Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 3, 2016

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

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Page 52 of 55 OCT. 3, 2016 53 WHERE HAVE YOU GONE? season at Notre Dame in 1972 with an 8-3 record that concluded with a 45-23 loss at national champ USC and then a 40-6 embarrassment at the hands of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Without Browner at tight end, the Irish had to "settle" for senior Dave Casper — now in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame — at the position, after shifting from offensive tackle. Browner and fellow freshman Luther Bradley then became the pro- gram changers at end and safety, the two biggest needs, while helping the Irish win the 1973 national title. Notre Dame was favored to repeat in 1974, but when the duo was sus- pended for a year, along with four oth- ers, the title was delayed until their fifth season of eligibility in 1977 under third-year head coach Dan Devine. A native of Warren, Ohio, Browner was the No. 8 overall selection in the 1978 NFL Draft. While he had a productive decade-long pro career, it wasn't as dominant as his college days when he won the Outland, Lombardi and Maxwell Awards, plus finished fifth in the 1977 Heisman Trophy bal- loting. Since then, the only defensive linemen to finish higher in the Heis- man vote were Pitt's Hugh Green in 1980 (second), Washington's Steve Em- tman in 1991 (fourth) and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh in 2009 (fourth). Browner still holds the Super Bowl record for most tackles by a defen- sive lineman that he set in 1982 dur- ing the 26-21 loss to San Francisco, led by quarterback Joe Montana. Browner recorded 10 stops, including a sack of Montana, and holding a place of honor in his home is a photo of the two for- mer 1977 Irish national title teammates embracing afterwards. Frustrating to Browner during his NFL days was playing a 3-4 defense in which his pass-rushing skills became more limited, although he did record 30.5 sacks his last several years when the stat was tracked by the NFL. "It was very difficult," Browner said. "In a four-man front you have four against five instead of three against five, so there were double teams all the time. They wanted the linebackers to make all the tackles, and as a defensive lineman I always thought I should be making the tackles." A few years ago, complications of di- abetes ravaged Browner's body, lead- ing to the amputation of his left foot. "It was difficult, but I had to make a decision between either you want to live right and longer, or live a short life and be gone," the typically jovial Browner said. "I just had to suck it up, get it done. I had been dealing with it for 13 years. I count my blessings all the time. I have a very strong belief in God and am very spiritual in accepting his plans for me." Among the blessing are his two sons, Rylan, who graduated from Arizona University in 2013, and Max Starks, a two-time Super Bowl champion who played in the NFL from 2004-14 and is currently doing broadcasting in Phoe- nix. Married 30 years now to his wife, Shayla — "my best friend and my love" — Browner also now has 4- and 2-year-old granddaughters. He still runs Browner Productions Inc., which includes putting together celebrity golf tournaments, work- ing with inner-city programs, raising funds for schools and giving about 10 motivational speeches per year across the country. At Notre Dame, tracking down op- posing quarterbacks was always a prime motivation. ✦ Browner was on hand in South Bend to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Notre Dame's 1966 national champions. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA For The Record … Any longtime Notre Dame follower can tell you that hands down the greatest pass rusher in school history was Ross Browner — even if the record book doesn't say so. That's because it wasn't until 1982 that quarterback sacks were first kept separate in football from tackles for loss. Consequently, during Browner's career with the Fighting Irish in 1973 and then 1975- 77, there is no official sack total for him. His 77 tackles for 515 yards in lost yardage, though, are in a different stratosphere than anybody else who ever donned an Irish uniform. A distant second is 1995-98 linebacker Kory Minor with 44.5 tackles for 209 yards in lost yardage, with 2002-04 defensive end Justin Tuck and 1998-2001 lineman Anthony Weaver tied for third with 42 stops behind the line of scrimmage 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 at 21.5 and 1982-84 lineman Mike Gann at 21 (the only other one to eclipse 20). Out of curiosity and in an effort to set the record straight, Blue & Gold Illustrated is in the process of researching the play-by-play of all of Browner's games to get an accurate count of how many sacks he recorded during his career. So far through his 1973 freshman season, we had Browner with a dozen, in- cluding two in the 24-23 Sugar Bowl win versus Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to capture the national title. At that pace and with the knowledge that he was even more productive later in his career (he had a school-record 28 tackles for loss in 1976 compared to 15 during the regular season of his freshman year), we believe his sack total will be at least 50 — or double what anyone else has ever achieved at Notre Dame. Stay tuned for the final results later this year. — Lou Somogyi

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