Jim Brown, considered by many to be the greatest football player of all time, was at the height of his playing career in 1965.
He had led the Cleveland Browns to the National Football League championship the previous season and was on his way to his third NFL regular season Most Valuable Player award.
An NFL Films feature from that era proclaimed: "There are many superstars in today's pro game, but there's only one Superman and he's Jim Brown."
On Nov. 14, 1965, my dad Mike Lesko II took me to see my first Browns game. In reality, he took me to see Jim Brown. I was 11 years old.
We arrived at the municipal parking lot, east of Municipal Stadium, which looked tiny in the distance from where we parked our car. As we walked closer to the stadium, I remember it seemed to grow larger -- the same as my anticipation.
Dad had gotten us terrific seats around the 50-yard line in the lower level. This was still the era of black-and-white TV, so the colors jumped out at me. I vividly remember the green grass on the field, the Browns in their all-white uniforms with brown trim and the New York Giants in their blue jerseys and white pants.
Before the game, I paged through the program that Dad bought me and gazed at photos of Jim Brown. In moments, I would be seeing him play in person.
I learned that fans rarely called him by his last name. He was always Jim Brown. That seemed to add to his legendary status.
When the Browns ran onto the field before the game, I focused on him with our binoculars. After the game started, I recall him wearing his famed No. 32 uniform running with the ball from left to right toward the bleachers that later became the Dawg Pound.
"Jim Brown, the ball carrier," the public address announcer bellowed each time he took a handoff.
His teammates, of course, contributed to his success. They included the offensive line that blocked so well for him -- Gene Hickerson, John Wooten, Dick Schafrath, Monte Clark and John Morrow. They were guided by offensive line coach Fritz Heisler, a former Aurora resident.
Lou "The Toe" Groza also was a famous player on the team, kicking extra points and field goals.
In this game, Jim Brown rushed for 156 yards on 20 carries and scored three touchdowns. It was a typical phenomenal performance.
The Browns hammered the Giants 34-21, and we were among a crowd of 82,426. Dad had hoped for a Browns victory and a big game by Jim Brown, so afterward he was extremely pleased.
The Browns reached the NFL title game for the second year in a row, but lost to the Green Bay Packers 23-12.
The game we attended became even more significant after Jim Brown retired prior to the 1966 season. He had started his acting career, and a movie he was filming -- "The Dirty Dozen" -- was taking longer than expected, so he ended his pro football career after nine seasons. He was only 29.
On Feb. 17, Jim Brown turned 81. Appropriately, he was the first Browns player immortalized with a statue, which was unveiled last fall at the Browns stadium.
This spring, I will take my 18-year-old son Michael to see the statue in person, and I will think about how my dad took me to see Jim Brown play 51 years ago. Thanks to Dad, I got to watch the best ever.
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