(This story originally appeared on www.cleveland.com)
Bill Lubinger, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Mike Holmgren slowly soaked it in, admiring the names, jerseys and faces of the greatest Browns who ever played.
Over there, Lou Groza’s black high-top cleats, helmet, pads and ageless number 76.
Bobby Mitchell’s classic orange helmet with the number 49 on the side.
Quarterback Otto Graham’s number 14 jersey and his All-American Football Conference MVP trophy from 1948.
As a kid growing up in the San Francisco area, the boy who would grow to be the Browns’ president met Graham after a 49ers game.
Starting Sunday, no matter how their team plays, Browns fans will be able to bask in the glow of the storied franchise history, both on and off the field.
The Heritage Hall is a permanent display of memorabilia, photographs and the actual busts of the 16 Browns enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. (At some point, the busts will be replicated so the originals can be returned to the Hall. Artifacts will also be swapped out from time to time.)
At halftime of Sunday’s home opener against Kansas City, their names will be unveiled in a new Ring of Honor along the upper-deck facade.
Enlarge Lynn Ischay, The Plain Dealer Browns president Mike Holmgren, left, and Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson watch vintage film footage of Ozzie Newsome making a catch and falling into the end zone at the unveiling of Cleveland Browns Heritage Hall in Brownstown, a section of Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“It was important to us that we honor the men and their families, the people who have contributed to the Cleveland Browns success and people who love this area and love this city,” Holmgren said during a press conference Monday to kick off “Ring of Honor Week” with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Steve Perry, president and executive director of the Hall of Fame.
The 16 Browns Hall of Famers represent the first Ring of Honor class, with more to come. Most of the players or family representatives are expected to attend, except Jim Brown, who turned down the invitation because of a disagreement with the organization.
Members of the first Ring of Honor Class are mere memories in a display case, faded pictures and scratchy game highlights. But the significance of honoring them wasn’t lost on some current Browns at Monday’s event.
“It’s important to us, too,” said guard Eric Steinbach, who has never visited the Hall of Fame. “We respect how much they sacrificed for us to play the game. If you think about it, they didn’t really make a ton of money back in the day and they sacrificed their bodies the same way we do now and, obviously, players today are getting a lot more, so they’re really the patriots of the game.”
Wide receiver and special teams ace Josh Cribbs has visited the Hall of Fame several times, including once when his Pop Warner team played in Pittsburgh and made the jaunt to Canton.
“The heritage of your team means everything,” he said.
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