Two NFL franchises were changed dramatically 43 years ago, on Jan. 25, 1970.
It occurred when the Browns traded star wide receiver Paul Warfield to Miami for the Dolphins’ No. 3 overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, which they used to select Purdue quarterback Mike Phipps.
The Browns needed a quarterback to be the heir apparent to veteran Bill Nelson. Nelson, who had helped lead the Browns to the NFL Championship Game in 1968 and ’69 in his only two years with the team after arriving in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers, had chronically bad knees and was nearing the end of his career.
But in selecting near the bottom of the first round in 1970, the Browns knew they weren’t going to be able to draft one of the top prospects.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins, who came into the AFL as an expansion team in 1966, had a young, talented quarterback in Bob Griese. However, they were lacking receivers.
So the teams began discussing a trade. The Dolphins wanted Warfield, but the Browns, reluctant to let him go, offered instead running back Leroy Kelly, who had run for over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons (1966-68) and led the NFL in rushing in the latter two. From 1966, when he took over as the club’s feature back for the retired Jim Brown, through ’69, he had rushed for 51 touchdowns.
The Dolphins, though, were steadfast. Either they got Warfield, or there would be no trade.
Warfield, from Warren (Ohio) Harding High School and Ohio State, had been the Browns’ first-round pick in 1964, the same year they drafted Kelly. A three-time Pro Bowler, he had caught 30 touchdown passes from 1967-69.
The Browns, feeling they could continue to make a run at the Super Bowl if they had a quarterback, finally relented and included Warfield.
Phipps never panned out, and was eventually traded to Chicago after the 1976 season. In return, the Browns got the Bears’ first-round draft pick in 1978, which they used to take Alabama wide receiver Ozzie Newsome.
Warfield was just what was needed by the Dolphins, who were really trying to ramp up their offense with the arrival of head coach Don Shula, a former Browns defensive back two decades earlier. Warfield immediately became the big-play, vertical threat for Griese in the passing game, and Stow, Ohio, native Larry Csonka -- along with Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick -- combined to form the league’s best rushing attack, giving Miami a potent, well-balanced offense.
The Dolphins went to the Super Bowl three straight years, following the 1971-73 seasons, and won the last two of them.
Warfield, who in 1976 re-signed with Cleveland -- where he was Phipps’ teammate -- and spent the final two years of his career, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer, as is Newsome, who was converted to tight end by Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, Kelly, Griese, Csonka, and Shula.
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