CLEVELAND (AP) — For one more Sunday, Jim Brown felt the kind of emotional surge that made him an NFL legend.
The greatest player to wear a Cleveland Browns jersey, and in the conversation as the best in league history, Brown was immortalized as the team unveiled a bronze statue of the running back’s likeness outside FirstEnergy Stadium.
The 8-foot-tall sculpture, which weighs more than 2,000 pounds, depicts No. 32 at the top of his game. He’s in motion, the football tucked tightly under his left arm, his right arm cocked to ward off an oncoming tackler.
Although the tribute came 51 years after Brown walked away from the game at the peak of his career to pursue an acting career in Hollywood, the 80-year-old was moved by the tribute.
“It’s a fantastic moment,” he said, standing at the podium steadied by a walking cane. “It’s a great moment because I feel it throughout my body.”
Brown retired at the age of 29, ending a nine-year run in which he led the league in rushing eight times and was the MVP three times.
He was a devastating runner, able to not only outrun defenders but blast through them. He finished with 12,312 yards rushing, 126 touchdowns and established a legacy few have approached.
“When you mention the Cleveland Browns, I think the first thing everybody thinks about is Jim Brown,” owner Jimmy Haslam said.
“I think one of the reasons we have such a tremendous fan base today is that so many of us grew up watching Jim Brown play and remember 32 and how he dominated for nine years.”
The unveiling took place about three hours before the Browns played their home opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
The ceremony was attended by some of Brown’s teammates, Browns coach Hue Jackson, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, who sported a white No. 32 jersey.
In his opening remarks, Brown, who has been a community activist for much of his life, was moved by seeing so many people he has known for years.
“There is a natural feeling that I have today of joy and celebration,” said Brown, who was joined on the dais by his wife, Monique, and son, Aris.
“This represents one of the highest moments of my life because when I look at the audience, about 95 percent of the people I know personally and most of them I know through the work that they do, the work that I do and the work we do together in the community to make it a better community.”
Jimmy Haslam said Brown’s value to the team can’t be underestimated.
“It means a tremendous amount,” he said. “Jim turned 80 last year and I watch him relate to our players who are almost 60 years younger than him and he still has the ability to relate,” Haslam said.
“Jim is a very wise man, he’s been great counsel to Dee and I as we learn the NFL business. He’s a very smart, savvy guy who I think relates to people of all ages and people of all color.”
Brown was once distanced from the only team he ever played for, but Haslam and his wife, Dee, welcomed him back to the organization four years ago as a special adviser.
The Haslams were instrumental in the commission of the statue, which the team noted was “to honor the many on-field accomplishments” of Brown.
The statue — the first erected outside the lakefront stadium — also brought some criticism to the team because of Brown’s long history of violence against women. He served four months in jail in 2000 for failing to attend counseling.
(Photo Source: AP)