- Associated Press - Thursday, October 21, 2010

BEREA, OHIO (AP) - When Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell fired legendary coach Paul Brown in 1963, little Condoleezza Rice, growing up in the segregated South, threw a fit.

“I went in my room and tore all the posters of my walls,” the former Secretary of State said. “I was really, really angry. But I’m glad to be back with the Browns.”

Rice, who once aspired to be NFL commissioner, stopped in to visit her favorite pro football team on Thursday. She spoke to the players, visited with president Mike Holmgren and enjoyed a tour of the team’s training headquarters with coach Eric Mangini.

Rice explained her love for the Browns dated to her childhood, when there were few other options.

“Because of integration, Dixie had no professional teams,” she said. “Black players couldn’t stay in a hotel or eat in a restaurant, so the league did not put teams south of the Mason-Dixon line. So the only team my father and I got every Sunday was the Cleveland Browns. We were big fans of Jim Brown. I was a huge fan of Paul Brown personally, so that’s how we became Browns fans. Back then, they were quite something.”

She believes they can be again.

Rice was in town to give a speech and to promote her new book, “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family.” It describes her childhood as a black child in Birmingham, Ala.

Rice said the Browns asked her a variety of questions, including some on foreign policy.

“I told them I take foreign ministers to football games,” she said. “I once took the foreign minister of the United Kingdom to see Alabama play Tennessee in Alabama. I think he thought that every football game was like that. When I try to explain football, I say, ‘It’s a very simple game: just keep taking territory.’

“So I said to the players, ‘Sunday, just keep taking territory’.”

The Browns (1-5) play at New Orleans (4-2) this week.

Rice said she was aware of the devastating hits that two Browns took last Sunday in a loss at Pittsburgh. Wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massquoi sustained concussions on hits from Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who was fined $75,000 for his helmet-to-helmet shot on Massaquoi.

Those hits, and a few others, prompted commissioner Roger Goodell to impose tougher penalties on players who lead with their helmet.

Rice applauded Goodell’s actions.

“The league is trying to do the right thing, which is to put players’ safety first,” she said. “Football is a contact sport. I, myself, love that it’s a contact sport. But it can’t be a contact sport in which players are being maimed for life.”

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