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No city shows love to running backs like Cleveland -- with or without Jim Brown's blessing

May 25, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Where running backs are kings: While Cleveland is the place where quarterbacks go to die, Trent Richardson should know that it is also where running backs are kings.

No NFL team has more running backs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than the Browns’ three – Marion Motley, Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. You can stretch it and say four with Bobby Mitchell, though he had his best years at receiver after being traded to the Washington Redskins.

Jim Brown, Richardson’s recent provocateur, remains the sport’s conscience of the position and is recognized as the greatest back of all time, if the not the sport’s greatest player.

The most famous Brown never to play a down was a running back – Ernie Davis. The most quotable Brown for someone who did so little was a running back – Ben Gay.

The Browns are one of six teams to have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

They had a back named Pruitt rush for more than 1,000 yards seven times – three by Greg and four by Mike.

Only in Cleveland could a running back commit the most excruciating fumble in franchise history, be sent packing out of town in a trade, win a Super Bowl with another team, then receive a hero’s welcome upon re-signing with the Browns five years later.

Earnest Byner recently told Ozzie Newsome that his fumble in the 1987 season AFC Championship Game still eats at him. That’s a 24-year hole in the bottom of his heart. Why? Because he knew how much it meant to the city.

“Running the ball in Cleveland was great,” said Kevin Mack, who had only one 1,000-yard season in his career yet was a giant in the team’s last great playoff run. “We’d have a big run and I’d look to the sideline and see all the defensive guys getting all excited. I always heard the crowd roars after our big runs.”

Mack’s four-yard touchdown run in the 16th game of the 1989 season clinched the Browns’ last division title. He carried three Houston Oilers’ defensive linemen over the goal line.

When the Baltimore Ravens declined to re-sign Jamal Lewis because they thought he was washed up at age 28, he came to Cleveland and turned in successive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

When third-string Denver back Peyton Hillis was thrown in in a trade to the Browns, he reported to camp as a backup fullback and wound up rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns and won the national vote to be cover boy on the Madden NFL video game.

A load of opportunity: So Trent Richardson, despite Brown’s contention as “ordinary,” has an extraordinary opportunity awaiting him in Cleveland.

In OTA practices, Richardson has impressed his defensive teammates dying to see some toughness on the other side of the ball.

“He passes the eyeball test, I know that much,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. “He’s still working his way through. I’m happy he’s in this building. I’m glad he’s with us.”

“I don’t watch much college football,” said linebacker Scott Fujita. “.We drafted a young running back and all I read and hear is ‘This guy’s a beast, this guy’s a freak of nature,’ and I like hearing those things.”

When the Browns drafted Richardson third overall, Colt McCoy Tweeted a “welcome to Cleveland” message to him. At that moment, McCoy had every reason to believe he would be the main beneficiary of Richardson’s running, as quarterback Brandon Weeden was still hours away from being selected at No. 22.

“I do know that in our division, you’ve got to have a running game,” McCoy said. “When you get down to crunch time, in situations when it’s cold, late in the season, you’ve got to have an established running game. That’s the only way you can be effective against the defenses we play. So, based on that, that’s why I was really excited we drafted Trent.”

Without carrying the ball, Richardson already has added a footnote to the tradition. The Browns have never selected a running back higher in the draft, including the great Jim Brown.

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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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