The impact of Jim Brown’s life and legacy has left a mark on the game of football and the battle for equality.
His passing May 18 at age 87 has sparked conversation and emotion.
In football, his play on the field to me will always be the greatest. It is how I would introduce him every year at the Browns’ Legends Induction ceremony for the last decade. He was always the last to be announced and always received the biggest ovation, not only from the fans, but from his peers.
On the field, Brown was the link to the past. It was an era of Cleveland Browns football when Brown led the team to three NFL title games, including the last championship in 1964. He amassed 12,312 rushing yards in just 118 games. He led the league in rushing eight times in his nine seasons in the NFL.
The amazing thing is his accomplishments on the field happened before many of us were born. I am in my mid-50s and never watched a play live. I have seen the highlights and, in this case, stats don’t lie. As a Browns’ fan who has had little to hang his hat on, Brown gave us a source of pride. He was the argument that would make you a winner in college when arguing about the Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“At least we had the greatest running back of all-time,” I would argue after Pittsburgh owned the Browns. Then I would remind Steelers’ fans of their history. From 1944 to 1971 are not real happy times for Steelers’ fans. Pile on some Brown stats and there was little left to argue about the pre-Super Bowl era.
Brown was the link to the glory days of the Browns. Like Bob Feller’s passing, we have lost a great piece of Cleveland sports history. There is a reason there are statues of them in downtown Cleveland.
The first time I interviewed Brown, I was in my 30s, long before he walked with a cane. It was at the Browns’ complex in Berea and I will never forget how intimidated I was when the former fullback looked me in the eyes and said, “Now, tell me what questions you are going to ask” before the interview. I normally tell people a general idea of what I am going to ask, this time he got 90% of my questions before the interview.
By the time I was a sideline reporter for the Browns on television, our conversations started with, “Hello Mr. Brown,” followed by “Hi Andy, how are you young man?” Even if he was reading my name tag, I was honored.
I will always wonder what his playing career would have looked like if he had not retired to do movies. I was always fascinated by his Hollywood life when I talked to him.
Here is the part that I’m not really sure most people understand. I know things went sideways with him and former Browns wide receiver Reggie Rucker, but the impact they had through the Amer-I-Can program really made a difference. Rucker and I did a weekly TV show at WEWS. His stories about how Brown was trying to bring troubled youth together in some of the roughest places in the country was bigger than any touchdown he scored.
His feelings on racism and civil rights were more than color of skin. It was about economics to him. Talking about the economic divide being the base of hatred and trying to keep down minorities. It is the impact I will remember about Mr. Brown.
I wonder what his career would have been like if social media or more media would have been around when he played.
The team is thinking about a way to celebrate his accomplishments on the field and his contribution to the team and city. My uncle shared with me an idea he had heard and I think it’s a good one.
“Jim Brown Field at Cleveland Browns Stadium” has a nice sound to it. I’m sure It would become “Jim Brown Field at soon to be renamed stadium” in the future. But, it would be a nice tribute. I was glad to see that he was at the NFL Honors event in February. The league will now celebrate the top rusher with the Jim Brown Award.
You might be reading this and thinking about the imperfections in Jim Brown’s life, but now is not the time.
Thank you, Mr. Brown, for letting us feel pride in a football team that can unite and bring joy to our city. The same unity you wanted for our country.
If you have a suggestion for a column idea for Andy Baskin, send him an email at email@example.com. He can be heard on “Baskin & Phelps” weekdays on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland at audacy.com.