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Alumni Spotlight: Gerald McNeil

Posted Oct 22, 2011

In this Alumni Spotlight feature presented by Cuyahoga Community College, ClevelandBrowns.com looks at the career of Gerald "Ice Cube" McNeil.

Good things come in small packages, and there’s no better example of that in Browns history than Gerald “Ice Cube” McNeil.

Although he is the smallest player in Browns history at 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds, McNeil made a big impact on the team when he played from 1986-89.

And that’s saying a lot, for the Browns of that time were stocked with offensive playmakers in quarterback Bernie Kosar, running backs Kevin Mack, Earnest Byner and Tim Manoa, Pro Football Hall-of-Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, and receivers Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne, Brian Brennan, and Clarence Weathers.

The Browns could move the ball and score points by passing or running it – with a variety of players.

But they had an added weapon, because with McNeil, they could also hurt the opposition with punt and kickoff returns. He was one of the NFL’s best returners during the last four seasons of that great five-year period in Browns history.

That’s what fans will remember when they see him and another former star Browns returner, Dino Hall from the Kardiac Kids era, serving as the team’s honorary captains for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Like Hall, McNeil remains high on the Browns career return lists. Heading into the 2011 season, he was:

*Second with 161 punt returns.

*Second with 1,545 punt return yards.

*Seventh with an average of 9.6 yards per punt return.

*Ninth with 64 kickoff returns.

McNeil’s 106 punt return yards against the Detroit Lions in 1986 are sixth-most in franchise history, and his 103 yards against the Indianapolis Colts in 1989 are ninth-most.

His 84-yard punt return against the Lions in 1986 is the fourth-longest in Browns history, and his 100-yard kickoff return against the Pittsburgh Steelers just a week later is the fifth-longest.

Both went for touchdowns -- the only scores he had on returns in his career -- making 1986 his best season in Cleveland.

Also, both scores factored heavily in the 1986 Browns fashioning a 12-4 record, thus setting a club record for regular-season victories,  winning the Central Division crown for the second straight year and advancing to the AFC Championship Game for the first time. The Browns captured both games by just three points, 24-21 over the Lions and 27-24 over the Steelers as the club finally broke the “Three Rivers Jinx” by winning there for the first time in 16 tries. As such, it was one of the biggest plays of that memorable season.

McNeil also played some at wide receiver, grabbing 24 passes for 317 yards (a 13.2 yards-per-catch average) and two touchdowns. His best seasons were 1987, when he had eight receptions for 120 yards (15.0) and both scores on the way to earning his lone Pro Bowl berth, and 1989, when he caught 10 passes for 114 yards.

McNeil, who played the 1990 season with the division rival Houston Oilers before retiring, was part of the heist the Browns got from the United States Football League. Sensing the league was going to fold, the Browns were pro-active, beating the competition to the punch and either selecting, or trading for the rights to, three USFL stars in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft.

A member of the Houston Gamblers, he was the first of two second-round picks. Taken in the first round were running back Kevin Mack and inside/middle linebacker Mike Johnson. The trio played a key role in the Browns’ success during the last half of the 1980s.

Born March 27, 1962 in Frankfurt, Germany, McNeil starred in football, basketball and track at Killeen (Tex.) High School, being a member of three state champion track teams. He then went on to Baylor and broke school records in receptions, receiving yards and TD catches.

Now 49, he lives in Richmond, Texas, with his wife, Paula. Their daughter, Ashley, is a third-year medical school student at Ohio University.

McNeil is a busy man these days. He works as a game day ambassador with the Houston Texans; is a representative of the Browns on schoolofthelegends.com, joining with other former and current NFL players to communicate with fans through blogging; serves as vice president of business development for Case Consulting in The Woodlands, Tex.; and is the business development manager for Go-Go Communications and The Document Group.

So just as he did while playing for the Browns, Gerald McNeil is still proving that good things come in small packages.

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