Hall of Fame running back vows he’ll help new owners turn down-on-its-luck franchise into a success.
“Here I am,” Jim Brown told a city that longed to hear those words.
Brown, the best NFL running back ever, didn’t need to say anything else Wednesday afternoon when it was announced that he would be working with the Cleveland Browns as a special adviser.
Jim Brown, the legendary No. 32 for the Cleveland Browns, might be a lot of things — outspoken, combative, political, strong-willed, mercurial … the adjectives select themselves — but what Brown was not and never will be is a Black man you trifle with.
He brooked no nonsense from others, and he refused to accept nonsense when it was pushed in front of him a couple of years ago. Under a different ownership group, Brown was asked to play the Browns mascot: show up at team functions, shake people’s hands and sign autographs.
And what would he get in return? Fired. Unceremoniously.
How does a billion-dollar franchise ask that of its most iconic hero, a NFL Hall of Famer?
Not one person who follows pro football in Cleveland could understand what the Browns were thinking; not one person who follows pro football in Cleveland didn’t want No. 32 to return. To Browns fans, No. 32 represented all that was sacred about their football team, a team that hadn’t shown its fans much success since Brown retired almost 50 years ago.
That’s the message they wanted the old ownership group to understand. It didn’t; it couldn’t; it had no feel for the past, no appreciation of what those glory days of Browns football looked like. Instead, it wanted to discard the past and rebuild from the basement up.
You don’t rebuild by throwing out every vestige of yesteryear, those wonderful years of success that put the Browns and their ugly uniforms on the sports map. To do so is akin to the Los Angeles Lakers distancing themselves from Magic Johnson or the New York Yankees saying they don’t want Derek Jeter to represent the pinstripes.
Yet the Browns said just that under Mike Holmgren, whom the outsider and old owner, Randy Lerner, brought in to run his franchise. It was Mike Holmgren who stripped Brown, 77, of his senior advisor’s role with the team. It was simply another of the many, many horrible decisions Holmgren made during his years managing the Browns like a three-ring circus.
The clowns are gone now. A new front office and a new ownership insisted upon it. They understood what heroes meant to this city; they understood what Jim Brown meant to the franchise. They welcomed Brown home, and they’ve begun to rebuild the fixer-upper they inherited.
You can’t fix all someone else’s design flaws overnight. You start with one fix and move onto another. Bringing Brown back wasn’t the first fix, and it is unlikely that new owner, Jimmy Haslam, will make it his last fix either.
“I will stand by the new ownership come hell or high water,” Brown told a gathering at FirstEnergy Stadium. “I will be doing everything in my power to help the Cleveland Browns be successful.”
That’s what Jim Brown wanted to do for Holmgren and Lerner, had they let him.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Matt York, File)