Statue of Hall of Famer Paul Brown unveiled in Ohio hometown
Photos by Sarah Beck
NORWALK, OHIO — A large crowd turned out for a monumental event in the city of Norwalk on Saturday.
After about 22 months of planning, about 500 people gathered on West Main Street to watch the unveiling of Paul Brown Park.
The event lasted about an hour, and was highlighted by comments from Paul H. Brown — the youngest grandson of the legendary coach, and current Vice President of Player Personnel for the Cincinnati Bengals — along with Pro Football Hall of Famer ANTHONY MUÑOZ, and former NFL standout Garin Veris.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be here today,” Brown said. “It feels really good. My grandfather was an amazing person. To know that Norwalk felt that he was such an amazing person to do something like this is incredible.
“It means a lot to our family, and we’re very appreciative of everything today.”
The ceremony started with opening remarks from Paul Brown Birthplace Committee chairman Kathy Root, followed by Norwalk Mayor Dave Light. Root discussed the background of Coach PAUL BROWN, while Light spoke of the project’s beginning phases to Saturday, while thanking various contributors for their work and dedication.
From there, Chase Mutchler — an 11-year old and die-hard Bengals fan who is a fifth-grader at Norwalk Catholic Elementary — and Nancy Brown, the daughter of Paul H. and Sofia, unveiled the Ohio History Connection landmark plaque.
Veris, the Donor Relations Officer for the Ohio History Connection, then gave the keynote address. The three-sport standout and two-time state track and field champion from Chillicothe spoke about growing up as a Bengals fan.
He participated in a punt, pass and kick competition at Riverfront Stadium at halftime of a Bengals game in 1972.
“The Bengals were the first team I associated with, because I was five when they came into the league when I was sort of hitting my stride with being able to follow sports in Chillicothe,” Veris said. “But wearing the Bengals uniform and representing them at their home stadium just drove home why I loved the NFL, and then to have the chance to play in the NFL and in the Super Bowl was a dream come true.”
Veris read several proclamations during his speech, including one from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
After the ceremony, Veris said he was very impressed with the Norwalk community, including seeing football players and coaches from Norwalk High School and St. Paul High School. Players and coaches from nearby Western Reserve were also in attendance.
“The statue is incredible and looks so much like him with the suit and hat — he was a classic football coach at that time,” Veris said. “What he brought to the game, no one can deny. This is one of the larger crowds (I've seen) as far as smaller communities. The turnout was bigger than usual.
“People were very friendly and I was glad to be here. Just outstanding representation of the community, and the high school football kids — that was amazing to see them all come out. It was a great time.”
Committee member Mark Hazelwood followed with comments on Coach Brown growing up in Norwalk, and why it was important to recognize the football legend despite his family moving from the city when he was nine.
Next, Paul H., Sofia and Nancy Brown unveiled the sculpture of Coach Brown to resounding applause. The bronze statue is nearly seven feet tall including the base.
Fellow Hall of Famer pays tribute to Paul Brown
Muñoz — widely considered the greatest left tackle in NFL history after his 13 seasons with the Bengals — then delivered remarks.
“It’s really an honor, and I’m humbled to be here in the city of Norwalk,” Muñoz said. “I’m here representing the Cincinnati Bengals and as the Chief Football Relationship Officer for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I don’t know if I could be standing up here saying that without Coach Paul Brown.”
At USC, Muñoz underwent three knee surgeries in his four seasons with the Trojans. He played just one game in his final season — a Rose Bowl win over Ohio State.
But undeterred by his injury report, Coach Brown — by then retired from coaching but still the team president — drafted Muñoz with the third overall pick in 1980. He missed just one start — in 1983 — out of 185 games in his illustrious career, helping Cincinnati reach two Super Bowls.
“Paul Brown gave me an opportunity after a lot of teams weren’t going to touch me because of the injuries,” Muñoz said. “They took a chance. I’m sure a lot of Bengals fans couldn’t understand it at the time. That was an incentive for me to prove they made the right decision.
“To be in Norwalk for the statue unveiling of Coach Brown along with the Brown family, Jim Smith (Hall of Famer Relations), and a guy I competed against in Garin Veris — this is a really special day.
“I’m thankful Paul Brown gave me the opportunity to be in the special fraternity of the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The man was amazing. It was 11 years I got to spend my career around him, and the history and information we learned from him was invaluable and priceless.”
Before and after the ceremony, Muñoz and Veris signed autographs and took photos with people of all ages. The Brown family posed for photos with numerous people, including the high school football teams.
Community honors football pioneer Paul Brown
Born in Norwalk on Sept. 7, 1908, Paul Brown — a significant pioneer to football who is the namesake of the Cleveland Browns and co-founder of the Bengals — was born and lived at 7 W. Elm before his family moved to Massillon in 1917.
Fundraising by the committee kicked off in September 2022 with a campaign that included corporate sponsorships along with engraved paving bricks and granite blocks.
Donations came from nearly 200 individuals, families and businesses toward the goal of $100,000 to commission the statue and pay for other elements, including a granite wall that includes information about Brown’s lengthy and important career in American football.
More than $171,000 was raised overall.
The plaza-style site and historical marker are at the front of Suhr Park, across from the public library.
The landscaping by Bill and Steve Miller included lighting on the statue and across the front of the pavers “floor” so the entire tribute to Brown will be lit at night.
Each grade level of the football programs at Norwalk and St. Paul schools wore helmet decals this season to honor Brown and the park's unveiling.
Two honorary Paul Brown Way street signs were erected atop both street signs above Church Street next to the statue site. Four signs noting Norwalk as the birthplace of Paul Brown were put up at the main entry points into the city on Ohio Route 61 and U.S. Route 250.
Paul Brown's Hall of Fame career
First coach of the namesake Cleveland NFL team, and a co-founder and first coach of the Bengals, Brown began his Ohio coaching career at Massillon High School before moving on to Ohio State University.
Brown led the Buckeyes to the first of their eight national championships in 1942.
With the Cleveland Browns, named in his honor, Brown was the team’s General Manager, head coach and part owner from 1946-62. During that time, the Browns won four AAFC championships and three NFL championships.
With the Bengals, he retired from coaching in 1975 and remained as president of the organization until his death in 1991. The Bengals won two AFC championships during his time with the team.
Brown, who attended Benedict School in Norwalk through age 9, was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. His all-time coaching record in pro football stands at 213-104-9 over 25 seasons, with eight league championships.
“We’re lucky and proud to have a town like Norwalk that wanted to remember my grandfather with a statue for everyone in Norwalk — or wherever they may be from — to come see,” Paul H. Brown said. “People who see this will get to know some of his history.
“Seeing this and knowing that, it’s just a real special feeling for our family.”
Note: This article and the associated images were published with permission from and in conjuction with the Norwalk Reflector.
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