Jim Brown: Death of a Legend, Cornerstone of Cleveland Dynasty

Jim Brown: Death of a Legend, Cornerstone of Cleveland Dynasty
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

NFL fans today might find it hard to believe but there was an era of pro football when the Cleveland Browns were an absolutely terrifying force within the league and for opposing teams.

Jim Brown’s death on May 18, at age 87, is a reminder that his retirement, when Brown was still at the peak of his prowess as a player, marked a sudden end for true football greatness in Cleveland.

To this day it’s the only sports dynasty Cleveland has ever known.

Brown A Towering Presence For Franchise

In his final NFL season in 1965, Brown rushed for 1,544 yards and scored 21 touchdowns as a runner and receiver. It was his second-best season for rushing yards and it was his career high for total touchdowns. And that was in a 14-game regular season.

Brown led the NFL in rushing eight times, still a record, in his nine seasons. He held the career record for rushing yards (12,312) from his retirement in 1965 until Walter Payton broke it in 1984. All of this came in a era way before legalized Ohio sports betting sites was even a pipe dream.

The Browns won just one NFL championship with Jim Brown, in 1964. But after drafting him out of Syracuse University in the first round in 1957, they continued what was already a dynasty with one winning campaign after another. They went to the NFL title game three times with Brown carrying the ball.

From a football standpoint, Brown was the capstone of the Browns as a ferocious franchise. The record shows that the Browns had many winning seasons through the late 20th century, but dominance was not part of their persona the way it was when Brown terrorized the league and there certainly were no championships.

Even now, the Browns are a longshot at +3000 to win the Super Bowl at BetMGM Ohio Sportsbook for the 2023 season. The Browns have not won a title in the post NFL-AFL merger era, or even reached a Super Bowl.

Unusual In Retiring On Top

A handful of NFL players have retired at the height of their careers. Detroit running back Barry Sanders in 1999 comes to mind, of course. And the same was true of another Lion, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, after the 2015 season. Both seemed to be worn thin by their team’s chronic losing.

However, Jim Brown was different. He was at the top of his game on a winning team.

Brown, in his decision, at age 29, was saying that he was his own man, and that he did not need football to define him.

He immediately slipped into a Hollywood acting career that had already started. Indeed, his retirement was triggered when Cleveland management threatened discipline over Brown’s acting schedule for the blockbuster war movie, The Dirty Dozen.

It has been well chronicled that Brown’s post-football career was a mix of motion-picture celebrity, numerous encounters with the law and, later in life, activism in trying to curb urban gang violence.

However, regarding Cleveland football and perhaps even Cleveland sports generally, Brown’s departure from the Browns left a void that only LeBron James could sporadically fill in his two stints with the Cavaliers.

Only LeBron Won Title in Cleveland After Brown

When James led the Cavs to the NBA championship in 2016, it was the first and only title a Cleveland team has won in a major sport since Brown retired.

What made Brown stand apart was that his impact on his team wasn’t just the yards and the first downs and the touchdowns that went into the record books. His contribution was that he gave the Browns of the late 1950s and early ’60s their imposing personality, a character of intimidation.

Certainly, the Browns were great post-World War II in the AAFC and NFL even before the bruising running back’s arrival. There was quarterback Otto Graham and fullback Marion Motley and receiver Dante Lavelli and, of course, coach Paul Brown.

However, as the NFL was emerging as America’s favorite sport and finding its stride on television, it was Brown who was almost mythic in his swagger, his astounding performances, and his seeming invincibility.

And then – it was over.



Bill Ordine was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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