WARREN — Ross Browner, a former Western Reserve Raider, two-time All-American at Notre Dame and one of four brothers from Warren who played in the NFL, has died. He was 67.
Browner’s son, former NFL offensive lineman Max Starks, posted on social media early Wednesday morning that his father had died Tuesday.
Retired Tribune Chronicle sports writer Mike McLain reported Browner died from complication of COVID-19.
“The world has lost a Titan,” Starks said. “Our hearts are heavy, but he is at peace now.”
A native of Warren, Browner was part of an accomplished football family. The defensive end was the oldest of six brothers who were high school football stars in Ohio. Three others — Jimmie Browner, Keith Browner and Joey Browner — followed him to the NFL.
Starks played offensive line in the NFL for a decade, twice winning the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Ross Browner’s younger son, Rylan, played college football at Arizona.
Browner was a four-year starter at Notre Dame as he helped the Fighting Irish win national titles in 1973 and 1977 under coach Ara Parseghian.
Browner was an All-American in 1976 as a junior for the Irish, winning the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best lineman.
As a senior in 1977, Browner was again an All-American. He won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best player; the Lombardi, which goes to the country’s best lineman; and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Browner still holds school records for career tackles by a defensive lineman with 340 and career tackles for loss with 77.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected Browner eighth overall in the 1978 NFL draft, and he immediately became a starter on their defensive line.
Former Cincinnati wide receiver Isaac Curtis told Bengals.com that he fondly remembered Browner’s big laugh.
“You could hear it all over the place. He brought sunshine into the locker room. He just had that energy that was contagious,” Curtis said.
Browner was part of the first Bengals team to reach the Super Bowl in 1981. He recorded 10 tackles and a sack against the San Francisco 49ers in a 26-21 loss. As participants in that game, each player received a gold football and current Warren G. Harding football Steve Arnold remembers Browner presenting the Raiders football program with that ball and speaking to the kids about his journey.
“He sent like a care package of a lot of his stuff after that, and he didn’t really have to do that,” Arnold said. “We were very appreciative of what Ross has done for the football program and me, personally. He’s called me to encourage me and things of that nature. Those are things that I’ll never forget.”
Current Warren G. Harding athletic director Bill Nicholson, who graduated from Harding and played Little League baseball with two of Browner’s brothers, remembers watching Browner play back in the day at Western Reserve.
“They were all just superior athletes, and Ross just had the body, he had the speed and he had the motor,” Nicholson said.
Browner always remembered where he came from as well. Outside of presenting the program with his Super Bowl football, Arnold said that he came back to Warren on different occasions just to give back to the program and celebrate with former teammates from the past as well.
On one occasion, Arnold remembered picking Browner up from the airport and on the way back through town they made stops at the Hot Dog Shoppe along with his old house. He always passed along an important message, too.
“He always just told the kids to just work hard,” Arnold said. “I think a lot of the players that have played here in the past, especially the great players, a lot of these kids weren’t even thought about when these guys played, but its just a pride factor and he (Browner) always talked about pride.
“From both sides of town, even when it was two different high schools. He reiterated that to our present players when he was here. That was his biggest thing when he was here. The pride and respect and things of that nature.”
Browner would know about the pride factor of Warren football. He helped set the standard and will go down as one of the greatest players in program history along with being a part of a family that is one of a kind.
“There won’t be another family of brothers like the Browners,” Arnold said.
Browner also was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
After football, Browner pursued several business opportunities, eventually working in real estate and settling in Nashville, Tennessee.
He is survived by his wife, Shayla, and two sons.