Who is the most important draft pick in Cleveland Browns history? Who is the one player that has done the most for the organization on and off of the field? The Browns have a legacy of hall of fame players, but one man stands above them all.
Fullback Jim Brown is that man.
Brown arrived in Cleveland from the University of Syracuse in 1957. He was the first African-American player taken in the first round by the Browns. After sitting the bench at the Chicago College All-Star game, Brown reported to Cleveland with an undeserved reputation of being lazy. To some, there was no reason to believe he would become one of the most influential people in Browns history.
One reason was that the Browns were led by head coach Paul Brown and no one was bigger than him. He had been the team’s leader since 1946 when it was born in the old All-American Football Conference. Paul Brown was head coach, general manager and part owner. He ran all things football related and was the Cleveland Browns.
Before Jim Brown, very few Cleveland Browns players questioned the head coach’s authority. The great fullback did. Brown became the workhorse of a predictable Browns offense and was a good teammate. However, after five years of beatings, he had enough and wanted Paul Brown to change the offense.
Fortunately for Jim Brown, the Browns were bought by Art Modell in 1961. He came to the team with fresh ideas and heard the player’s complaints about their coach. In 1963, Paul Brown was fired and Blanton Collier took over as head coach. With Paul Brown no longer in charge, Jim Brown could assert himself as even more of a team leader. Collier gave his players freedoms that his predecessor did not and they responded by playing inspired football for him.
Under Collier, Jim Brown had his best season rushing in 1963 with a then record 1,863 yards. 1964 was even better. Though he ran for fewer yards, Brown got more help from his offensive mates and Cleveland won the NFL title. It is the last championship in any sport that the city has won.
Off of the field, Brown was important to the team as he helped mentor young African-American players like Bobby Mitchell, Paul Warfield and Walter Beach. The Browns were always one of the most progressive teams when it came to race and Jim Brown was one of the reasons why.
Arguably the greatest running back of all-time, Brown retired in his prime at age 29 after leading Cleveland to another championship game in 1965. In only nine seasons, he set just about every important rushing record in NFL history.
After his retirement, Brown remained a mainstay in the African-American community stressing black self empowerment through business and education. Though he moved to California, his heart stayed with the Browns and he helped the city get their team back when the original one moved to Baltimore in 1996.
There are many opinions about Jim Brown the man. However, it is hard to argue that he is not the most important draft pick in Cleveland Browns history.