If the Browns had known how good John Wooten would become as a player, then they would have chosen him sooner.
As it was, the offensive guard from Colorado was a real steal when they got him with the first of their two picks in the fifth round as the NFL Draft concluded on Jan. 20, 1959.
Gene Hickerson had been the starter at right guard in 1960 but missed the entire 1961 season with a broken leg. That opened the door for Wooten to take his place.
When Hickerson returned in 1962, they shared the position while running in plays as head coach Paul Brown’s messenger guards.
Brown was fired after that season and replaced by Blanton Collier, who abolished the messenger guard system, moved Wooten to left guard and left Hickerson at right guard. It was a stroke of genius. It couldn’t have worked out any better.
For the next five years until his retirement following the 1967 season, Wooten and Hickerson, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, constituted the top guard tandem in the NFL.
Wooten, who made the Pro Bowl twice, following the 1965 and ’66 seasons, and Hickerson were part of a tremendous offensive line overall that also included left tackle Dick Schafrath, a second-round pick in that 1959 Draft and a six-time Pro Bowler, center John Morrow, who went to the Pro Bowl twice, and right tackle Monte Clark.
In a nine-year career that started in 1959, Wooten blocked for three Hall-of-Fame running backs in Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly.
Wooten was a key member of the 1964 team that won the NFL championship, and also the ’65 club that returned to the league title game.
You’ve also heard of the Browns’ other fifth-round draft pick in 1959. He was a cornerback from London, Ohio and Ohio State named Dick LeBeau. He didn’t end up playing for the Browns -- they were overstocked with talent then, especially in the secondary, and there was simply no room for a rookie -- but he did go on to the Detroit Lions, where he fashioned a Hall of Fame career.
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