By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Chasing No. 32: Ever since the Browns traded three low-round draft picks to move up one spot to No. 3 in the first round and secure the selection of running back Trent Richardson, Jim Brown has been the Holy Grail of interview-seekers.
The day of the draft – long hours before Richardson was assured of going to the Browns – the greatest running back of all time delivered a stinging commentary on Richardson on the Scott Van Pelt Show on ESPN Radio.
“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.”
I asked on what Brown is basing his observations.
“I’m basing them on highlights, and highlights show the best of you,” he said. “But here’s the deal, he can change everything that I’ve said.”
Keeping it real: Brown, 76, has been estranged from the franchise for which he starred from 1957 through 1965 on various occasions over the years, though he considers himself "a Cleveland Brown forever." The current frosty relationship stemmed from his dismissal as an “executive advisor” by Browns President Mike Holmgren two years ago.
The parting, which cost Brown about $500,000 in annual income according to sources, was a textbook PR disaster. Brown, the franchise’s greatest player, boycotted the team’s inaugural Ring of Honor ceremony in 2010 and compounded his conspicuous absence with a scathing letter to Holmgren, charging him with disrespect.
“Browns fans believe you’re a bitter man and that’s why you’re saying these things about Richardson,” I said to Brown.
“That’s so petty and so ridiculous,” Brown replied. “Anyone that thinks that I’m a guy that goes around bashing anybody … I (criticized) a lot of people in my career … I talked about Tiger Woods (before his scandal) and challenged him, and O.J. (Simpson), because of certain hypocrisy. But the Browns speak for themselves.
“What have I said about the Browns other than the fact that Richardson is an ordinary back? There’s so much I could say. So you tell all those people that want to look at me, look at what you’ve got. You’re sitting on a mess. You’ve got a guy that doesn’t give interviews except in other cities. I ask all the people in Cleveland, do you get the impression that Mr. Holmgren wants to be there? If you do, then tell me.”
Holmgren has said he is “all in” on his commitment to turning around the fortunes of the Browns. He made a thorough round of interviews to Cleveland media outlets shortly after the draft.
Back to Richardson: “Let me ask you a question,” Brown said to me. “I haven’t heard anyone say anything special about (Richardson). Have you?”
I said a lot of people considered Richardson the best offensive player in the draft other than the quarterbacks taken ahead of him, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
“Well, they see something I don’t see,” Brown responded.
I said Richardson has been compared favorably to his hometown hero, Emmitt Smith, who happens to be the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. I said that from my own observation, Richardson’s 5-9 ½, 228-pound physique and renowned weight-room strength would seem to make him a running back extremely difficult to tackle.
“If you look at Emmitt Smith and the kind of blocking he had, I don’t think he’d have close to the career he had (without it),” Brown said. “But if you take a Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson … Earl Campbell, there’s something special there.
“Emmitt was a warrior. But when it comes to the first level of backs, Emmitt would not be in my first level. So when I look at Richardson, I see adequate speed, adequate power, and a good attitude. But I don’t see anything special. And I don’t know if anyone can tell me there’s anything special.”
I said to Brown that Richardson looks freakishly strong.
“You’re not gonna come into pro football dealing with how strong you are,” Brown responded. “They’ve got enough people dealing with strength. Your quickness and your speed are the two assets that I would look at. Look at Earl Campbell. Earl was quick. You have to have a certain kind of quickness, certain kind of speed, and then your strength comes into it.
“But you’re not going to make it with strength and ordinary speed and quickness. I don’t think it’s even an issue. When you deal with Richardson, he comes out of that Alabama mold. He’ll work hard for you, and he’s kind of an all-around back. But if you look at Cleveland, I would have gotten me a couple of receivers.”
Richardson universally has been hailed as the best running back to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson (in 2007). How does Brown feel about that?
“Adrian Peterson, I loved him when I first saw him and I still do,” Brown said. “He gets hurt, but that’s a special talent. He’s got good size, great speed and great quickness. In pro football, you can be a workmanlike guy that fits in to a good team and you do things that they need you to do and you’re worth it. But if you’re talking about a top draft pick and someone who’s gonna have instant impact on your team, I don’t see the kid that way.”
Final points: I’ve enjoyed a dialogue with Jim Brown since I first covered the Browns in 1984. Before that, I came from the generation whose fathers adored him. I can still hear my father, glued to the black-and-white TV, exclaiming, “Look at him. He’s an animal, the way he runs.”
I do not believe Brown is saying these things about Richardson because of bitterness toward the present Browns’ management, although it’s obvious that bitterness exists. I am giving him the benefit of doubt as the everlasting conscience of the position of NFL running back. I simply disagree with him.
“Here’s my last thing to you,” Jim Brown said. “I think Richardson is a fine young man. I think he’s a good all-around football player. But from my standpoint, that’s ordinary. You talk about someone that’s going to move or light up the franchise or create a certain kind of thing, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to be mean. There are certain people you look at and there’s something special about them. I don’t see it.”
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