Ross Browner, a star defensive end on Notre Dame's 1973 and 1977 national championship teams, had his left foot amputated in March.
The 59-year-old Warren, Ohio, native and 1999 College Football Hall of Fame inductee developed an ulcer in the foot after he says he was bitten by a brown recluse spider in 2000 while on vacation in the Virgin Islands. This led to multiple infections and 22 operations.
Browner was diagnosed with diabetes in 1994. About 10 to 15 percent of people with that disease can develop a foot ulcer at some point in their lives, according to studies.
"After my last infection in March, my doctor gave me two choices," said Browner, who now resides in Nashville, Tenn. "You can keep your foot, be sick all the time and possibly die, or we can do an amputation and you can have a better quality of life.
"I wanted a better quality life and the chance to be around my wife and my sons. I feel better than I have in a very long time. I was tired of being in and out of the hospital."
Since the operation in March, Browner has been in rehabilitation in Tucson, Ariz., where his son Rylan is a student at Arizona. In late August, the 6-foot-3 Browner was fitted with a size 17 prosthetic foot that he wears without the use of a cane.
On Saturday, Browner, who played 10 years in the NFL, mostly with the Cincinnati Bengals, will be in South Bend for the Notre Dame-Michigan State game to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1973 national championship and undefeated season.
After the 1977 season, Browner won the Lombardi Award for the nation's best lineman and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
His eldest son, Max Starks, was an offensive tackle for nine seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Friday, Starks was signed by the St. Louis Rams, where he will wear No. 79, the same number his father wore during his NFL career.
Browner had three brothers play in the NFL, including Joey Browner, who was a six-time Pro Bowl free safety for the Minnesota Vikings in the 1980s.