CLEVELAND, Ohio —** The morning was a tribute to Jim Brown, but the legendary Browns running back made it all about those gathered in the audience outside of the southeast corner of FirstEnergy Stadium.
As the club paid homage to Brown on Sunday with a statue in his likeness and a ceremony highlighting on and off-field accomplishments, Brown spoke more of the relationships he's forged over the years than trampling over oncoming defenders.
"There is a natural feeling that I have today of joy and celebration. This represents one of the highest moments of my life because when I look at the audience, about 95 percent of the people I know personally and most of them I know through the work that they do, the work that I do and the work we do together in the community to make it a better community," said Brown, who played for Cleveland from 1957-65.
"And that's a fabulous kind of thing to feel to see the diversity, the ones who have the money that have put up the money, the young ones who work in the community where they risk their lives … You can't take that away. That's a part of history. I have a great appreciation for the efforts of all of these individuals that I see out there today in the audience."
It was that kind of team-before-self approach that made Brown a Pro Football Hall of Famer and something of an icon in Northeast Ohio and well beyond.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam outlined why the team chose to build a statue of Brown, saying the 80-year-old is more or less forever tied to the franchise.
"It's pretty hard to argue with what Jim did as a player. I'm sure you could argue with some various franchises whether he is the greatest NFL player of all time, even the greatest NFL running back, but it would be pretty hard to argue that he is not the greatest Cleveland Brown of all time," Haslam said.
The statue is a first for the Browns honoring a former player, and the team commissioned nationally-recognized sculptor David L. Deming of Lakewood, Ohio, for the statue.
Brown, who serves as a special adviser to the team, continues to make an impact on first-year head coach Hue Jackson and the current Browns.
"The things that he has imparted to me I will always treasure and remember about this game and about this organization and about his love and passion for the Cleveland Browns and for the city, for the fans. He is a walking Cleveland Brown, at the end of the day that is what he is," Jackson said Friday.
"That shows all the time and that comes right from him. That is from his heart, and it is special that way."
"It is a humbling experience seeing Jim Brown walking around this facility, seeing him walk around the practice field. Just seeing the G.O.A.T., the greatest of all time to play football, to play the sport that I love. I am working my tail off to just be recognized as one of the best players to just be in the league," veteran cornerback Joe Haden said.
"You have the guy that is the best player of all time just walking around talking to us. It is super humbling. He deserves many trophies, a trophy in front of the practice facility, a trophy in front of the stadium; wherever, he deserves a statue. It is a humbling experience being able to see him all the time. He's one of the best guys I have met."
Brown's statue unveiling is one of the main events of the Browns Alumni Weekend, which began Friday with the Cleveland Browns Alumni Golf Outing at Stonewater Golf Club.
Former linebacker Dick Ambrose and defensive back Thom Darden were inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends program Saturday night and will be recognized again during halftime against Baltimore.
On this morning, however, the spotlight was on Brown.
"When you mention the Cleveland Browns, and I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Paul Brown, but when you mention the Cleveland Browns, I think the first thing that everybody thinks about is Jim Brown," Haslam said.
"One of the reasons we have such a tremendous fan base today is that so many of us grew up watching Jim Brown play and remembered (No.) 32 and how he dominated for nine years."
And a statue in Brown's honor should ensure future generations won't soon forget him.