Jim Brown “forever” a Cleveland Brown

AVON, Ohio — Jim Brown made one point more than clear in his first public appearance in the Cleveland area in almost two years.

“I will reiterate,” he said Friday morning, “I am forever a Cleveland Brown.”

Brown spoke at Avon Oaks County Club, as he waited to tee off with other Browns alumni as part of the team’s Legends weekend. Brown, 76, was moving better than when he was last in town, the result of double hip replacements that he said greatly helped him.

He spoke as he always does — with candor and insight and without a worry if people agree or disagree with him. As he addressed the public disagreement that kept him away for two years, he largely exonerated team president Mike Holmgren. But Brown stressed he returned mainly out of respect to his teammate Ernie Green, who with safety Clarence Scott will be inducted into the team’s Legends on Sunday.

“I’m very fortunate to be able to be here because a teammate is being honored that did a lot of work, most of it blocking, and has gotten little credit from it,” Brown said as he sat next to his wife Monique. “Being a part of a championship team and making those kind of sacrifices. When John Wooten called and told me that Ernie was being inducted, he said, ‘Are you going to be here?’ I said, ‘Doggone right.’

“I’m a player for the Cleveland Browns and I had teammates. Regardless of what else happens, you can never take that away from us.”

Green was Brown’s blocking back. While Brown led the league in rushing and earned honor after honor, Green did the difficult work. He and Scott remain two of the classier players in team history, and Brown put aside any difference he may have had with the present organization because he wanted to honor Green.

“When you have a chance to demonstrate that respect,” Brown said, “you jump at it.”

It did not go unnoticed.
“For him to come back to be a part of what’s going on, as far as I’m concerned, it brings chills to me,” Green said. “I am very, very pleased and happy that he chose to do that.”
Respect might have been at the heart of the disagreement Brown had with Holmgren two years ago, a disagreement that started when Holmgren reduced Brown’s role with the team — at the behest of owner Randy Lerner — and then wanted Brown to be present when he put the team’s Hall of Famers on a Ring of Honor at the stadium.

Brown declined to attend, and made his feelings known in a very public spat. It led to a guy many consider the NFL’s greatest player ever to be estranged from his team, an incomprehensible and nearly absurd situation nobody wanted or liked.

Friday, though, Brown said he’s looking forward to talking with Holmgren, and said the team’s president was simply the messenger two years ago and was put in a difficult spot, that the two never had a major “confrontation.”

“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.

“When Randy flew out to be with me to talk about being a part of the Browns, no one was there but him and I. So in my mind I felt that whatever happened was going to be between him and I. So when Mike stepped up it was like an alien to me. Mike had no history in Cleveland. He had a great success record wherever he was, but I always associated him I think with Seattle and Green Bay, not Cleveland.

“He was in one of those positions where he was talking to a guy that he really wasn’t legally allowed to talk to because I had in my contract that I answer to no one but Randy. It was a difficult situation for him. And what he proposed was not something that I thought was very respectful. Being an old man, old people like to be respected.”

Respect drives almost everything Brown does, perhaps driven by his experience growing up in the days of segregation. Brown talked of being cheered by 80,000 in Cleveland Stadium, then having trouble being served if he went to a restaurant in the wrong part of town.

“You try to psychologically figure that out, ” Brown said.

 Brown will meet with Holmgren — a meeting Holmgren said he was happy would happen — and on Saturday Brown and Wooten will meet with new owner Jimmy Haslam. Brown said he’d love to be part of helping the team again, and talked as if what happened has happened and he is ready to move on.

“The main reason I came back — the team wasn’t sold — was because of Ernie Green,” Brown said. “That superseded everything. Mike has reached out as a pure gentleman on a couple of occasions, and I told my wife that was a great thing for him to do. And he did it publicly. So my attitude toward that is very positive. Very, very positive. But it does not supersede the fact that if Ernie Green was not being inducted I might not be here. But that’s not a negative, it’s just a fact.”

Brown did reiterate what he wrote to Holmgren two years ago — that he does not need to see his name on any Ring of Honor and he’s not looking forward to seeing it in the stadium.

“Validation is not something I look for in my life,” he said.

But he made it very clear where his loyalties — and presumably his heart — are.

“Respect plays a big role in my consciousness” he said. “I think it’s necessary for all of us to have respect for each other. And I will reiterate that I am forever a Cleveland Brown. When I ran the ball I gave you the best I could give you, and I never missed a game.”

He said he retired sitting on a tank in England — he was there to film the Dirty Dozen — and understood fans weren’t happy. But he said they always welcomed him back.

And he retired with a legacy that he said may never be touched.

“Want to know what that is?” he said. “’64 Championship. ’65 MVP. Twenty-nine years old. Racquel Welch my leading lady …”

Yes, he laughed when he said it.

“I’m glad,” he said, “to be sitting here in Cleveland.”