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Orlando Brown, massive tackle who was hit in eye by penalty flag, found dead

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BALTIMORE - Orlando (Zeus) Brown, the 360-pound tackle who in 1999 was accidentally hit in the eye with a penalty flag and missed three seasons because of the damage it caused, was found dead at his Baltimore home. He was 40.

Firefighters were called about 11 a.m. Friday because Brown was unresponsive at his home near the Inner Harbor, fire spokesman Battalion Chief Kevin Cartwright said. He said Brown was dead when firefighters arrived. The cause of death wasn't known.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said firefighters called police, routine procedure in such cases. He said there were no signs of trauma or suspicious activity.

Brown, a six-foot-seven offensive tackle, played 10 NFL seasons — four with the Cleveland Browns (1993-95 and 1999) and six with the Baltimore Ravens (1996-98 and 2003-05). He started 119 of his 129 games.

Brown will be remembered for the game between Cleveland and Jacksonville a dozen years ago when the massive tackle was struck in the right eye by a weighted penalty flag thrown by official Jeff Triplette. Brown stormed on the field and pushed Triplette, drawing a suspension.

Brown, whose father was blind from glaucoma, said concern for his eyesight caused him to confront Triplette. Brown was hospitalized for six days with bleeding behind the eye. He sued the NFL for US$200 million, settling the lawsuit for $25 million.

He missed the next three seasons because of the injury, returning to football and the Ravens for the 2003 season. The Ravens learned of Brown's death during practice.

"Everybody knew what he meant to this organization," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We're forever grateful for what he did for the present team. We can't express enough sorrow for his loss."

Ravens director of player development Harry Swayne, Brown's former teammate and fellow tackle, called Brown "a big old puppy dog with a little bit of a bark."

"He had a lot of friends around the league," he added. "He was one of the best guys. It's a tough loss."

Browns tackle Tony Pashos played three seasons in Baltimore with Brown.

"He was a really good teammate," Pashos said. "I came in under him as a backup. Even when Zeus wasn't on the team he came around and supported us. He loved us. He loved football. He could never walk away. Man, I can't believe it."

"I remember the attitude he brought to the building to the room," he added. "He tried hard. He told the young guys throughout practice to try hard and work on technique but then when it comes to games, it's about taking the other guy's will. And he was the apex of that. He did do that."

Former Ravens coach Brian Billick said Brown will always be one of his favourites.

"He brought such passion and physicality to practices and games," Billick said in a statement released by the Ravens. "There is no way to quantify his heart, his actual love to play football. The game was so important to him."

New England coach Bill Belichick, too, was shocked by the death of Brown, whom he signed and coached for three years with Cleveland.

"Orlando improved as a player as much as anyone I have ever seen, as he went from being a defensive lineman at South Carolina State to becoming one of the game's top offensive tackles, when he sustained his unfortunate eye injury," Belichick said in a statement. "Orlando was a true throwback player who loved football and was as tough as they come."

Brown was a frequent visitor to the Ravens' practices, tutoring young linemen Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood.

"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," Harewood said. "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."

Brown was born in Washington and played in college at Central State in Ohio and South Carolina State.

He was divorced and is survived by three sons.

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