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June 16, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 78

The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 78 days away from its Labor Day opener against Florida State at Heinz Field. Panther-Lair.com is counting down the days until the biggest season opener in recent memory.

Today's number is 78, so we're looking at a player who doesn't usually get mentioned among the greats in Pitt history, but he should.

Ask a Pitt fan to name the greatest players in school history, and he or she will probably roll out the usual cast of characters:

Marino. Dorsett. Ditka. Green. Fitzgerald. Fralic. May. Some informed Pitt fans may even be able to recite the players whose jerseys have been retired, like Marshall Goldberg and Joe Schmidt. You could even get a name-drop of Ernie Borghetti or Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.

But there's one Panther who doesn't usually get mentioned in those conversations despite having as good a pro career as any of those players, if not better.

No. 78: Ruben Brown

Perhaps it's the era that Brown played in which has led to him being a bit more "forgotten" than some of his fellow former Panthers. Brown came to Pitt as a defensive lineman but converted to offensive tackle and redshirted as a freshman, and he contributed on the offensive line throughout his career as a Panther. But Pitt wasn't very good during his active years from 1991-94, winning 15 total games and just three in each of his final three seasons.

The poor overall product probably kept Brown under the radar nationally as well. He earned one All-America selection (1994) and only one of his three All-Big East selections was a first-team bid (he was a unanimous first-teamer in 1994).

But the NFL wasn't fooled by Pitt's lousy record during Brown's career. The Buffalo Bills selected him with the 14th overall pick of the 1995 NFL Draft (Pitt wouldn't produce another first-round pick until Larry Fitzgerald in 2004) and he played 13 years in the league, with nine yeas in Buffalo and four with the Chicago Bears.

In the prime of his career, Brown was one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection (tying him with Dan Marino for the most post-merger Pro Bowls by a former Pitt player), including eight consecutive selections from 1997-2004. Brown was also an All-Pro selection four times from 1998-2002, and in 2009 he was named a member of the Buffalo Bills 50th Anniversary Team.

Brown retired after the 2008 season, and he will be on the ballot for the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year.

Previous entries in the Countdown

Countdown: 79 - One of the best
Countdown: 80 - The greatest non-championship team in Pitt history
Countdown: 81 - A crushing end to a great season
Countdown: 82 - The dawn of the Foge Era
Countdown: 83 - The most accurate kicker in Pitt history
Countdown: 84 - Pitt in the Pro Bowl
Countdown: 85 - A play that will never be matched
Countdown: 86 - A long but unfulfilled play
Countdown: 87 - The final year of Ironhead
Countdown: 88 - Pitt's All-American tradition
Countdown: 89 - Iron Mike
Countdown: 90 - The four 9-0's
Countdown: 91 - The two longest plays in Pitt history
Countdown: 92 - The senior year of the most productive QB in Pitt history
Countdown: 93 - The only 9-3 season in Pitt history
Countdown: 94 - The statistical oddity of 1994
Countdown: 95 - A relentless player and his dominant season
Countdown: 96 - The biggest win in Pitt history
Countdown: 97 - A dominant current Panther
Countdown: 98 - A transition year
Countdown: 99 - Hugh Green
Countdown: 100 - A look at Pitt in 1913

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