CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Three worlds collide Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium for the Cleveland Browns as they kick off the home portion of their schedule against the Baltimore Ravens.
Past meets present meets the future.
In a ceremony that is long overdue, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown will have a statue unveiled on the southeast plaza Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. before the original Browns – the Ravens – swoop into town for the home opener at 1:00 to cap the team’s alumni weekend.
“I have gotten very close to Jim and really respect his wisdom and his knowledge of this game,” head coach Hue Jackson said. “I can’t think of a better person to put a statue of in front of our stadium. That is going to be exciting for the players, as well, and I know for me because I think he is so deserving of that honor.”
In the same week that saw former Browns linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Frank Minnifield and receiver/returner Eric Metcalf become 3 of the 94 nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2017, former linebacker and current Cuyahoga County judge Dick Ambrose (1975-84) and defensive back Thom Darden (1972-74, 1976-81) will also be inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends program.
The weekend should provide quite the history lesson for Jackson’s team that has the youngest roster in the NFL. The tale of the Cleveland Browns extends beyond the current state of the franchise and one that Jackson wants his players to know and understand.
“I think that is what is going to help us get this organization back to where it needs to be,” Jackson said. “We have to go back and grab some of the great times that have been here and understand what those were. You have to have something that you model yourself after, and I think it lies here within the history of this organization and some of the great players that have played here.”
There was a time long, long ago where the Browns – led by Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown – were the New York Yankees of professional football. They set the standard for excellence by winning 8 championships between the AAFC and NFL playing in 13 championship games between the franchise’s first season in 1946 and 1965.
The replacement expansion club that arrived in 1999 has since been an unmitigated disaster and embarrassment to the original franchise compiling the worst record in the NFL – 87-186 – with 25 different starting quarterbacks, 8 football executive and coaching changes, 13 double-digit loss seasons, 2 above .500 seasons and 1 playoff appearance.
Brown and the team’s alumni are the remaining vestiges of the glory days and why Jackson has welcomed them all back with open arms and stressed the importance of their presence around his team.
“They need to understand the history of it all,” Jackson said.
Brown has become a fixture in Berea much to the appreciation of current players since owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam bought the team.
“It is a humbling experience seeing Jim Brown walking around this facility, seeing him walk around the practice field,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Just seeing the GOAT, the greatest of all time to play football, to play the sport that I love. I am working my tail off to just be recognized as one of the best players to just be in the league. You have the guy that is the best player of all time just walking around talking to us. It is super humbling.
“He deserves many trophies, a trophy in front of the practice facility, a trophy in front of the stadium; wherever, he deserves a statue. It is a humbling experience being able to see him all the time. He is one of the best guys I have met.”
Brown’s story and legend is well known, but for many of the fresh faces within the locker room, they have no idea what took place in 1995, the genesis of the Ravens and the ill will that remains to this day 21 years later in Cleveland.
The franchise not only moved to Baltimore but has since gone on to win 2 Super Bowls, won 4 division titles, made 10 playoff appearances and is led by Browns Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. They’ve been replaced in Cleveland with an organization that has completely wiped out the prestige the original franchise once held.
Jackson is the latest to be challenged with laying a foundation strong enough to build upon that will eventually lead to a complete reversal of the Browns’ fortunes, and with it the narrative of them being a dysfunctional bunch of bad decisions.
“We try to do the best we can by having our guys understand how special this organization is and also what it has been through and at the same time understand that we are trying to make it new,” Jackson said. “We are trying to make our own mark here by how we work, how we play, how we win. I think that is important.”
This weekend should provide everyone, from players to coaches and fans, of what was once great and the renewed hope that it will be soon again.