Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 21, 2013 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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where have you gone? one in his own end zone in the fourth quarter during a 21‑18 defeat of Alabama and hauling in another one in the end zone during a 20‑9 Gator Bowl victory versus Penn State. The next year for the 1977 national champs, Browner tied a single-season school record with five fumble recoveries, and added a sixth during the 38‑10 rout of No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Among his 73 tackles were nine for lost yardage, and he and Ross became known as "Thunder & Lightning" in the blitz package. An ultra-physical safety with a linebacker's pop, Browner remained a linchpin on the 1978 defense, after Ross' graduation, while helping Notre Dame to a No. 7 final ranking. He wore his game towel with "Hit Man" embroidered on it to let opposing ball carriers and receivers know what was coming. Yet, he still remained in the shadows, this time in the defensive backfield. In 1977, Luther Bradley was a consensus All-American at one corner position, while the late Ted Burgmeier was tabbed as a second-team AllAmerican by one outlet at the other corner slot. Free safety Joe Restic became an Academic All-American. By Browner's senior year, Restic and converted flanker Dave Waymer (a future NFL star at cornerback) were mainly in the limelight. Browner would never make an AllAmerican team despite recording 228 career tackles (18 for lost yardage), 14 turnovers — highlighted by a gamechanging interception return for a touchdown in a 29-25 victory at co-Big Ten champ Michigan State in 1978 — and numerous other plays. "The black sheep of the defense," Browner said about his often overshadowed career with a chuckle. "About 25 years after the Texas game, I was listening to the tape of that game and at one point I heard on the broadcast that I was 'the weak link of the defense.' "I said to myself, 'How can I be the weak link when I'm always playing, never injured, I'm always around the ball, fumbles recovered, hidden fumbles, interceptions?' You have a decent career and they still say something like that." A 12th-round selection of the Cincinnati Bengals, Browner played with Ross two seasons in the NFL and also served as his coach in an NFL boxing tournament — since discontinued — where Ross won the heavyweight division among more than two-dozen entrants. He's there now, too, for Ross, a resident of Nashville, Tenn., who recently had a foot amputated. "He's my best friend," Browner said. "He's my brother and I'm fortunate to have him. I'm just happy he's still happy, because so many things happen." Although Ross regularly returns to the campus for football games, Jimmie, who has two adult children and a grandchild, hasn't been back since the 30th reunion of the national champs in 2007. "I'm not setting the world afire, but I'm still afloat," he said. "My heart's always with Notre Dame." His career will always remain a hit. ✦

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