CLEVELAND — Jim Brown is unquestionably the greatest player in Browns history, which is why owner Jimmy Haslam III wanted to honor him in unique fashion.
Thusly, Haslam and Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson designated Thursday as “Jim Brown Day” and honored the Hall of Fame running back at halftime of the Browns’ game against the Buffalo Bills.
Brown also was the focal point of the NFL Network pregame show, as well as its nationally televised broadcast from FirstEnergy Stadium.
“Tonight, I have my family with me, and my son and daughter will have a chance to see what respect is all about,” Brown said. “I love this city and I love these fans. We have the greatest fans in the world, so here I am.
“It’s great to be back. This is where I should be. I am always going to be a Cleveland Brown.”
Brown re-joined the franchise on May 29 as a special advisor to Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, ending his three-year absence from all Browns activities.
Former team president Mike Holmgren terminated Brown’s contract as an executive advisor to then-owner Randy Lerner in 2010, leading to a public feud that has not dissipated.
Brown, though, kept the focus of the evening on his love affair with Cleveland — and Browns’ fans reciprocal feelings toward him.
“I have never lost touch with the fans, they’re great,” said Brown, whose 12,312 rushing yards were an NFL record when he retired in 1965. “They’ve gone through some lean years, but they always remember our 1964 championship team. There was nothing like it.”
Haslam went all-out to honor Brown, setting up a stage at midfield for the ceremony, which also included fans in the lower deck spelling out “Brown 32” with bright orange, white, and brown cards.
Longtime Cleveland cornerback Hanford Dixon, Haslam, and Jackson shared the dais with Brown, who received a rousing, standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
“I would like to thank Jimmy and Dee Haslam — your new owners — and the Cleveland Browns organization for thinking of me,” Brown said.
“To be honest, I’m not into accolades. I’m not into the ‘rah rah’ thing, but I sincerely appreciate the respect they have shown to me. My family and friends are able to share this moment, which is special to me.”
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. It was the eighth-longest return in team history, while his 155 punt return yards in the first half were the second-highest total by a Cleveland player for a game.
Benjamin entered the evening with 77 punt return yards on the season. He set the Browns record with a 93-yard runback for a TD on Dec. 9, 2012 against Kansas City.
• Willis McGahee scored Cleveland’s first rushing touchdown of 2013 with a 1-yard run in the second quarter. On the same play, he tied Gerald Riggs for 40th place in NFL history with 8,188 career rushing yards.
• Brian Hoyer completed 2-for-4 throws for 25 yards and a 69.8 passer rating before suffering a right knee injury. The North Olmsted native was hurt at the end of an 11-yard scramble while fleeing the pocket at 11:33 of the first.
• Wide receiver Greg Little began the contest returning kickoffs, but only advanced the ball to the 8- and 10-yard line on two tries. Rainey replaced him in the role.
• Bills coach Doug Marrone forfeited a timeout by making an illegal challenge in the second, setting up McGahee’s TD three plays later.
Out of action
The Browns’ inactives were linebackers Jabaal Sheard (left knee sprain) and Quentin Groves (ankle), defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps), quarterback Jason Campbell, running back Fozzy Whittaker, center Patrick Lewis and tackle Martin Wallace.
Rookie Barkevious Mingo started in place of Sheard on the outside for the second straight game.
Running back Chris Ogbonnaya exited with a head injury in the second quarter after landing awkwardly on a bad throw from quarterback Brandon Weeden.
• Not in uniform for the Bills were safety Jairus Byrd (foot), kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin), cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and Ron Brooks (foot), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hand), tight end Chris Gragg and guard Sam Young.
Byrd was listed as questionable, but is at an impasse with Buffalo’s coaching staff over his durability.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson tweaked his sore back and left for good early in the second.
The kickoff conditions were 75 degrees under partly cloudy skies. Cleveland wore all-brown uniforms to honor Jim Brown, while Buffalo sported white tops and blue pants.
• Many players on both teams wore pink shoes, while the officials’ flags were pink as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
• The Browns and Bills were playing on primetime television for the third time. Their first two took place on Monday Night Football.
Buffalo won 22-19 on Oct. 2, 1995 at Cleveland Stadium (aired on ABC), while the Browns were a 29-27 winner on Nov. 17, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium (aired on ESPN).
• Cleveland wraps up its three-game homestand on Oct. 13 against Detroit, while the Bills return home to host Cincinnati the same afternoon.
• The Browns’ last 3-2 start to a season was 2001 under coach Butch Davis. That squad finished third in the AFC Central Division at 7-9.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.