If there was ever a player born to be a Raven, it was Orlando Brown Jr. Jr.
On Friday, Brown Jr. returned to the practice fields he grew up running around as a kid watching his father, Orlando “Zeus” Brown – this time as the Ravens’ new offensive tackle.
Brown grew up dreaming about being a Baltimore Raven, following his father’s footsteps. Now, about seven years after his father’s tragic early death, “Lil’ Zeus” is making it happen in the same city, colors and even jersey number, 78.
“My biggest wish right now is I wish he could see it,” Brown Jr. said. “At the end of the day, that’s my motivation for getting to this point and continuing to make sure I carry on his legacy.”
“Big Zeus” played for the Ravens from 1996-1999 and 2003-2005. He was one of the meanest players on the field, but had one of the biggest hearts off it. He picked fights with his teammates, then bear hugged them as they walked off the field. In short, he was beloved.
Brown died on Sept. 23, 2011 in Baltimore. On May 4, 2018, his son officially began his NFL career.
"[It was] very surreal, very surreal,” Brown Jr. said after his first practice. “These are people that have known me for – literally – since I was born in ’96. I’m very comfortable. I’m very happy to be here. I’m very blessed.”
Brown was already emotional about joining the Ravens. During the pre-draft process, he talked with Oklahoma teammate and tight end Mark Andrews, who also came to Baltimore as a fellow third-round pick, about how surreal it would be.
When General Manager Ozzie Newsome, who brought “Big Zeus” to Baltimore, called Brown to tell him he would be the Ravens’ pick at No. 83 overall in the third round, Brown couldn’t contain his excitement.
“You’re playing now. Don’t put me in no purple and black, dawg!” he yelled into the phone. “Whoooooo! I’m with it! I’m with it, dawg! I’m with it. I’m with it, dawg!”
When Brown Jr. strapped up for his first practice, he tied a black bandana across his forehead. That was a tribute to when Brown Jr. went home for the first time after his father died and found a Ravens equipment bag on his bed. Inside were his gloves and a bandana.
“He always told me and preached that, ‘You play offensive line, you have to have your one swag. You have to make yourself noticeable because nobody notices offensive linemen,’” Brown Jr. said. “So [the bandana] was just something I adapted from there. It holds a lot of value.”
Brown coached up his son, motivated him to keep working through his teenage years when he struggled with his weight. He told him to study Jonathan Ogden – not himself – when it came to how to play the game.
Now as “Lil’ Zeus” takes the field as a rookie, he’s much further along than his father was when he began his NFL career with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie out of South Carolina State in 1993.
“Big Zeus” was 6-foot-7, 360 pounds. “Little Zeus” is 6-foot-8, 345 pounds. Father was an absolute mauler who intimidated his opponents and won with sheer strength. Son has a mean streak of his own but an albatross’ wingspan and more technique.
While Brown didn’t start playing offensive tackle until his final year of college, he groomed his son to be an offensive tackle since his youth. Brown Jr. says his football IQ may be his greatest strength.
“He wasn’t the most sound player; he was very physical,” Brown Jr. said. “He eventually learned to use his hands very well, but didn’t have tremendous length like me. Growing up, he preached to me to be more like Jonathan Ogden – as far as the game.”
With that said, there’s a long way to go for Junior to reach his father’s 11-year career. Brown Jr. will compete with re-signed five-year veteran James Hurst to become the Ravens’ starting right tackle this year.
The fairytale story will quickly give way to hard work.
“I know my dad played here and I understand all those things, but that’s not something that I’m pushing towards my teammates,” Brown Jr. said. “I want to be the best me. I want to be the best offensive tackle on this team eventually.”