The Browns Need to Go Green in 2011

by Ryan Isley (Originally posted January 28,2011)

For Cleveland Browns fans, the Super Bowl is right around the corner. No, not Super Bowl XLV between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers.

The Browns’ Super Bowl – the 2011 NFL Draft.

Earlier this week, ESPN‘s Mel Kiper said that the Browns could be left to select between wide receiver A.J. Green of Georgia and defensive end Robert Quinn from North Carolina when their slot at No. 6 in the 2011 NFL Draft comes up.

With all due respect to Quinn, who is a great player and will probably be a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL, this decision should be a complete no-brainer for team president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and new head coach Pat Shurmur.

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Tomlinson Passes Brown, Gets Pat On Back From Boyhood Hero

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted 12/6/2009)

Most kids in America grow up emulating their favorite athletes while playing pick-up games in the backyard and San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson is no different.

“As a kid playing football in the yard I looked up to all the great running backs but there were a lot of days I was Jim Brown out on the football field,” Tomlinson said.

This, however, was no regular Sunday.  This was the day in which Tomlinson realized that boyhood dream of being Jim Brown.

With an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter of San Diego’s 30-23 win over Cleveland, Tomlinson surpassed Jim Brown for eighth on the NFL’s all-time career rushing list.

As if passing Brown was not special enough, doing it in Cleveland where Brown played from 1957-1965 made it even more memorable.

“To do it here in Cleveland is extra special,” Tomlinson said.  “I can’t even tell you what it means because it seemed like it was supposed to happen being here in Cleveland. I’m just excited we were able to get it done.”

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said that Tomlinson’s teammates were aware that he would be able to pass Brown in this game.

“I think he was within nine yards or something at one point,” Rivers said. “I kinda told a few of the lineman ‘hey our guy has a chance to pass Jim Brown in Cleveland.  Let’s go get it’.”

Norv Turner, who has coached Tomlinson the last three seasons, is impressed by what Tomlinson has accomplished.

“You go by Marshall Faulk and you go by the guy who many consider the best ever in Jim Brown, to do it here in this stadium in terms of career yards, it’s a thrill to coach him and I think our players feel the same thing with the opportunity to play with him.”

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who hauled in eight catches for 167 yards in a career day, agrees with Turner’s assessment.

“I have been blessed to play with a guy for the past seven years that has done some spectacular things in his career and he is just adding to that,” Gates said of his teammate.  “To me he is going to go down as one of the great running backs of all-time regardless of milestones or who he passes or what yardage he breaks.”

To Gates, it is not just about LaDainian Tomlinson the football player, but also about LaDainian Tomlinson the person.

“Being around him the person solidifies that things happen to good people and I am just excited for him and happy that he was able to make that milestone,” Gates said.

Despite Tomlinson’s struggles at times this season, Rivers knows that having No. 21 in his backfield is is an important part of their offense.

“This year has probably been one of the toughest he has had for a lot reasons, but he’s still a huge, huge part and continues to make plays for this team and this offense,” Rivers said. “Just being on the field with a guy that continues to break some of these records and move pass guys on those lists it’s a lot of fun.”

Along with passing Brown, Tomlinson also became the fastest player in NFL history to score 150 career touchdowns.  He accomplished the feat in 137 games, besting the previous fastest of Emmitt Smith by 23 games.

“It’s pretty special because I have always really enjoyed scoring touchdowns more than anything,” Tomlinson said of the record.  “Part of the reason is because that’s how you win the game, scoring touchdowns.  I have always said that if I am scoring touchdowns it means we’re winning.”

While the touchdown mark was special it did not take long for Tomlinson to decide which of the two feats meant the most on this day.

“I really think it was passing Jim Brown. He transcended generations and I can remember my father talking about Jim Brown as a kid and he loved him,” Tomlinson said.  “Everyone loved Jim Brown and rightfully so. Even today when you talk about great running backs the majority of the people say Jim Brown is the best ever.”

Immediately after passing Brown, Tomlinson looked up to where Brown was sitting.  He then pointed up, tapped his chest and gave a salute to the man that many still consider the best running back to ever play the game.

“That was just appreciation I had for him giving a kid but also a young man something to strive for on the football field,” Tomlinson said of the tribute.  “He gave me something to shoot for and I just wanted to show my appreciation.”

That respect was not lost on Brown.  Moments after Tomlinson spoke with the media, he returned to the locker room where shortly thereafter he was greeted by Brown.

“Congratulations,” Brown told Tomlinson as they shook hands. “You are a great, great player.”

“Thank you,” Tomlinson replied as you could by the look on his face the great respect he has for Brown. “I appreciate you giving a young kid and then a young man something to strive for. Obviously I have looked up to you and wanted to be like you.”

“Here you are,” Brown said as Tomlinson soaked in every moment with his boyhood hero.  “You are a fantastic player and person.  Keep up the good work.”

After meeting with Tomlinson, Brown explained why he felt the need to talk with Tomlinson on this day.

“I came to the locker room because I do respect him that much,” Brown said. “I love the young men because most of them give me great respect and one-on-one we can relate and I like that. There is no jealousy because it is so difficult to reach the level of greatness that he has reached. How dare I not give him all the compliments I have in my heart because he had to do that himself.”

Brown knows that many fans, especially in the Cleveland area, regard him as the best running back to ever put on an NFL uniform but he has tried to downplay that.

“What I am regarded as is a guy that played many years ago that satisfied the fans,” Brown said. “My position in history does not matter to me but the respect I get and the respect I give is highly important to me.”

Just the way that Tomlinson was Jim Brown on the playground in the days of his youth, there are kids today who are LaDainian Tomlinson when they play those games of backyard football.

“To me that’s what kids aspire to be – their heroes,” Tomlinson said. “That’s how it should be. Obviously we are role models because a lot of kids look up to us and a lot of kids shoot for the stars and want to do the things we have done. It brings me great pride to have kids look up to me and want to be like me on the playground.”

It looks like Jim Brown summed it up best LaDainian – “Here you are”.

Follow me on Twitter: @isley23

Browns Fans Still Asking ‘What If’ Over 2003 Draft

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted on 12/4/2009)

Browns fans continually ask themselves two words: ‘What if?’

What if Marty Schottenheimer never went into the prevent defense to allow John Elway to orchestrate ‘The Drive’?

What if Earnest Byner would not have fumbled?

What if the city would have built Art Modell a new stadium?

One such ‘what if’ will be on display this Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium when the Browns host the San Diego Chargers.

That instance is ‘what if’ the Browns had selected running back LaDainian Tomlinson of Texas Christian University with the third pick in the 2001 NFL draft?

Instead of picking Tomlinson, Butch Davis and company took defensive tackle Gerard Warren from Florida and took their running back, James Jackson of Miami (whom Davis coached in college), in the third round.

The Browns were the worst offensive team in the league in 2000, averaging only 10.1 points per game.

The running game was non-existent as the leading rusher, Travis Prentiss, rushed for just 512 yards for the season.  Combined, the Browns running backs ran for 915 yards on the season, which was less than 23 individual players in the league.

With all signs pointing towards taking the game-changing running back that the franchise desperately needed, the Browns did what they always do and flipped the script by taking Warren.

Warren lasted four seasons in Cleveland, accumulating 116 tackles and 16.5 sacks in 60 games.  Before the 2005 draft, the Browns traded Warren to Oakland for a fourth round draft pick.

Jackson would run for just 1,082 yards in four seasons for the Browns.

Enter Tomlinson.

He had just come off a senior season in which he led the NCAA in rushing with 2,158 yards while scoring 22 touchdowns.  He won the Doak Walker Award which is awarded to the nation’s best running back and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Chris Weinke of Florida State, Josh Heupel of Oklahoma and Drew Brees of Purdue.

While some experts expected the Browns to take a player on the offensive side of the ball, Tomlinson was not sure if that was when his name would be called.

“I didn’t know. I had no idea.” said Tomlinson, thinking back to that April day.

The San Diego Chargers took Tomlinson with the fifth pick (following the Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals also passed on Tomlinson, taking Missouri defensive end Justin Smith with the fourth pick) and he immediately made an impact.

Tomlinson rushed for 1,236 yards on 339 carries in 2001 as a rookie, including a 102-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Browns.

The Browns running backs in 2001, meanwhile, rushed for 1,169 yards on 372 carries, led by Jackson who gained 554 yards on 195 carries.

That trend continued in 2002 and 2003 as Tomlinson compiled back-to-back 1,600+ yard seasons while the Browns running backs ran for 1,411 and 1,496 yards respectively.

In 2003, 200 of Tomlinson’s yards came in a game at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

In 2006, Tomlinson outrushed the Browns running backs by 792 yards as he ran for 1,815.  His 28 rushing touchdowns (three against the Browns) were four times as many as the seven combined rushing touchdowns for the Browns offense that season.  The only players to score on the ground for the Browns were running back Rueben Droughns with four touchdowns and quarterback Charlie Frye, who added three rushing scores.

Against the Browns, Tomlinson has rushed for 585 yards and seven touchdowns in four career games.

The games against Cleveland were more of a credit to his team than they were a statement of revenge.

“They were just really good games,” Tomlinson said.  “We were doing a great job of moving people off the ball, creating a lot of lanes for me. I was able to get an open field and make people miss.”

All total in his career, Tomlinson has rushed for 12,257 yards on 2,805 carries.  In that same time, Browns running backs combined have run for 11,871 yards on 3,143 carries.

But just for a minute ask ‘What if’.

What if the Browns had taken Tomlinson? How would his career, and the Browns fortunes, have changed?

Tomlinson is not really sure.

“I don’t know,” Tomlinson said. “I wouldn’t of had as many playoff appearances as I have now, looking at the last 9 years. I don’t know if I would’ve had the same type of success.”

The thing we will never know is how the Browns history would have been changed that day had Butch Davis selected Tomlinson.

The one thing we are all sure of is that Browns fans on Sunday will be looking at No. 21 on the other team and asking themselves those two famous words: ‘What if’.

Follow me on Twitter: @isley23