The Browns celebrate Black History Month by remembering one of its own, John Wooten.
Former Browns Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly ran their way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And John Wooten was running with them early every step of the way.
Wooten blocked for all three running backs during his nine-year (1959-67) career as a guard with the Browns. Brown and Kelly combined to lead the NFL in rushing eight times during that span, and in 1963 Brown set a league record with 1,863 yards.
Like the rest of his teammates on the line such as Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson, plus left tackle Dick Schafrath and guard Jim Ray Smith, both of whom are Cleveland Browns Legends, the athletic Wooten was known for making more than one block on running plays.
They would run downfield and continue to knock defenders out of the way so as to allow the runners to gain additional yardage.
A fine pass blocker as well, Wooten helped protect Frank Ryan when the quarterback threw 117 touchdown passes from 1963-67.
Browns Hall-of-Fame coach and general manager Paul Brown got a real steal when he selected Wooten in the fifth round of the 1959 NFL Draft, at No. 53 overall, out of Colorado.
The Carlsbad, N.M. native became a starter for the first time in 1961. He teamed with Hickerson to serve as Brown’s messenger guards in 1962, and then when Blanton Collier took over as head coach the following year, he abolished that system and made Wooten (left) and Hickerson (right) full-time starters at guard.
With Wooten and Hickerson helping to anchor the middle of the line en route to becoming the best set of guards in the game at the time, the Browns sported one of the most productive offenses in the NFL. In just 14-game seasons, they scored a team-record 415 points in 1964 and came back two years later to amass 403 points, the second-highest total in franchise history.
Wooten and the rest of the Browns linemen were at their very best in the 1964 NFL Championship Game against the Baltimore Colts at Cleveland Stadium. With time to pass, Ryan threw three touchdown passes to wide receiver Gary Collins, and Brown, with plenty of room to run, rushed for 114 yards as the Browns roared to a 27-0 upset victory, shredding a Colts defense that had given up the fewest points in the league during the regular season.
Wooten made two consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl, following the 1965 and ’66 seasons. He went to the Washington Redskins in 1968 and played the last of his 10 NFL seasons.
But the honors, and the work, didn’t stop for Wooten. He was named a Cleveland Browns Legend in 2010 and was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in December.
He also spent many years in the front office of the Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, finally retiring in 1998.
Still, Wooten, 76, did not retire completely. There was more work to do. In maybe his greatest endeavor and certainly the most important, especially in regards to Black History Month, he is chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, which helps promote diversity in NFL front office, coaching and scouting staffs.
So all these years later, Wooten continues to try to pave the way for others.