When Mike Holmgren took over as Browns president, most people probably figured the product on the field was all that mattered to him.
With the unveiling of the “Ring of Honor” on Sunday, it’s clear Holmgren’s vision extends well beyond the field.
“I know there were reasons why this wasn’t done before and a lot of people had good intentions, but to me, none of them rung true,” Holmgren said. “If I can help connect some fans with our great history through this, then I’ve done my job. Believe me, I take being president of the Cleveland Browns very seriously.”
The first class of the Ring of Honor was composed of all 16 NFL Hall of Famers who have worn a Browns uniform. Their names and numbers now form a ring around the bottom of the third deck of the stadium. The white lettering with orange trim on a brown background will serve as a who’s who of the greatest players to wear a Browns uniform.
While Jim Brown, arguably the best player in Browns history, chose not to attend the ceremony due to a dispute with Holmgren, it didn’t overshadow the festivities for the other honorees and their families.
Six-time Pro Bowler Joe DeLamielleure blocked for a 2,000-yard rusher (O.J. Simpson) and 4,000-yard passer (Brian Sipe). He played for the Browns from 1980-84.
“My three grandkids are here today,” said the former guard, who played in 185 consecutive games. “To think that when I started playing this game in the fifth grade that my grandchildren would someday see my name in the stadium, it’s kind of amazing. I’m grateful.”
Former wide receiver Paul Warfield grew up in Northeast Ohio and followed the Browns. Warfield, who played for the Browns from 1964-69 and then again from 1976-77, hauled in 271 receptions for 5,210 yards during his time with Cleveland. “I never really expected to reach these heights,” said Warfield. “I don’t know what the expectations were except that I wanted to be able to play and to play as well as I could. To be considered along the lines of Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Marion Motley and the late Bill Willis is humbling.”
Besides DeLamielleure, Brown Warfield, Graham, Motley and Willis the others inducted were former coach Paul Brown, defensive end Len Ford, center Frank Gatski, kicker Lou Groza, guard Gene Hickerson, running back Leroy Kelly, wide receiver Dante Lavelli, tackle Mike McCormack, wide receiver-halfback Bobby Mitchell and tight end Ozzie Newsome.
While Brown decided to the skip the event, it was clear whose side the fans were on in the dispute between Brown and Holmgren. When Holmgren was introduced before the ceremony, the stadium erupted in cheers. By comparison, Brown’s name was met by more boos than cheers.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was on hand for the ceremony, said he spoke with Brown and was disappointed the 74-year-old decided to skip the event.
“But he’ll always be important to the Browns and to the NFL,” said Goodall.
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