Will Jim Brown's Return Pave The Way For Bernie Kosar?
By Steven King
The greatest player in football history is back home again, officially.
In a news conference Wednesday in the Cleveland Browns’ locker room at First Energy Stadium, owner Jimmy Haslam announced that he has hired Pro Football Hall of Fame RB Jim Brown as his special advisor. Brown, who played his entire nine-year career (1957-65) in Cleveland, will represent the team in the community, will work with the players in a variety of off-field roles and will have a gameday presence.
It is similar – and yet different – to the role he had under former owner Randy Lerner. Much of his work in his previous assignment as executive advisor was with Lerner and the players. He also had a voice in the team’s NFL Draft plans. Brown will have no such voice in his new job, and he will be much more visible – and active – in the community than he was then.
Brown, 77, returns to the team after being estranged from it for three years following his firing – more or less -- by then-team president Mike Holmgren in 2010.
It was a public relations disaster for everybody involved. Lerner, with whom Brown thought he had a great relationship, did not intervene on Brown’s behalf and instead just disappeared from public view and let Holmgren do what he wanted. Brown looked bad by acting in a childish, angry manner, criticizing Holmgren, the Browns and even Lerner on any number of public occasions. Holmgren looked bad for the clumsy way in which he handled the situation, giving Brown a “chance” to take a reduced role that the latter categorized as “a greeter.” Brown refused and stormed out, going to his home in Los Angeles and staying there.
“I don’t shake hands, and I don’t dance,” Brown said Wednesday.
In fact, Brown even chose – in a public way – to boycott the club’s grandiose unveiling of its Ring of Honor – saluting all of the Browns’ 16 Hall of Famers – at First Energy Stadium before the 2010 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
It all added up to a black mark on the team’s public image. That, plus the continued losing under Holmgren, made it especially miserable for the fans. The fact that Brown – the face of the franchise to a great extent – and the club were at odds for an extended period was hard to fathom. It was like Mr. Macy getting kicked out of his department store or a member of the Heinz family being shown the door of the ketchup factory.
It was ugly.
“It hurt to be away from the team,” Brown said Wednesday.
Now the Cleveland Browns – Cleveland’s Browns – are whole again, or pretty much so anyway. But more on that in a bit. This is actually Brown’s fifth stint – officially and unofficially -- with the team. The first was his playing career, when he shattered every NFL rushing record.
As fellow Hall of Famer and a former opponent, Philadelphia Eagles LB Chuck Bednarik, once said after they had both retired, “Jim Brown is the closest thing to Superman that has ever been on a football field. He was faster than everybody else he was playing against. He was stronger and more powerful than everybody else, and he was virtually indestructible.”
That says it all.
Brown did not return to Cleveland in a public way for 19 years after his retirement, finally coming back 20 years after the Browns’ 1964 NFL championship team was honored at a home game. He returned again in the early 1990s at the request of then-coach Bill Belichick, serving as a liaison between the players, coaches and owner Art Modell.
When Modell took the club to Baltimore following the 1995 season, Brown was front and center over the next three years at public rallies and gatherings all over northeast Ohio, keeping the Browns’ flame alive even when there was no team.
Then when Randy Lerner’s father – expansion-era Browns founding owner Al Lerner – died on Oct. 23, 2002, Randy began establishing a public relationship with Brown. That led to Brown eventually being hired as a special advisor to Lerner.
Bringing back Brown is a public relations coup for Haslam, who really needs such with all of the legal problems he has incurred at his Pilot Flying J travel centers business. In fact, one of the first things Haslam did upon being introduced as the prospective owner of the club in 2012 was to sit down with Brown at length and really get to know him inside and out. Haslam said several months ago that Brown would have an official role with the team at one point and, on Wednesday, he made good on that promise.
There are some who will say that Brown, who has not played for 48 years, is a virtual unknown to many of today’s players, especially younger ones. That’s nonsensical. Brown’s persona – and popularity -- is still enormous. He was – and still is – a legend. And in Cleveland, he’s an even bigger legend. His shelf-life locally is eternal.
The only other former Browns who can claim that they have remained iconic years after their retirements are former quarterbacks Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe. They are forever fan favorites, too. The world stops in Cleveland whenever just their names are brought up. And when they show up somewhere – which is very rare for Sipe – it’s almost heaven for the fans.
Sipe is very comfortable in his role as quarterbacks coach at San Diego State, which will play Ohio State in Columbus in the second game of the 2012 as the ultimate Kardiac Kid returns to Ohio as “the enemy” for the first – and probably only – time in his life. He isn’t going anywhere. He’s a West Coast guy and will likely always remain such. Sipe was on the staff of the former Aztecs head coach and was invited by him to go with him to his new job. We’re talking about Brady Hoke, now the head coach at Michigan. Think about that, Buckeyes fans…Brian Sipe as a Wolverine.
But Kosar, who has long had an unofficial role with the Browns, would love to come back to his old team in an official capacity. In the past, his family issues precluded that from being even a possibility. But things in that regard are much better now and Kosar, who grew up locally in Youngstown as a big fan of the team, is free and clear to work for the team and would cherish the opportunity to do so.
With Brown back in the fold, now is the time to add Kosar to the organization as well.
Are you listening, Jimmy Haslam?