CLEVELAND -- As outspoken, unapologetic and intimidating as ever -- even at age 77 -- Jim Brown has reunited with the Cleveland Browns.
Still going strong, the great No. 32 is back where he belongs.
"Here I am," he said.
The Hall of Fame running back, who was estranged for years from the NFL team where he starred in the 1950s and '60s -- after his previous role was eliminated by former president Mike Holmgren -- was welcomed back to the Browns on Wednesday by new owner Jimmy Haslam. Brown will serve as a "special adviser," focusing on community work, interacting with fans and helping mentor players.
Haslam called Brown's return a "very special and significant day in Cleveland Browns history." Brown's homecoming has been in the planning stages for months, and after a few meetings with Brown, Haslam was pleased to bring back "the greatest Brown of all."
"He's not only the most famous Cleveland Brown of all time and best player that's ever played here," Haslam said. "One of the reasons the Browns remain so popular is when a lot of us were growing up, they followed 32 and he was their hero. So to have 32 back on our team and working with us and being part of not just the Browns but the Cleveland community is tremendously important."
Brown, who retired in 1965 at the peak of his playing career to become an actor, is thrilled to be again working for the Browns, his pro football family and the team he helped lead to its last championship in 1964. The years he was disconnected were difficult, but Brown, who was accompanied to the news conference at FirstEnergy Stadium by his wife, Monique, said the Haslam family's desire to bring him back soothed any hard feelings he may have had.
"I've been through many ups and downs here," Brown said. "I like the new ownership. I respect the new ownership. I will stand by the new ownership come hell or high water, and I will be doing everything in my power to help the Cleveland Browns be successful."
Brown said being away from the beloved brown and orange was tough.
"Nothing's changed except I was off the payroll and out of town and it was not a good feeling because I'm used to being around," he said. "I have no animosity, I have no thoughts on any of that because this is a tough game. The main thing is, I'm very happy to have been invited back."
Although he lives in Los Angeles, Brown vowed to have a constant presence with the Browns, who haven't been able to win with any consistency since their expansion return in 1999.
"You will see as much of me as they can stand because somehow, sometimes I wake up thinking I'm the coach and it doesn't work that way," Brown said. "I'm going to be here quite a bit and I will be on call to the Cleveland Browns first. My activities, whatever, will take a secondary position to the needs of the Cleveland Browns."
Never one to mince his words or hold back on an opinion, Brown promised to continue being himself in his new position with Haslam, who bought the franchise last year from Randy Lerner.
"I wouldn't be sitting here if there was not a relationship between the two of us," Brown said, with Haslam seated to his left. "Jimmy doesn't bite his tongue, so I kind of like that. I try not to bite mine, as most of you know. But I think with Jimmy I will be a little more under control."
"I doubt it," Haslam said with a laugh.
While Brown's return has given Haslam a boost with the Browns, he remains embroiled in a federal investigation for alleged fraud at Pilot Flying J, his family-owned truck-stop chain. On Wednesday, two PFJ employees pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and conspiracy. Federal prosecutors allege members of Pilot's sales team deliberately withheld rebates to boost profits.
Brown has also had his share of legal troubles, including a string of arrests for assaults on women. He vowed his full sport of Cleveland's embattled owner and said the timing of his return could help comfort Haslam, who has maintained he was unaware of any fraud.
"That is my guy," Brown said. "I have a relationship with him. I believe in him. I stand behind him. Yes, I'm glad this timing is the way it is. I'm here, I believe in this man and that's it. I have been through a thousand things, but ultimately I turned out to be a decent human being. Volatile and involved in controversial things and so forth and so on, but in America that's the kind of country we have."