PRINCESS ANNE — The University of Maryland Eastern Shore Department of Athletics mourns the loss of former Maryland State University Football and NFL star Roger Brown who has died at the age of 84.
A towering 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds as a player, Brown was a six-time Pro Bowler in the NFL and was a member of the Hawks Hall of Fame (1982), the College Football Hall of Fame (2009), The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame (1997) and the Black College Football Hall of Fame (2014).
“I thought he was just one of the great characters in professional football,” Athletic Director Keith Davidson said. “The fact that he was from our campus when it was Maryland State just made spending time with him more special.”
One of those times was at his College Football Hall of Fame induction in 2009 when Davidson attended the event as a representative of the athletic department. There was an hour where Brown regaled everyone with stories of his playing days and Davidson got to soak it all in.
In Portsmouth, Virginia, he was well known post retirement as the owner of Roger Brown’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in the downtown area where he was a gracious host to those who would visit from the university.
“He was always an entrepreneur even before he retired and he talked about that,” Davidson said. “He talked to me about managing singing groups, working at a club and as a radio DJ while he was in college. He was even involved in the music industry while he was playing in Detroit.”
His death was reported by the staff of his namesake restaurant via Facebook post.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of our dear Roger Brown,” the post said. “Roger passed away this morning around 2:00am. The legacy he’s created has made him a valued member of our community and he will be deeply missed. Those of us who have had the privilege of knowing and working with Roger have lost a dear friend and inspiring mentor.”
Brown’s restaurant says details on a celebration of life will be released soon. You can email your condolences to RememberingRogerBrown@gmail.com.
Born in Surry County, Virginia, Brown grew up in Newport News and went on to attend school in Nyack, New York. After graduation, he ended up at then Maryland State College with a goal of working on his academics and transferring to a larger school. But he often said he fell in love with the tiny campus and stayed.
He went on to star from 1956-59 when his teams had a record of 24-5-1. He led the Hawks to a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title in 1957 and was named an NAIA All-American in 1958 and 1959.
He was drafted by Detroit in the fourth round of the NFL draft (42 overall). There he teamed with Alex Karras, Darris McCord and Sam Williams to form Detroit’s “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line.
The NFL did not officially track sacks as a statistic until 1982, but Brown made a career of chasing down signal callers. A review of the Lions 1962 regular season victory against Green Bay — dubbed the Thanksgiving Day Massacre — would show Brown with seven sacks against Packers legend Bart Starr.
Ironically, Brown would move on to the Los Angeles Rams in 1967, where he replaced Rosey Grier on the Rams’ more famous “Fearsome Foursome” along with Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones.
He played in 138 NFL games starting 124. Brown was chosen for the Lions' all-time 75th anniversary team in 2008. He has 75 career sacks, two interceptions and three safeties and was the first NFL player to regularly weigh in over 300 pounds.
— Shawn R. Yonker is Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Media Relations at UMES.