KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Walking with a cane, 73-year-old Jim Brown hurried downstairs Sunday to congratulate Jerome Harrison for rushing for 286 yards and erasing the Cleveland Browns record he had held since 1957.
"I made sure I came down early to be able to greet Mr. Harrison," said Brown, who is an executive adviser for the Browns. "These young people deserve credit when they do something that great, especially under these circumstances. My heart goes out to him. I respect him a lot."
In a 41-34 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, Harrison was one of two record-breakers for the lowly Browns. Joshua Cribbs had a 100-yard kickoff return in the first quarter and a 103-yarder in the second. On the first one, he broke about half a dozen tackles and set the NFL career record with his seventh TD return.
On the second, he was hardly touched while breaking his own record that had stood for less than an hour.
"That's the way Josh has been his entire career," said linebacker Kaluka Maiava, one of Cribbs' blockers on the kickoff return team. "He's just an amazing athlete. When he broke the first one, as soon as he broke off that last little tackle, I knew he was gone. Having him return the ball makes it a lot easier to block. (Opposing tacklers) are real hesitant, they're not running down as fast because they're scared of Josh."
Everyone knew Cribbs was a great kick returner. He came into the game tied with Gale Sayers, Ollie Matson, Dante Hall, Mel Gray and Travis Williams for the most touchdown returns in a career. But until Sunday, Harrison had never run for more than 121 yards in a game in his life.
In Cleveland's seven previous games, he'd rushed for 73 yards.
It's probably a safe bet he'd never been favorably compared with Brown, the man who led the NFL in rushing in eight of his nine seasons and remains in the opinion of many the greatest running back of all time. Twice – in 1957 and again in 1961 – Brown had rushed for 237 yards.
Watching Harrison erase his name from the Browns' single-game rushing record caused no pain, Brown said.
"The respect I get from these young men, that will never die," he said. "I'm very proud of that. This young man, I've encouraged him. I've been in his corner. It's almost like my belief in him has paid off. That's much greater than me holding onto one record or another record."
Harrison burst through big holes in Kansas City's injury-depleted line all day and scored three touchdowns, including the tiebreaker on a 28-yard burst after the Chiefs tied it 34-all with 2:06 to go.
"Harrison is a young man I talk to a lot," said Brown. "I respect his talent. I try to encourage him, and for him to have a day like today is really great."
Sitting in a suite in Arrowhead Stadium as Harrison closed in on his record, Brown was as excited as everyone else.
"The record's not doing me any good," he said with a hearty laugh. "But it's going to do him a lot of good. I might have a couple more they haven't broken. But eventually they're going to break them all."