By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
The Greatest is back: As a player, Jim Brown retired prematurely at the age of 29 after nine seasons with the Browns that secured his place as the greatest running back in NFL history.
In retirement, Brown has had several comebacks in capacities with the Browns. He is about to stage another at the age of 77.
Sources tell ESPN Cleveland that Brown will be formally introduced by owner Jimmy Haslam on Wednesday to a new position with the club.
The exact role will be specified at a news conference. The most important thing is it ends the latest estrangement between Brown and the franchise that hasn’t won a league championship since Brown was in his prime in 1964.
“It’s a big deal. It’s a nice peace,” said one source.
Brown has been unaffiliated with the Browns since former President Mike Holmgren effectively fired him in May, 2010, as executive advisor to former owner Randy Lerner – a position which Brown held for two years.
Brown felt disrespected when Holmgren offered a lesser role at a greatly reduced salary. Brown lambasted Holmgren in a letter and boycotted his induction in the franchise’s charter Ring of Honor class. In an appearance in Cleveland in September, Brown later criticized Lerner for not informing him of the change himself.
Mending fences: When Haslam bought the team from Lerner in August, relations with Brown thawed.
The seeds of a new relationship were planted in October when Brown and his wife met with Haslam for the first time at a social event. Another informal meeting took place at NFL owners meetings in March when both men were on hand for separate business.
Subsequently, they had phone conversations to finalize a role for Brown in Haslam’s organization. An announcement of Brown’s new role with the Browns then was delayed when Haslam and his Pilot Flying J became ensnared in an FBI investigation for fraud.
Under Lerner, Brown was a liaison with players, had office space in team headquarters and appeared at every game at home on the road. He may not be as visible in this new capacity, though.
“It’s going to be a full time … as much as he can do,” said a source. “It’s not 10 years ago, in terms of Jim. That flight (from Brown’s home in Los Angeles) … flying back and forth is a little difficult now. But his presence is important.”
Haslam may want to revive Brown’s role as a liaison with players. Brown is still very active with Amer-I-Can, the organization he founded in 1988 to teach life management skills to gang members and disadvantaged youths.
“Jimmy (Haslam) has a real concern for his players, their well-being, their money, keeping them straight and out of trouble,” the source said.
Still relevant: At 77, Brown may stoop more as he walks and moves gingerly as the result of hip replacement surgery, but he still has a relevant voice in social and NFL issues. He has become an advocate of NFL alumni who have fallen on hard times.
In March, he was named to a board that will administer a $42 million contribution by the NFL to retired NFL players in need. The Common Good Fund was established as a result of a settlement of a class action lawsuit of retired players seeking compensation for the use of their images in NFL Films footage.
Earlier this month, Brown was honored with a plaque at his Manhassett High School in Long Island, NY, where he starred in five sports in the 1950s.
He also is very active with his Amer-I-Can organization and will attend a summit conference on May 30 in Cleveland.
But nearly 48 years after abruptly retiring from the Browns, Jim Brown is still an immovable face on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore.
“I’m stuck with being No. 32 of the Cleveland Browns,” Brown said at a Browns alumni golf outing in September. “Can’t do anything about it. Don’t want to do anything about it.
“You don’t have to like my politics. The fact is we are married because of that history. And if I can be a part of the development of a new, winning attitude … man, that would be fantastic.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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