(Updated: 3:10 p.m.)
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The news came as quite a shock when vice president of public relations broke the news to current players about former Ravens tackle Orlando Brown’s death as the team finished practice on Friday afternoon.
Head coach John Harbaugh announced Browns’ passing at the age of 40 in front of the gathered media, who were not aware of the news.
“Everybody knows what he meant to this organization, to this team, to the Ravens,” Harbaugh said. “He’s still a big part of us. He’s been coming around a lot working with some of our young players. We’re forever grateful for what he did for the Ravens organization and what he did for the present team and who he is as a person and who he’s been. We can’t express our sorrow enough on behalf of our team and our organization for his loss today.”
The cause of death was not immediately known, but no foul play was initially suspected as police continued the investigation at his Baltimore home.
“It’s just sad,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs, who played with Brown from 2003 to 2005. “I was his teammate for three years. He was a beast on the field, but he was a gentle giant off it. It’s just very unfortunate that he had to leave us so young. My heart goes out to his family.”
Only four players on the current team played with Brown, but he was a regular at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills after his career came to an end in 2005.
“Zeus was just one of those characters, bigger than life, huge to this organization,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “He came over with the team from the Browns [in 1996]. A lot of people in the facility know him. Just devastating news.”
Known for his temperamental demeanor on the football field, Brown is remembered as a hardworking teammate and fierce competitor. However, that mercurial attitude helped make his teammates better during practice.
“Zeus was probably the most intimidating offensive linemen I’ve ever been around,” Johnson said. “He wanted to fight every play and always just talking trash. Zeus always brought out the best in you, and you know when you came to practice, you better bring it or otherwise Zeus is going to get you. [He was the] hardest-working guy.
Other members of the Ravens organization react to Brown’s passing:
General manager Ozzie Newsome:
“There was no better friend, no one more loyal than Zeus was to his teammates and those in the Ravens. If he felt that you respected him, that you were willing to teach him or showed him care, you had a loyal friend for eternity. Loyalty is one of the first words I think when Zeus pops in my mind.
“As a player, he came in very raw, but he had a lot of physical ability, that size, and he was naturally strong – and got stronger with his hard work. He had one of the greatest work ethics I’ve ever seen in a player. He was tireless in his passion to become a player. He loved being part of the team.”
Linebacker Ray Lewis:
“I just saw him a few days ago. He’s one of the greatest men I know – really a gentle giant away from the game. He was the original Raven. He set the tone for how we were going to play tough and physical, backing down from no opponent. When you heard his voice on the field, you knew things were going to be all right. He would say: ‘Keep playing. Keep fighting. Do it for us. Do it for your teammates. “Lew,” “Lew,” keep it up!’ I can almost hear that voice right now. And, oh, how he loved his sons. They lost a great father. So sad, just so sad.”
Safety Ed Reed:
“Sadness, this is a sad day. Zeus was a fire-starter. His energy – he would get us going at practices, in training camp and games. How he loved to play football. Heck, he looked like he could still play. I send prayers to his family, to his boys. Be strong. God has their father in a better place.”
Offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (a player Brown had mentored since the Ravens drafted him last season):
“I am at a loss right now. When I think of Zeus, I just have to smile. He was always there to pick you up on a bad day and always had a smile on his face. He was a gentle giant and always seemed to be able to put anyone around him in a good mood.
“He took time out of his busy schedule over the last couple of months to work with me to help me grow as a player. To have a player and man of his stature do that for a young player like myself says all you need to know about him. He was always upbeat, always encouraging and would never let me get down on myself.
“We had similar backgrounds, with me only playing football for four years and him having to work his way into the NFL the hard way. He was an inspiration both as a player and as a human being. I will miss him, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. “
Former Ravens coach Brian Billick:
“Orlando will always be one of my favorites. I just told a story about him at our production meeting [with FOX-TV] last week. He brought such passion and physicality to practices and games. There is no way to quantify his heart, his actual love to play football. The game was so important to him. This is such sad news. He was bigger than life. You just feel for his family right now.”