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Dick Ambrose, Thom Darden headline Browns Alumni Weekend where 'time just stops'

It's as if time stands still, former Browns linebacker Dick Ambrose said Friday afternoon, when Cleveland's former players reunite for the annual Alumni Weekend.

"It's really like time just stops and it's kind of like we never left here, our experiences," Ambrose said.

"We just reconnect immediately with the same kind of relationship that we had when we were here playing 20, 30, 40 years ago. "It's pretty amazing and it's a really nice experience just to do that."

This time, Ambrose and defensive back Thom Darden are center stage as the pair are set to be inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Program on Saturday evening in a dinner ceremony at FirstEnergy Stadium's BMW City Club. They'll also be honored during halftime of Sunday's game against Baltimore.

"It truly is a great honor being included in a class of guys that I not only with played with — some of them — other guys that I certainly knew of and certainly looked up to as players before my time," Ambrose said, "and since my time other players inducted who showed the highest levels of achievement in sports and it's just a great honor to be included in this group."

The Browns will also unveil a statue in Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown's likeness pre-game, a tribute commissioned by Dee and Jimmy Haslam to honor the many on-field accomplishments of one of the most legendary athletes.

Ambrose, who played 116 games for the Browns from 1975-84, was known around the league for his bone-crushing hits and hard-nosed style of play. He led Cleveland in tackling for five-straight seasons (1977-81) and was a co-captain in 1982 and the NFL Players Association's union representative from 1983-84.

Nicknamed "Bam Bam" by his teammates during his rookie season, Ambrose said his first year with the Browns was "kind of like one of the hardest experience of my life" under former Cleveland coach Forrest Gregg.

"We hit all the time. And I know the collective bargaining agreement is different these days, but we went out full pads, two sessions a day for six weeks and hit just about every practice," he said, laughing.

"So many contacts were made that I ended up breaking two pairs of shoulder pads during practice and I know one of the more veteran players, they were trying to give all the rookies different nicknames and stuff like that and they thought I looked like a character on the Flintstones, 'Bam Bam' so that's how the name got started."

Ambrose, a member of the Cleveland Bar Association and the Ohio State Bar Association, has has served as a judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas since 2004.

Darden, a ferocious safety who played for the Browns from 1972-74 and 1976-81, amassed a franchise-record 45 interceptions for 820 yards and scooped up nine fumble recoveries in 128 games in Cleveland.

"This is definitely potentially the best honor you can receive because it's coming from the team, it's coming from your ex-employer and you always, as a player, want to be recognized want to be recognized for your efforts on the field," Darden said.

"This is by far the most excellent award you can possibly get."

An All-American at Michigan and two-time Pro Bowl selection (1972 and 1978), he intercepted 10 passes in 1978, which is still tired for the most by a Browns player in a single season.

When reflecting on his career in Cleveland, Darden was particularly impacted moved by the friendships he made.

"We always had guys on that team that made practice fun," he said, "especially the guys in the secondary, we tried to make fun of out of all the drills and all the hard work that we had to go through each and every day. We looked at ways to get the joy and fun out of it."

There are also few things, Darden said, that rival playing professional football in front of thousands of people.

"You remember the games. The games, man, the games — you can't beat running out on that field on Sundays or Monday night," he said. "That was really awesome in Cleveland during that time because on Monday nights we would get 80,000 people and that stadium would be rocking."

Ambrose, who played with Darden for six seasons, added: "He was a leader in the defensive backfield for sure, when I got there he was a veteran player and he definitely had guys that looked up to him and kind of was the centerfielder for our defensive secondary.

"He was always a good guy, a good teammate, always used to get along with him. Funny. We all tried to have a good time as much as possible when we were playing."

That's why this weekend in September means so much. "Everybody's just uplifted when we come together," Ambrose said.

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