AVON, Ohio – Two years after a messy breakup with the team he led to its last NFL championship, the team he gave everything to for nine seasons and the team he left at the peak of his playing career, Jim Brown wanted to make one thing perfectly clear.
“I am forever a Cleveland Brown,” he said.
And the Browns are forever him.
The Hall of Fame running back, who had been estranged from the Browns’ organization after he was relieved of his duties as a senior adviser, attended an alumni golf outing Friday with some of his former teammates. Before teeing off, Brown spoke for nearly 30 minutes with his usual candor and directness.
Walking better than he has in years and finally pain free after two hip replacements, the legendary 76-year-old opened up on a number of topics.
As always, Brown had plenty to say, and he didn’t hold back.
Brown hopes to work again for the Browns and said he’ll meet today with incoming owner Jimmy Haslam III, who recently purchased the Browns for $1 billion from Randy Lerner. Brown wants to have an impact on some of Cleveland’s young players and feels he can help the Browns accelerate their turnaround.
“I would love to have a role with the Browns,” said Brown, who was accompanied by his wife, Monique. “I think that’s what every ex-player would like to do most of all, to be a contributor to the success of an organization. I’m stuck with being No. 32 of the Cleveland Browns and I can’t do anything about it. I don’t want to do anything about it.
“If you didn’t like the ball, that’s one thing. You’re not going to always like my politics, but we are married because of that history. If I can be a part of the development of a new winning attitude and help get some victories, man that would be fantastic. Imagine us having a championship team here again?”
Brown is looking forward to meeting with Haslam, the truck-stop magnate whose purchase is expected to be approved next month at the owner’s meetings.
“What an opportunity to be able to sit down with him,” said Brown, whose main reason for coming back to Cleveland was to help induct former teammate Ernie Green into the Browns’ legends club. “He can express himself and I can express myself. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Brown’s departure from the Browns was anything but beautiful.
Two years ago, Brown was informed by team president Mike Holmgren – at the urging of Lerner – that his role with the team was being diminished. What followed was a nasty spat that included angry letters, public posturing and Brown boycotting a halftime ceremony in 2010 when the Browns unveiled a ring of honor at their stadium.
This week, Holmgren reached out to Brown with the hope that they could meet and talk through any differences. Brown said he appreciated Holmgren’s gesture and was anxious to sit down with Holmgren.
“We didn’t have a much of a confrontation,” Brown said. “It’s that respect is always important among all of us.”
Holmgren is eager to meet with Brown.
“He’s one of my longtime idols,” Holmgren said before watching practice Friday in Berea. “He’s a very, very important part of this organization, and I’m really very happy he’s coming in for the weekend and I hope to get a chance to visit with him.”
Brown explained that his exit from the team was because a contract was broken.
“I’m going to be very honest with you, tell you the real deal,” Brown said. “I had an agreement with the Browns, and a part of the agreement was that I answer to no one but the owner. So Randy and I never had a talk. Holmgren and I had a talk that Randy and I should have had. But I didn’t pull a check on it because if a man doesn’t sit down with you and he sends another man to sit down with you, you know that’s not going to be a good conversation.
“It was a difficult situation for him (Holmgren). And what he proposed was not something that I thought was very respectful. Being an old man, old people like to be respected.”
Brown also yearned to be wanted, and his separation from the Browns was painful.
“I do miss being around,” he said.
While he and the Browns were at odds, Brown caused another stir when he called rookie running back Trent Richardson “ordinary” before Cleveland selected him in the draft. But after watching Richardson the past two weeks, Brown has been impressed with the 22-year-old.
Last week, Richardson rushed for 109 yards and scored two touchdowns at Cincinnati.
Brown said he made the comments – “it was like a firestorm coming out of the mountains” – to try and motivate Richardson.
“There is no disrespect in waiting to see a person prove himself,” Brown said. “If you pick out a future Hall of Famer you want to truly believe 100 percent that this guy has that kind of talent. The great thing is that I saw a flash of the talent and I loved it. Why wouldn’t you love to see a running back make two, three, four or five moves and shed those tacklers?
“I was happy to see him show that kind of talent. And if it showed it on two or three plays, you know he has it. If he works hard enough and dedicates himself and has the good fortune not to get injured than he can have a real fine career.”
Brown ended his career at its pinnacle, leaving the Browns after the 1965 season to pursue an acting career.
There may be decisions he regrets, but that’s not one of them.
“I always wanted to retire on top,” he said. “I feel that I left a legacy that nobody can mess with. Want to know that it is? ‘64 championship. ‘65 most valuable player. 29 years old. Raquel Welch my leading lady.”
It was as if he never left.