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Jim Brown will never forget the words he heard from Paul Brown when he was drafted into the NFL in 1957.
"You are my running back," said Paul, the Cleveland Browns owner, to Jim, the Syracuse graduate who was about to embark on one of the greatest NFL careers in league history.
More than 60 years later, Brown is still — and will always be — recognized as Cleveland's running back. He was a Pro Bowler in each season of his nine-year career, a three-time MVP award winner and an NFL champion in 1964. He also led the league in rushing yards for eight of his nine seasons and, with 104.3 average rushing yards per game, is the only player in NFL history to average more than 100 rushing yards per game in a career.
Brown, however, will always go back to those five words he heard from Paul Brown over the phone before he was selected with the sixth pick in the draft.
"That was the greatest words I've heard in sports because he wanted me on his team," Brown said. "It meant an awful lot to me. He had no doubts that I could be a really good player."
The Cleveland Browns Presents: Club 46 - player stories through generations of football
For Brown, those words signified the end of a long road to reach the NFL.
His family faced poverty and segregation when he was raised in St. Simons, Georgia, where he lived with his great-grandmother. As a young boy in Georgia, Brown first began to develop his tremendous athletic talents by rolling a tire with a stick and building a shotput pit in his backyard.
Brown, who also played baseball, lacrosse, basketball and track and field, didn't play football until he was in junior high school. He ultimately chose Syracuse for his college career because the school allowed him to play both lacrosse and football — his two favorite sports.
But with football, Brown believes he could've played any position. His athletic talents were that special.
"I could play receiver. I could play tackle. I'd put on some weight" Brown said with a smile. "I had the perfect situation where I could play everything by just adjusting my weight."
Brown's freakish athleticism wasn't his only reason to believe he could play any position in football.
His mentality about life was shaped by growing up in poverty and constantly being overlooked due to segregation and racism throughout the country. Even though he went to Syracuse, Brown was never a highly touted recruit out of high school.
Throughout all the adversity, Brown never stopped working on becoming a better athlete.
"When I talk to people about myself, I think that my determination was what really made me a really good athlete," Brown said. "I learned to utilize every determination that I could, and I was appreciative of the fact that God gave me a body and a mind and that I could overcome things if I worked real hard. Never to judge my work load by other people, but to establish something that fit my mentality."
That led him to a prosperous career with the Browns, but Brown doesn't want to only be remembered for his athletic achievements.
Throughout his life, Brown has helped develop numerous organizations that have helped unite the black community and at-risk youths. In 1965 — the same year he retired from the NFL — Brown founded the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, which would later be known as the Black Economic Union and would help guide black entrepreneurs to success.
Brown founded the Amer-I-Can organization, built to help gang members and at-risk youth with improving their lives for a brighter future through academics and life lessons. Brown continues to play an active role in the organization today.
"My life has not been sports," said Brown. "I've been an activist all my life, worked with the change of humanity. I have a little I might be able to contribute, but to help break down the taboos that we had in this country and to deal with freedom, equality and justice for all human beings, and to appreciate the goodness in any human being regardless of their race or their gender. So, that's who I am in my heart. Not a football player, an athlete, but a humanitarian."
Brown, 83, continues to have an active role with the Browns, too, as a special advisor. His importance to the city of Cleveland — both on and off the field — will never be forgotten.
He views the Browns as more than just an NFL franchise.
To him, the Browns were a platform to make a difference.
"I loved playing in Cleveland. I love the people. I love the attitude toward me," Brown said. "I give Paul Brown great credit for choosing me as a player that he wanted to coach, and so those days were fantastic because that's where I merged. That's where I had a chance to become a man, chance to become a really good athlete. A chance to make a living. A chance to fight segregation.
"My life in Cleveland was probably the greatest thing that could've ever happened to me."