National Football League
Brown tells harrowing 9/11 story
National Football League

Brown tells harrowing 9/11 story

Published Sep. 23, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

This story was first published in 2004.

The Baltimore Ravens are once again enjoying a typical season — vicious defense, big plays off of turnovers and special teams and a run-oriented offense that does enough not to lose. Stories are aplenty within that Ravens locker room. Ray Lewis, Prime Time, Ed Reed, they got 'em all — personalities after personalities.

But perhaps the man with the most unbelievable tale goes to the behemoth known as "Zeus" — the massive 6-7, 365-pound Orlando Brown. While John Kerry and President George Bush recently focused much of their campaigns around the effects of terrorism since 9-11, neither were actually at Ground Zero to live through it. Orlando Brown, unfortunately, could give the pair a first-hand account of the horrific events of that day.

In an exclusive interview with Fox Sports, Brown recently sat down to relive his amazing first-hand account and an amazing escape for survival while America came under attack.


"I was on the 50th floor in the Millennium Hilton, right across the street, I could throw a rock and hit both of those buildings," Brown recalled of the hotel dramatically damaged by the fall of the Twin Towers.

Brown is best known for an incident a few years ago that saw the outraged lineman toss official Jeff Triplette after a flag was thrown in Brown's eye. The unfortunate incident caused a chain reaction of events, including the loss of sight in the eye for Zeus, punishment by the league, a lawsuit by Brown and an eventual settlement by the NFL which paved the way for Brown to return to the NFL. While that incident brought Brown a certain amount of notoriety, it also ended up bringing him to what would eventually be Ground Zero on that fateful day.

"I remember when the first plane hit, it shook the building," he recalled recently. "I opened up the shades and all I saw was debris. At first I figured it was a (ticker-tape) parade. I looked over and I saw all of this smoke coming out the back side of the Trade Center."

Unsure of what was going on, Zeus began packing his belongings when the fire department announced over the hotel's public address system that a "small plane" had hit the tower and urged guests to remain in their rooms. Brown did as instructed and ended up witnessing the most horrific sights those oft-talked-about eyes would ever see.

"I looked out the window and I saw these people jumping out of the window," he recalled. "It was a sight to see and I never, I've seen people get shot and things like that but I've never seen anybody jump from that high. It was like a watermelon hitting the ground."

The metaphor is disturbing, nightmarish yet Brown couldn't peel himself away from the tragic scene.

"I was just sitting there counting. I couldn't believe it. It's like a movie, this ain't happening. I was counting them. I just couldn't believe...I counted like 20 or more from that front side. At first I just couldn't relate. I said that's not a body. You always hear if you jump from that high up you will pass out in the air. Nah, some of those people were alive ‘til they hit that ground.

"You could see it. You could see it."

Unfortunately, as Brown was about to see first-hand and the rest of the world now knows, the scene would grow much, much more grave. While watching victims leap from the opening in Tower One, he witnessed the terrorists' second attack of the morning.

"Then like 20 minutes later here comes this other plane and it hit the other side of the building, of the second building, and all this debris started coming. I kept thinking maybe the radar messed up. I didn't think terrorists. This time I hit the door."

Brown kicked in to survival mode and immediately fled from his room, sans shirt and pants. Brown is a man of the streets and knows how to survive. Had his survival instincts not kicked in, he knows that he may not have been here to man the right side of the Ravens offensive line today.

"I had some shorts and tennis shoes and that's it," he said. "I didn't have a shirt. I didn't have time to grab it once I saw that second plane."

The massive Brown raced down 60 flights and burst through the doors of the hotel onto the street. The site was more chaotic than any goal-line collision, more ominous than anything he's ever seen on the field.

"I got outside I saw all of these people bleeding, debris falling, people's heads busted open. People hollering and crying. By this time most people were walking towards the building and I'm running the opposite way."

This is where his first-hand account gets even more hectic. Brown knew he needed to flee the area so he actually began trying to stop taxi cabs to take him to safety. Imagine this scene: 6-foot-7, 365-pound massively muscular giant, tattoos sported proudly on his upper body with no shirt or shorts trying to get a cab. After predictably getting rebuffed by several drivers, one finally found out he'd have no choice in Brown's attempt at escape.

"They are looking at me like 'no,'" he said with a laugh. "So I went to the next cab and the next cab and the fourth cab and I said 'Sir, I've got money, just take me to the highway and drop me off at the highway.'

"He was like, 'no no no no no no no, I got people in the back, no no no.' I knew he was scared himself so I kept saying, 'don't make me take this last cab.'"

Brown, however, did just that. He grabbed the driver and yanked him from the driver's seat and placed him in the passenger side.

"I pushed him over, I didn't hit him or anything, I didn't hurt him but I could tell he was scared. When I got in the car I could barely fit. There was another lady trying to get in the car. I told her to get in too."

Next, Brown, with his four passengers, turned off the street that boasts the Trade Center and hit the West Side Highway toward the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel — an escape off the island. But as he was heading down to the tunnel Brown turned on the radio to find out what the rest of the nation was hearing on their TVs and radios — America had been attacked by terrorists. Blood was being intentionally spilled on our soil.

Every entrance and exit onto the island of Manhattan was officially closed. So Brown pulled a u-turn on the West Side Highway, plowing through orange barricade rods that separated the conflicting traffic routes and headed uptown toward safer regions.

Brown stopped at a hotel uptown, gave the car back to the shaken up driver (along with a tip for the ride believe it or not) and took himself, half naked, inside to ask for a room to collect himself. But like the other cabbies who turned him down, so did the hotel clerk upon seeing the shirtless mountain of a man walk through the doors.

"I went inside and I didn't have my shirt on but I begged the people. I said can I please get a room? I know how I look but I'm an NFL player. I've got money."

But Brown was turned down. Once again, he took measures into his own hands.

"I'm in hyper mode and I'm scared," he said as he explained how he actually physically picked up the clerk to demand a room. "I did pick him up. I didn't hurt him but I said I know you got some rooms. Give me a room! The (manager) came over from the back she told me to put him down, 'we've got plenty of rooms.'"

Once inside Brown gathered himself and tried to make sense of everything he had just seen and done. Nothing made any sense. Still, while he willed himself to safety Brown now had another concern to deal with — his friend was missing.

Brown was in New York with his former Browns teammate Jeff Blackshear. When Brown fled, he had lost his friend. As horrified as he was to return to the area, he couldn't possibly fathom to think what had happened to Blackshear. Basically, Brown had unfinished business.

Zeus checked his cell phone from his hotel and exhaled as a message was left for him that Blackshear had indeed been found at a hospital. He had been caught up in the collapse but was one of the lucky few successfully rescued.

"He said when he came out the front door (of the Millennium Hilton) all he saw was a fire department guy taking off running but another guy was like 'We're not going to make it.' He said he looked up and saw this building coming down."

Blackshear followed one of NYFD's bravest as they smashed through the doors of the hotel and ducked for cover as the World Trade Center's second tower came down around them. Zeus actually rented a Limo, drove back down and scanned the hospital for his missing friend.

"I went and got him in the hospital. He was covered in white and he was crying. He was covered in that dust because the understanding that I got from him was he came out when the building was falling — the last building. He was in shock because when I picked him up and took him back to the hotel where I had just got the room he just laid on the couch."

"He said, 'Man they tried to kill us today.' He just laid there ... just laid there."

"I thank God that I made it out of there and my respect goes to the other people that didn't. But I'm glad I made it out."


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