Earlier this week, 1973-77 Notre Dame defensive end Ross Browner was named the recipient of the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Legends Award. The award was established in 2007 to players from the 1966 season, the first season the Football Writers Association of America separated into defense and offense for its All-America teams.
Initial recipients included Fighting Irish All-Americans Alan Page and Jim Lynch, who led the charge to the 1966 national title. Former Notre Dame 1967-69 defensive tackle Mike McCoy also was feted with the award in 2010.
In addition to outstanding play on the field, the honor also evaluates community service, citizenship, scholarship, sportsmanship and leadership. Retired from 30 years of work in various fields such as real estate and insurance, the Nashville, Tenn., resident Browner (who will turn 63 on March 22) still runs Browner Productions Inc., which includes putting together celebrity golf tournaments, working with inner-city programs, raising funds for schools and giving about 10 motivational speeches per year across the country.
He will be presented formally with the honor during the annual Bronko Nagurski Trophy Awards Banquet on December 4, 2017.
“Being name recipient of the 2017 Bronko Nagurski Legends Award is a tremendous honor,” Browner said. “I’m so grateful for all the coaches and teammates who encouraged me along the way.”
A four-year starter and two-time unanimous All-American, Browner is considered the most dominant defensive player in Notre Dame history after helping the Irish win national titles as a freshman in 1973 and a fifth-year senior in 1977 (he was suspended from the school in 1974).
As a freshman he led Irish linemen in tackles (68) and tackles for loss (15), not including two more sacks in the 24-23 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama for the national title.
He holds two “unbreakable” records in Notre Dame annals.
One is his 340 career tackles as a lineman. The closest to come to that mark (eighth overall at Notre Dame, behind seven linebackers) since his graduation are Trevor Laws with 224 from 2004-07 and Browner’s fellow College Football Hall of Fame inductee Chris Zorich with 219 from 1988-90.
The other standard is his 77 tackles for 515 yards in lost yardage. A distant second is 1995-98 linebacker Kory Minor with 44.5 tackles for 209 yards in loss, with 2002-04 defensive end Justin Tuck tied with 1998-2001 lineman Anthony Weaver for third with 42 apiece.
Meanwhile, the career sack totals that began in 1982 has Tuck atop the chart with 24.5, with Minor second at 22.5, 2003-06 end Victor Abiamiri third (21.5) and 1982-84 lineman Mike Gann the only other one to eclipse 20 (21).
However, it is estimated that among Browner’s 77 tackles for loss, about 50 were quarterback sacks from an era that didn’t track that data.
In 1976 Browner won the Outland Trophy and the United Press International award as the nation’s top defensive lineman. In 1977, Browner was award the Lombardi Trophy and the Maxwell Award as well as UPI Lineman of the Year, the only player ever to win it twice. He also finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting for the national champs.
Since then, the only defensive linemen to finish higher in the Heisman vote were Pitt’s Hugh Green in 1980 (2nd), Washington’s Steve Emtman in 1991 (4th) and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2009 (4th).
Browner was the first-round draft pick in the 1978 NFL Draft for the Cincinnati Bengals. Voted the team’s Most Valuable Player in 1978 as a rookie, he played nine seasons for the Bengals. He set the Super Bowl record for tackles by a defensive lineman (10) in Super Bowl XVI.
All-Time Bronko Nagurski Legends Award Winners
2017: Ross Browner, Notre Dame
2016: Chet Moeller, Navy
2015: Randy Gradishar, Ohio State
2014: Randy White, Maryland
2013: Randy Rhino, Georgia Tech
2012: Larry Jacobson, Nebraska
2011: Jack Youngblood, Florida
2010: Mike McCoy, Notre Dame
2009: Roger Wehrli, Missouri
2008: Ted Hendricks, Miami
2007: Bubba Smith and George Webster, Michigan State; Jim Lynch and Alan Page, Notre Dame
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