At one point during the Anthony Sowell murder trial in Cleveland in 2011, a woman approached the bench and asked a question.
“Your honor, do you mind if I address you as ‘Judge Bam Bam?’” she asked.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Dick Ambrose smiled for one of the few times during those grisly, high-profile proceedings.
“No, that would be fine,” he said.
Indeed, all these years later, Ambrose’s long and productive career as a middle/inside linebacker with the Browns is still remembered fondly, and with great reverence.
And it was on this day 38 years ago, Jan. 29, 1975, that Ambrose arrived in Cleveland -- with much less fanfare and notoriety -- as a 12th-round choice of the Browns on the second and final day of that year’s NFL Draft.
The Browns were in a state of flux at the time. Many of their veterans were retiring and they were trying to replace them with young players. Even with that, though, in being taken five rounds from the bottom of the draft with the No. 290 overall pick, the University of Virginia product faced an uphill battle to make the final roster.
But those long odds didn’t faze Ambrose, who saw not a dead end but rather a great opportunity.
When the Browns finished the preseason and headed into the 1975 regular season, Ambrose not only made the team, but he also made it better for nearly a decade.
It wasn’t long, in fact, before he was given by his teammates the nickname of “Bam Bam,” in part because they thought he looked like the character from The Flintstones cartoon series, and also because he hit ball-carriers and quarterbacks so hard that it seemed as if he were wielding a sledge hammer.
Ambrose became a part-time starter at middle linebacker with veteran Bob Babich in his first two seasons, then took over as the full-time starter in 1977 and proceeded to hold down the spot for the next three years. In that Kardiac Kids season of 1980, when the Browns switched from their 4-3 scheme to a 3-4, he moved to right inside linebacker and started there for his last four years.
Throughout his nine-year career, which lasted through 1983, Ambrose was one of the leaders of the Browns’ defense. When a play needed to be made on that side of the ball, he could usually be counted on him to make it.
In fact, Ambrose made possibly the biggest play of his career in one of the biggest moments of that memorable 1980 season. With the Browns trailing the Oakland Raiders 14-12 late in the divisional playoffs, he stopped Mark Van Eeghen cold on a fourth-and-inches run from the Cleveland 14 to give the ball back to the Browns for one more chance to try to win the game.
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