While Bengals president Mike Brown's team opens a new chapter Monday in its first workout of the 2012 season, he'll be honoring the past. Both happen at a Paul Brown Stadium.
On Monday afternoon Mike Brown accepts a Hometown Hall of Famer plaque in honor of both he and father Paul Brown in front of the student body at Paul's alma mater of Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio.
Massillon is where it all started, launching Paul Brown on his Pro Football Hall of Fame coaching career where he founded two NFL franchises and secured playoff berths in four different decades and three leagues. With Mike's guidance, pro football was brought to Cincinnati in 1967 when the Bengals were formed.
Before he won a national title at Ohio State, Paul Brown built Massillon into a national power and it's the place where Mike Brown was born in 1935 and fell in love with football.
"Probably my very first memory was being put to bed – I was probably three years old – and complaining that he was going off to coach the game, and I couldn't go, and 'why couldn't I go, too?' " Mike Brown remembered last week. "As a kid, when I was about four or five years old, I didn't get toy soldiers, I got lead football players – Canton and Massillon football players – to play with."
Mike Brown remembers the first Paul Brown Stadium being built in the late 1930s and can recall going to games and practices. Paul spent 17 seasons in Cleveland coaching the team that bears his name to 11 title games in two leagues, but while the deepest roots of Brown's family nowadays are in Cincinnati, growing up he says they were more in Massillon than Cleveland. "I think that town made a big stamp on me and of course my father," Mike Brown said. "My father grew up there, and he coached there. That was his town. He asked to be buried there, so that tells you what it meant to him. In my case, my grandparents were there – I spent a lot of time with them. My cousins were there, and as a youngster, I was sent there on visits. I have roots that are pretty deep with Massillon."
Brown was last there about a decade ago and continues to check up on the Massillon scores. He has always had a love affair with players, and it began with his first favorite at Massillon, a great punter and receiver named Horace Gillom. He can still name them.
"Tommy James was a star running back. 'Pokey' (Fred) Blunt was a star running back. They had a list of guys who, in my firmament, were heroes," Brown said. "I was brought up on them. I remember the story about the time I broke my leg, and when my father got to the hospital I told him, 'I bet you're glad it wasn't Horace,' meaning Horace Gillom. So I was brought up (on Massillon football) right from an early age."
On a day guys named A.J. Green and Andy Dalton get started on another season in an attempt to bring the Bengals their third playoff berth in four seasons, Brown is honored to receive a plaque celebrating all those seasons, players and The Coach that came before. "It ties us into Massillon, and that's an important part of our being; that's where we all came from," Mike Brown said. "I think, in my mind, my father would have been pleased with this, and it makes me proud because of that."
The Hometown Hall of Famers program is presented by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance Company. It is a national program honoring the hometown roots of the sport's greatest players with special ceremonies and plaque dedication events in local communities. In 2011 the program honored Hall of Famers such as Howie Long, Joe Namath and Walter Payton and plans to honor as many as 50 in 2012.