Ring of Honor

Published 3:22 am Friday, August 27, 2010

BEREA — When he coached in Green Bay, Mike Holmgren would point to the names ringing the upper deck facade at Lambeau Field.

Ray Nitschke. Vince Lombardi. Bart Starr. Paul Hornung.

Those Packers set the standard.

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“I could say, ’Look up at those names. Know who they are. Study them,”’ Browns president Mike Holmgren said Thursday. “For the young players coming into the league, there’s no better example than the men who are going to be in our ring of honor.”

The Browns, with a history rivaling any NFL franchise, will unveil a ring of honor with the names of their great players during a halftime ceremony on Sept. 19.

They’re hoping the greatest one of all shows up.

Jim Brown, stripped of his senior advisor title by Holmgren, has not committed to attending the event. Brown is one of 16 Hall of Famers whose names will be permanently displayed on the facing of the stadium’s upper deck — an honor Holmgren feels is long overdue.

Following a report that Brown intended to skip the ceremony, Holmgren said he called the legendary running back and that the two had a “great conversation.”

Holmgren now believes Brown may attend.

“I’m hopeful that he’ll be there,” Holmgren said Thursday at a news conference attended by Hall of Famers Paul Warfield and Joe DeLamielleure. “Jim Brown is synonymous with the Cleveland Browns. It’s going to be a great celebration for all of us and the 16 families, and I trust he’ll be part of that. He’s going to holler back at me.”

Speaking to WSKO, a sports radio station in Syracuse, N.Y., Brown wouldn’t say if would attend the ceremony or not. “I’m a very sensitive person. I do like to be respected. I’m very loyal. I like it to be a two-way street,” he said.

“I don’t really need to comment on where I go, why I go, why I don’t go,” he added.

Brown served as an executive advisor to owner Randy Lerner for several years. When Holmgren took over, he revamped Cleveland’s front office. Brown was one of the casualties.

“That happens when you have someone come in and they are changing things,” Holmgren said. “New people come in, people go, their responsibilities change and that was what happened with Jim. It’s important to understand with Jim that his role, what I would like him to do, the importance of Jim Brown to the Cleveland Browns and this community, none of that stuff is different and he knows that. I told him that.

“His responsibilities prior to me coming on board have changed a little bit. Would I like Jim Brown to come in and talk to our rookies? Absolutely. Do I want him as part of this day? Absolutely. Listen, the glass is half full. I think everyone is going to be there.”

Among the other Browns legends to be honored in the initial ring of honor class are coach Paul Brown, quarterback Otto Graham and kicker/tackle Lou Groza.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Warfield, previously enshrined in the Miami Dolphins’ ring of honor. “This organization has the richest and proudest history. There’s something special about the Cleveland Browns.”

When he took over, Holmgren said he was stunned to learn the Browns did not have a ring of honor, a tradition shared by almost half of the league’s teams. Holmgren said part of the reason he came to Cleveland was because of the team’s storied past.

Holmgren said the team has not yet established criteria for induction into the ring of honor. He said starting with the team’s Hall of Famers was “an easy call.” The Browns are also planning a season-long exhibit at the stadium to honor their history.

Holmgren’s hope was that the ring of honor could serve as something for young players to aspire to make. Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas feels the team’s nod to its glory days will affect everyone who straps on a plain orange helmet.

“It’s inspirational, motivational and important,” Thomas said. “This franchise was built on the backs of a lot of great NFL players — some of the greatest of all-time. It’s important to understand the tradition and history of the Cleveland Browns. I think it’s a great step for us to have a ring of honor. I know it means a lot to current and former players.”

For DeLamielleure, a self-described “football junkie” and also a member of Buffalo’s ring of honor, it’s one more chance to hear a stadium roar.

“My eight grandchildren will get to see this and it’s going to mean a lot to them,” he said.