny) 'Ham' Jones. One thing that sparked us for that game was how we felt like we were treated like second-class citizens down there. At the ceremony where bowl officials were giving out the watches, we were sitting up in the balcony and Texas was on the main floor. Anytime we went around Dallas people were like, 'Why did you guys show up? We're undefeated.' We got so fired up for that game. We were determined to win. Earl had won the Heisman and he had a pretty good game, but we kept him running east and west and he had no touchdowns (the Irish routed the Longhorns 38-10 and won the national championship; Campbell finished with 116 yards on 29 carries)."

Pro career: Browner was a first-round pick (eighth overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1978. He played nine seasons for the Bengals and one for the Green Bay Packers before retiring after the 1987 season. He was a starter at defensive end for Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI against San Francisco, and he registered 10 solo tackles and a sack of Joe Montana. The 49ers won 26-21. That was the first Super Bowl played in Detroit. In a Hollywood-type story, Browner's son Max Starks started for the Pittsburgh Steelers in this past season's big one, Super Bowl XL. It was the second Super Bowl in Detroit.

What he's doing now: Browner moved to Nashville a year ago to become vice president of corporate/community development for Backfield In Motion, an academic and athletic program for inner-city youth.

"Joe Davis (the founder of Backfield In Motion) wanted a former NFL player involved. Reggie Roby, the great punter for the Dolphins, was in the role I'm in now but he passed away. Pete Johnson, who was my teammate with the Bengals, is on the board of BIM and he called me and said he had a job interview for me.

"When I got here, I was very pumped up about what they're doing for inner-city boys. I wanted to be a part of it. I want to make sure they don't do the wrong things in life. There are too many prisons filled with them. We try to help the kids keep an awareness of education, life skills and academics. And we teach them the game of football. It has been a great sport for me and tremendous in my life."

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