For multiple generations, indoctrination into Cleveland Browns' fandom includes marveling at the following:
Remarkably, the Browns at one time featured the NFL's greatest player – if not the game's best ever talent. Jim Brown's greatness was a transcendent blend of power and harmony – the likes of which are hard to fathom for today's Browns' fan.
Sadly, because the current Browns – 68-140 since 1999's expansion return – are awash in multiple front office and coaching reboots, these grainy images of Jim Brown still remain the pinnacle of franchise accomplishment. Perhaps because no other recent success can be cited, empty laurels such as the Browns' "rich history" are employed by media types as cheap replacements for tangible on-field success.
Unfortunately, the Browns' last championship occurred some fifty years ago – a time that probably doesn't register with an increasingly vacuous fan base. Or, think of what exactly an under-21 Browns' fan could cite as a legitimate reason for fandom. Or even a Browns' fan under 40? Thanks to Art Modell's blatant franchise mismanagement and Randy Lerner's often ignored and tepid leadership style, the Browns have to reach back into the 1960's for anything substantial.
This probably means that Brown is as relevant as ever. And of course, a little bitter if you've been paying attention lately.
"I think that the owner, and I have to be very candid with you, is trying to turn all the power over to someone else. I don't think that's possible," Brown said. "I think that the owner is ultimately going to be the leader and I think until Randy takes that position, it's going to be difficult."
"Holmgren is a fine executive, but he is not the owner, and I think the players know that. So I think the players feel that they don't have that top dog sitting there in that office so they can feel that they have great leadership from the top. There's always a question mark when your owner is in England."
Speaking of "top dogs."
"I think he's ordinary," Brown said on April 26.
Reached Wednesday night at his Hollywood Hills home, Brown expounded on his feelings.
"When you think of greatness and the great backs, they all had some individual traits that you can identify – quickness, balance, power, speed," Brown said. "I think the kid is a good working back, and if you've got everything else around him he can play his role. But when it comes to outstanding, I don't see anything outstanding about him. It's not said in a cruel manner. He's very efficient, and that's what you want."
So….tell us what's on your mind, Mr. Brown. Trent Richardson is a role player, Mike Holmgren is in over his head and Randy Lerner lives on another continent. This is not our usual May fare – which consists of almost squeamish, cascading love letters emanating from Berea mini-camp.
A: Hey, Mike: All the receivers are saying that Weeden throws a very catchable ball, so I do expect fewer drops. Even though it's hard and fast, Weeden has great touch.
Anyway, much of what Brown says is layered in the contempt associated with his rough departure from the organization shortly after Holmgren took over. Before Lerner ceded responsibility for the Browns to Holmgren late in 2009, Brown was among one of the continentally aloof owner's trusted advisors – earning a hefty paycheck and holding a position that was equal parts prestigious and somewhat meaningless.
Since Brown's position did not hold any true functions of accountability, he was essentially error-free in his judgments. Offering the kind of opinions on players, executives and presumably coaches – as evidenced above – and getting paid an obscene amount in the process amounted to nothing short of a dream job.
No wonder Brown holds a grudge against Holmgren.
Yet, Brown's words are incredibly valid when referring to the void of leadership in Berea. He both defends and trashes Lerner – mainly using Holmgren's still unspecified role as Team President. Of course, Holmgren's entire reason for being in Cleveland can be reduced to Lerner's tenure of absentee ownership. Holmgren is basically doing the job of Team President – whatever that is – by simply doing the job that Lerner either is unwilling or incapable of doing himself.
As for Brown, he has to realize that the only reason he was an "advisor" in the first place is because the Browns under Lerner have become such a dysfunctional franchise. What other NFL owner would pay both former and current head coaches and GMs to serve in official functions, along with superficial advisors? In this sense, Brown benefitted from Lerner's lack of leadership – much in the way that Holmgren is currently doing.
Regarding Richardson, Brown's comments are based on nothing but pure ego. After all, it can't be easy for the greatest running back of all time to watch silently as a rookie is anointed as the second coming. Even from the perspective of an ordinary former athlete, praising someone who hasn't done anything in the NFL seems a bit unnatural. But, Brown's tone can hardly be taken as serious – particularly when he references brittle space cadet Peyton Hillis in comparison to Richardson's potential.
Plus, in case you forgot, Brown is a bit of a critic of "today's" running backs.
On one hand, Brown is every bit the "old, bitter" ex-athlete that most Cleveland blogs have characterized him as. However, logically, there are valid reasons for Brown's commentary. Brown is bitter because he was ousted in favor of Holmgren in the continuing con games available under Lerner's stewardship of the franchise. Richardson is nothing more than a chance for Brown to beat his chest and mark his territory – which is a place that he probably feels has slipped away from him.
Yet, if Brown truly thought about both his legacy and the current sad state of the Browns, he would realize that people still hang onto his every word.