According to a lot of experts, he’s the greatest running back of all-time, and many of those people also consider him the top football ever at any position. There was even one ranking that had him as the third-best athlete ever in any sport. In fact, a longtime opponent, noting that he was faster than most defensive backs, more powerful than most defensive linemen and linebackers and virtually indestructible, once described him as “the closest thing there’s ever been to Superman on a football field.” He even looked the part, being 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds with a 32-inch waist. The player being referred to is Jim Brown, who played his entire nine-year (1957-65) NFL career with the Browns. In many ways, Brown did for the NFL what Babe Ruth did four decades before for major league baseball by putting up such unbelievable statistics that he forever changed the way the game was viewed, and played. In the 35 seasons (1932-56) before Brown arrived in Cleveland as the No. 6 overall pick in the 1957 NFL Draft, only six times did the league’s leading rusher have 1,000 yards or better. And the highest total was 1,146 yards in 1949. Brown shattered all those statistics, getting 1,000 or more in seven of his nine years, including 1,527 in his second season of 1958, 1,329 in ’59, 1,257 in ’60 and 1,408 in ’61. When Brown got “only” 996 yards in an injury-riddled 1962 season, his lowest total since he had 942 as a rookie in 1957, and did not win the NFL rushing title for the first – and only – time in his career, there was speculation that he might not have much left. Brown knew better, and after an offseason to heal, he came back fully healthy and quashed those rumors by getting 1,863 yards, breaking his own record, set five years before, by 336 yards. He finished his career strongly by getting 1,446 yards in 1964, helping the Browns to the NFL title, and 1,544 in ’65 as the club advanced to the title game again. When he retired at age 30 and at the top of his game just before the start of training camp in 1966, he had an all-time record 12,312 yards, beating the old mark by 2,589. He also set an NFL record for rushing yards in a game with 237 in 1957 and then tied it in 1961. Brown was an efficient runner, too, making the most of nearly every carry. He averaged 5.2 yards per attempt for his career, including 6.4 in 1963. Five times he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, a league record, and twice got 17 (in 1958 and ’65), en route to finishing with 106 overall. Making matters even worse for defenses was the fact Brown was a good pass receiver as well. He led the Browns in catches in 1962 with a career-high 47, and three times (1961, ’64 and ’65) was second. He is just out of the team’s top 10 list in career receptions with 262, for 2,499 yards and 20 TDs. And when the Browns needed him most, such as in the 27-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 championship game, he came through, rushing for 114 yards against a defense that limited teams to an average of 128.4 yards per game that year. All this is why Brown was named All-NFL eight times and went to nine Pro Bowls – and why he was, and is, the greatest.
2006 Running Back Earnest Byner (1984-88, 1994-95)
Earnest Byner was an after-thought in the 1984 draft, being a 10th-round choice from East Carolina. The Browns were looking for a running back after the Mike Pruitt era had ended, but it didn't seem likely he'd be able to fill the void in any way -- and certainly not in the way he did. Proving all his doubters wrong, Byner came on strong in the latter portion of his rookie season then really established himself in 1985. He gained 1,002 yards that year - one of three 1,000-yard seasons he would have - and with Kevin Mack (1,104) became just the third duo from the same team to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season in NFL history. Injuries plagued Byner during the 1986 and '87 seasons, causing him to miss 13 games. As the Browns morphed from a running team into one that depended on the pass, he became a valuable target out of the backfield, catching a combined total of 111 passes in 1987 and '88. Byner returned to the Browns in 1994 as a free agent and served an important backup and leadership role as the club got back to the playoffs for the first time in five years. In his seven Browns seasons, he finished as the sixth-leading career rusher with 3,368 and seventh in touchdowns with 37. He is fifth in rushing TDs with 27 and sixth in carries with 862. He is also 10th on the club's all-time receptions list with 276. In addition, he retired as the NFL's No. 16 rusher with 8,261 yards.
2007 Kicker Don Cockroft (1968-80)
Following in the footsteps of legendary kicker Lou Groza, Don Cockroft established himself as one of the team's most valuable offensive weapons in his 13 seasons with the Browns. His 1,080 points, 216 field goals and 432 extra points trail only Groza's team records. Cockroft tallied a career-high 100 points on 18 field goals and 46 extra points in 1968. He booted a career-long 57-yard field goal on Oct. 29, 1972 against the Denver Broncos. Cockroft was selected by the Browns in the third round of the 1967 NFL Draft.
2004 Wide Receiver Gary Collins (1962-71)
Gary Collins earned a reputation as a big-game receiver after hauling in 3 touchdown passes in the Browns 1964 NFL Championship victory. Collins holds team records for career receiving touchdowns (70) and receiving touchdowns in one season (13 in 1963), adding three more double-digit seasons (10 in 1965, 12 in '66 and 11 in '69). His career numbers are near the top of several of the Browns all-time lists, which include 331 receptions (second), 5,299 receiving yards (third) and 420 points (seventh). Collins also handled the punting duties for the Browns from 1962-67, averaging 41.1 yards per attempt. A first-round draft choice of the Browns in 1962, Collins played 10 seasons in Cleveland and earned two trips to the Pro Bowl (1966 and '67).
Joe DeLamielleure has often joked that he’s made “the Lake Erie tour” during his life. And he’s right. In fact, if there were such a thing, then he would be All-Lake Erie for sure. DeLamielleure grew up just outside of Detroit in Center Line, Mich. He went to college not far away at Michigan State, then went all the way across Lake Erie to Buffalo in 1973 to begin his career with the Bills, who took him in the first round of the NFL Draft with the 26th overall pick. Following seven seasons there, the offensive guard found himself in the middle of the Lake Erie shoreline, in Cleveland, in 1980 after a big trade to the Browns. He spent five years there, then returned to Buffalo for a season in 1985 to finish out his 13-year career. Right away, as a rookie in 1973, DeLamielleure was part of history, being part of the Bills’ “Electric Company” offensive line that paved the way for Pro Football Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson to become the first rusher in NFL history to go over the 2,000-yard mark, getting 2,003. DeLamielleure was so good, in fact, that he was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1970s, during which he was selected All-NFL five times and made five trips to the Pro Bowl. With Tom DeLeone, Cody Risien, Robert Jackson, Doug Dieken and Henry Sheppard, the Browns already had a good offensive line in 1980. But head coach Sam Rutigliano went out and got DeLamielleure because he knew he would make the group even better – and deeper – and realized that the offense overall was the key to the team’s success. Rutigliano was right. With DeLamielleure being part of a three-man rotation at guard with Jackson and Sheppard, the offense carried the 1980 team, nicknamed the Kardiac Kids for all of its last-second finishes, to the franchise’s first AFC Central championship in nine years and its first playoff berth overall in eight seasons. The leader of that club was quarterback Brian Sipe, who won the NFL MVP award after passing for a team-record 4,132 yards. As such, DeLamielleure became the first player in NFL history to block for a 2,000-yard rusher and a 4,000-yard passer. For his part in that, he was named All-NFL and a Pro Bowler that season for the sixth – and final – times in his career. DeLeone and Dieken also made the Pro Bowl that year, marking the first time in 14 seasons that three Browns offensive linemen had been so honored. With DeLamielleure still at right guard, the Browns made the playoffs again in 1982 and nearly got there the following year. He not only performed well for the Browns, but was an iron man as well, playing in all 65 games during his time with them (the 1982 season was shortened to nine games because of a players strike). So the Browns – and the Bills and everyone living along Lake Erie – got a lot of “O” out of the man nicknamed “Joe D.”
2006 Tackle Doug Dieken (1980-1984)
Doug Dieken had been a tight end on a struggling Illinois team that didn't pass much, which explains why he lasted until the sixth round of the 1971 draft. But the Browns, who selected him, saw him in a different light. Citing his quickness and athleticism, they envisioned him as the heir apparent at left tackle to Dick Schafrath, who was in the final season of his 13-year career. When Dieken took over for him late in his rookie campaign, he became just the third left tackle in team history. And just as the two men who preceded him, Schafrath and Hall of Famer Lou Groza, Dieken was a mainstay. He played through the 1984 season, setting team records with 194 consecutive starts and 203 consecutive games played. He was with the Browns for so long, in fact, that he played under four full-time head coaches. He made it to the Pro Bowl in 1980 after helping to anchor a line that blocked for quarterback Brian Sipe, the NFL MVP, and 1,000-yard rusher Mike Pruitt. Interestingly enough, one of the wins late in that Kardiac Kids season was a 17-14 decision over Michael's Jets. Dieken played well enough to make it to the Pro Bowl on several other occasions in the 1970s.
2003 Corner Back Hanford Dixon (1981-89)
Hanford Dixon was "Top Dawg" of Cleveland's vaunted defensive backfield in the 1980s. He finished his career with 26 interceptions, tying him for eighth place on the Browns all-time list. Dixon recorded a career-high 5 interceptions in 1984 and '86. He played in three consecutive Pro Bowls (1987-89) and was widely regarded as one of the best cover-corners of his era. The Browns selected Dixon in the first round of the 1981 NFL Draft.
Len Ford made it as a defensive lineman, but, if his career had gone differently, he just as easily might have also gotten into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an offensive skill player. When Ford broke into the pros in the late 1940s, two-platoon football was still very common to help accommodate small rosters. As such, in his first two seasons in 1948 and ’49 with the Los Angeles Dons, rivals of the Browns in the All-America Football Conference, he played today’s equivalent of tight end as well handling defensive end. He excelled on offense, being one of the top pass catchers in the league, having 31 receptions for 598 yards (an impressive 19.3 yards-per-catch average) and seven touchdowns, tying him for the AAFC lead, in 1948 and then getting 36 catches for 577 yards (16.0) and one TD in 1949. His receptions total the second year put him just two away from tying for fifth place in the league. But when the AAFC dissolved and he made his way to the Browns as they moved into the NFL in 1950 and began an eight-year career with them, he found a team that had all kinds of outstanding pass catchers, such as Hall of Famer Dante Lavelli, Mac Speedie, who had led the AAFC in receptions the previous three years, and Dub Jones. So with teams moving away more and more from having players go both ways, the Browns put Ford at defensive end and left him there. It couldn’t have turned out better for both him and the team. With an offense filled with Hall of Famers and other great players, the Browns had no problems scoring points at that time. All they needed was to keep opponents from doing the same. They did a good job of that in the AAFC, but they turned it up a notch in their first two years in the NFL. In 1950, they allowed just 144 points, 27 fewer than the year before and the fewest since giving up only 137 in their inaugural season of 1946. The Browns kept five regular-season foes in single-digits scoring. It was more of the same in 1951, as they surrendered just 152 points and recorded four shutouts, a team record for NFL play. Though he was plagued by injuries in 1950, Ford, a big (6-foot-4 and 245 pounds), strong player who also possessed some speed from his pass-catching days, played a big role in what the Browns did in those two seasons and throughout his time with the club. He teamed initially with middle guard Bill Willis, the only other Browns defensive player in the HOF, to give the team a dominating five-man front against both the run and pass. The result was that the Browns showed that their dominance of the AAFC – they won all four league titles – was no fluke. They captured NFL championships in 1950, ’54 and ’55 and advanced to the league title game from 1951-53 and then again in ’57, Ford’s final year with the team. Even in 1956, when the Browns suffered their first losing season, the defense did well, giving up just 177 points, the fewest in the league. Despite all that, though, you can’t help but what the versatile Ford would have done on offense in the NFL.
2003 Defensive Tackle Bob Gain (1952, 1954-64)
A two-way performer on both the offensive and defensive lines, Bob Gain earned his reputation on the defensive line after joining the Browns in 1952 in a trade with Green Bay. Gain played every position on the defensive line but was most effective at tackle. He recorded 10 career fumble recoveries and returned his lone career interception 22 yards for a touchdown in 1960. In 12 seasons with the Browns, Gain won numerous honors and was voted to the Pro Bowl five times. He helped the Browns to four appearances in NFL Championship games, including NFL titles in 1954, '55 and '64.
Frank Gatski is one of the greatest Browns ever, as evidenced by the fact the center is among the franchise’s 16 Pro Football Hall of Famers after an 11-year (1946-56) career with the team. But he may have the greatest nickname – the HOF nickname – of that select group, “Gunner,” which came from his hard-nosed, rough-and-tumble ways on and off the field. How tough was Gatski? So much so that he never missed a game or even a practice at Farmington (W. Va.) High School, Marshall College (now University), with the Browns, or in 1957 with the Detroit Lions. He wore a perpetual grin that earned him two other nicknames as well, “Li’l Abner” and “Joe Palooka,” after comic strip characters of that era. Indeed, he was a special player – and a special man – in many ways. In fact, he did not have a phone where he was staying in 1985 in a remote part of Central West Virginia when the HOF induction list for that year was announced and instead had to learn he was included on it by reading it in the newspaper. Gatski grew up in Farmington, in coal country, under difficult circumstances, with his father, a miner, being killed in a mining accident. Gatski showed up at one of his first high school practices wearing shoes of two different sizes. But neither that nor anything else could keep him from becoming a legend wherever he played. Gatski was the first Marshall player to have his jersey retired, and has a bridge near campus named in his honor. He was a hero to another Farmington High product, Hall of Famer Sam Huff, against whom Gatski played at the end of his career when the middle linebacker was with the arch rival New York Giants. During one game against the Browns, Huff was irate at having his ankle grabbed. When he discovered it was Gatski doing it, he calmed down and said it was OK. Gatski came to the Browns during their inaugural season, but sat behind veteran Mike “Mo” Scarry for his first two years. He took over as the starter in 1948 and the Browns promptly went on to win their third straight All-America Football Conference championship with a 15-0 record, becoming the first pro football team – and still one of just two in history along with the 1972 Miami Dolphins – to finish the season perfect. It began an eight-year stretch in which Gatski snapped to Otto Graham and served as the bodyguard for the Hall of Fame quarterback. The Browns went to the league championship game all eight seasons, winning four times. Gatski’s presence helped the Browns offense to flourish and serve as the key unit in that run of success. Gatski was named All-NFL four times during that stretch. He was traded to the Lions in 1957 and helped lead them to the league title that year with a victory over his former team. He retired after that, ending a career in which he made it to the league championship 11 times in 12 seasons.
2007 Punter Horace Gillom (1947-56)
Horace Gillom played 10 seasons with the Browns (1947-56), handling all of the team's punting chores and also playing as a utility end on both offense and defense. He is the club's all-time leader in career gross punting average and ranks second in punt yards and gross average for a season. Gillom started his athletic career under legendary coach Paul Brown at Massillon High School and enrolled at Ohio State before entering the Army in 1941. He played one season at the University of Nevada before joining the Browns.
2007 Defensive End Bill Glass (1962-68)
One of the most dominant pass rushers in team history, Bill Glass played in four Pro Bowls (1963, '64, '65 and '68). Glass' 14.5 sacks in 1965 and 7 consecutive games with at least 1 sack in 1966 are both team records. His play on the Browns defensive line in 1964 helped the team win the NFL Championship. Glass was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 1957 and after one season with Saskatchewan of the Canadian League he played four seasons with Detroit. The Browns acquired Glass in a trade in 1962.
Should quarterbacks be judged solely on whether their teams win or lose, and not by their individual statistics? There are a good number of people who believe they should, and if that’s the case, then there’s no doubt that the greatest quarterback in pro football history is Otto Graham. It isn’t even close. Graham, who played his entire career (1946-55) with the Browns, was a perfect 10 in that he led them to the league championship game in all 10 of his seasons, with seven victories. He took the Browns to all four titles handed out in the All-America Football Conference from 1946-49, essentially putting the league out of business because of the team’s dominance, then guided them to six championship games in as many seasons in the NFL from 1950-55, with three more wins. What a way for a franchise to start. And Graham’s individual stats were just as impressive as his team accomplishments. He had a major part in the team’s success. In Graham’s – and the Browns’ – inaugural season of 1946, he threw for 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He increased that to 25 TDs with 11 interceptions in 1947 while upping his yardage total by 919 to 2,753. The following year, as the Browns went 15-0 and became just one of two teams in pro football history to finish a season undefeated and untied, Graham had a carbon-copy effort of 1947 with 2,513 yards and 25 TDs with 15 picks. In the league’s final season in 1949, he passed for 2,785 yards, his highest total for the AAFC portion of his career, with 19 scores and 10 interceptions. Add it all up and in the AAFC, he threw for 10,085 yards and 86 TDs with 41 interceptions while completing 55.8 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 11 TDs. Not bad for someone who did not start at quarterback in his first game in 1946. Instead, he opened at safety and played well. After all, while playing both ways for much of his time in the AAFC, he intercepted seven passes, one of which he returned for a TD, and also averaged 11.4 yards on 23 punt returns. In the NFL, where he played only quarterback, he was a five-time all-league pick and went to six Pro Bowls – and with good reason. In 1952, he led the NFL in attempts (364), completions (181) and yards (2,816) while tying for first in TD passes (20). He topped the league the following year in completion percentage (64.7), yards (2,722) and yards per attempt (10.55), and in 1954 led in completion percentage again (59.2). He retired after leading the Browns to the league title in 1954 but was wooed back by head coach Paul Brown when the team struggled to find a quarterback in training camp in 1955. After shaking off the rest, he paced the NFL that season in completion percentage (53.0) and yards per attempt (9.30) while having the second-best passer rating of the NFL portion of his career, 94.0. Overall in the NFL, he also rushed for 33 TDs. Graham was at his best in the big games. He threw for four TDs overall and led the Browns from eight points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Los Angeles Rams 30-28 in the 1950 league title game. He passed for three TDs and ran for three more in the 56-10 win over the Detroit Lions in the 1954 championship game, and passed for two scores and ran for two in a 38-14 title game win over the Rams in 1955, after which he retired for good. If you add his statistics from both leagues together, he completed 1,464 passes, which would be third on the Browns all-time list, in 2,626 attempts (third) for 23,584 yards (second) and 174 TDs (first) with 135 interceptions. His quarterback rating would be 86.6 (second). And he ran for 44 TDs. Plus he won all those games and championships, which is why many consider Graham to be the best quarterback ever.
2001 Offensive Tackle / Placekicker Lou Groza
Lou Groza certainly left a huge legacy in a 21-year career (1946-59, 1961-67) with the Browns, by far the longest in team history and the longest in pro football history at the time. And others have made sure he will forever be remembered. For starters, the top kicker in college football every year is given the Lou Groza Award. In addition, the road on which Browns Headquarters is located in Berea, Ohio is Lou Groza Boulevard. And the nickname Groza was given? It was “The Toe,” perfect for a kicker. From the time Groza retired from the Browns, every kicker in team history has measured himself against him. In fact, Groza started a tradition of great Browns kickers through the decades, being followed by Don Cockroft, Matt Bahr, Matt Stover and Phil Dawson. He was the first great kicker in the game, putting special teams into the limelight for the first time in pro football history. He led his Martins Ferry (Ohio) High School basketball team to the state championship in 1941 and then played at Ohio State for a year before going to the Army. When World War II was over, he did pretty well for the time as a kicker on the first four Browns teams from 1946-49 in the All-America Football Conference, hitting 30-of-76 field-goal tries (39.5 percent). But when the Browns went to the NFL, Groza was able to up his game considerably and begin establishing a standard of excellence for kickers. In his first year in the new league in 1950, he had his best performance of his career to that point, making 13-of-19 field goals. Then in the first of two postseason games that year, he kicked two field goals to spark an 8-3 victory over the New York Giants in a special playoff to decide the American Conference title. That qualified the Browns for the NFL Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams, who had bolted Cleveland after the 1945 season just as the Browns were beginning to get organized, and Groza decided the game with a field goal with 28 seconds left in a 30-28 win. Two seasons later, in 1952, he began a three-year stretch that elevated his status even more. That year, he led the NFL in both field goals (19) and attempts, and in 1953, he had probably his greatest season by topping the league in field goals (23), attempts (26), field-goal percentage (88.5) and extra-point percentage (97.5). He was first in field goals (16), field-goal percentage (66.7) and extra-point percentage (97.4) in 1954. By that point, Groza had established himself as the greatest kicker the game had known, and he just kept building on it. Returning in 1961 after temporarily retiring for a year because of an ailing back, he led the NFL in both field-goal (69.6) and extra-point (97.4) percentage. He did the same in 1963 at the age of 39 with 65.2 and 93.0 marks, respectively. A month short of his 44th birthday, he finally retired for good following the 1967 season as the last of the original Browns, having scored the staggering total of 1,349 points by making 234-of-405 field goals (57.8 percent) and 641-of-657 extra points (97.6). In addition, Groza excelled as a starter at left tackle, being a starter there from 1948-59, during which time, because of his proficiency at both positions, he was All-NFL six times and made nine trips to the Pro Bowl.
When offensive guard Gene Hickerson was at long last inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly pushed his wheelchair onto the stage when it was his turn during the enshrinement ceremony. It was a breathtaking – and heartwarming – sight, and a fitting act, too, for after Hickerson helped pave the way for those three Browns runners to get into the HOF, it only made sense that they do the same for him. Hickerson, who played for the Browns for 15 years, from 1958-60 and then again from 1962-73 after sitting out 1961 with an injury, is not only one of the best, but also one of the most athletic, offensive linemen they’ve ever had. His speed and agility was a big factor in the Browns being so successful running on sweeps and pitchouts around end. Hickerson would dash out and block defenders on the edge, allowing the Hall of Famers to turn the corner and break into the clear, and many times he would sprint right along with them and make another block as far as 40 yards downfield. As such, he was one of the first linemen in NFL history to make blocks that far from the line of scrimmage, and the success the Browns running game enjoyed emphasized the importance of having athletic linemen. Thus, Hickerson helped to change the game. He attended Trezevant High School in Memphis, Tenn. with Elvis Presley. The two remained lifetime friends, and Hickerson would weekly send films of Browns games to the singing legend so he could follow his favorite NFL player, and team. Hickerson, then just a junior at Mississippi, was part of the star-laden 1957 draft the Browns had. Brown was taken in the first round, and defensive lineman Henry Jordan, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers after playing two years in Cleveland, was a fifth-rounder. After finishing up his college eligibility in 1957, Hickerson joined the Browns the following year, spending his first three seasons as a messenger guard for head coach Paul Brown to send in plays. After breaking his leg twice in 1961, the second of which occurred while he was standing on the sideline in street clothes watching a game, he returned in 1962 in the messenger role and then settled in as the full-time starter at right guard a year later as Blanton Collier took over as head coach and abolished the messenger system. The Browns won the NFL championship the season after that, in 1964, beginning a six-year span in which they advanced to the NFL title game four times. Hickerson was selected All-NFL on five occasions and made it to six Pro Bowls. But despite those individual honors, the success of the Browns as a team when he played and the fact he blocked for three Hall of Famers, he had to wait 34 years following his retirement to get into the HOF. He was in failing health at time, but the HOF manner in which he entered the stage that evening almost made it worth the wait.
2006 Defensive End Jim Houston (1960-72)
Jim Houston was an Ohio football player through and through. He was drafted No. 8 overall by the Browns in 1960 out of Ohio State, where he had been a two-time All-American at defensive end and a member of the Buckeyes' 1957 national championship team. He played at Massillon (Ohio), a little over an hour south of Cleveland, and was a member of a state championship team for the Tigers. His older brother, Lin, had played at Massillon and Ohio State as well and later as an offensive guard on the first eight Browns teams from 1946-53. Lin Houston's head coach at all three stops was Paul Brown, who also served as Jim Houston's coach for his first three seasons with the Browns. Houston was switched to linebacker in 1963 after Blanton Collier had taken over as head coach for the fired Brown, was a key member of the Browns' 1964 NFL championship team. He was named All-NFL twice and appeared in four Pro Bowls.
2004 Defensive Tommy James (1948-55)
In eight seasons with the Browns, Tommy James was a mainstay in the team's defensive backfield as he helped the Browns to two championships in the All-America Football Conference (1948 and '49) and three NFL Championships (1950, '54 and '55). He began his professional career with the Detroit Lions in 1947 and joined the Browns in 1948. James intercepted 26 passes in six (1950-55) seasons in the NFL, including a personal-best 9 interceptions in 1950. James earned numerous accolades throughout his career, including a spot in the 1954 Pro Bowl. He played for legendary coach Paul Brown in Cleveland, Ohio State and Massillon (Ohio) High School.
2008 Defensive Tackle Walter Johnson (1965-76)
Walter Johnson was a fixture at left defensive tackle for more than a decade with the Browns. After serving in a reserve role as a rookie in 1965, Johnson won a starting spot in his second season and developed into a consistent force on the defensive line. He was selected to play in the Pro Bowl three consecutive years (1968-70). The Browns finished first in their division five times during Johnson's tenure with the club. Johnson joined the Browns as a second-round draft choice in 1965.
Whether it’s in sports or otherwise, it’s difficult to follow a legend. But Leroy Kelly did it – impressively so – in a 10-year career that lasted from 1964 to ’73. When Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown retired just before the start of training camp in 1966 after breaking every NFL rushing record, the Browns were understandably concerned about what they were going to do at running back. But Brown told members of Browns management not to worry, for they already had their replacement on the roster in Kelly. An eighth-round pick in the 1964 NFL Draft out of tiny Morgan State, Kelly had rushed just 43 times for 151 yards in his first two seasons, averaging 3.5 yards a carry with no touchdowns. Where he had made his mark, though, was as a returner. He had averaged 24.3 yards per kickoff return in 1964, and 25.9 in ’65. As a punt returner, he was even better, averaging 19 yards per attempt with a TD the first year, and 15.6 yards and two scores, both tops in the NFL, the following season. As it turned out, Brown was not only a great player, but he also had a keen eye for talent, for Kelly took immediate advantage of the opportunity, rushing for 1,141 yards, second-best in the NFL, in 1966 while leading the league in average yards per attempt (5.5) and TD runs (15). The following year, he topped the NFL in yards (1,205), average (5.1) and scores (11), and in 1968 went over 1,000 yards for the third straight time with a league-leading -- and career-best – 1,239 and paced the NFL, too, with 16 TDs. He also turned into a good receiver as well. After catching just nine passes for 122 yards and no TDs in his first two seasons, he had 74 receptions for 945 yards and seven scores from 1966-68. Although he never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season again, he did go over 800 yards three times in the four-year span from 1969-72 and finished his career with 7,274 yards, a 4.2 average and 74 TDs, second only in team history to Brown’s 106. He also caught 190 passes for 2,281 yards (12.0) and 13 scores. The 90 career TDs including rushing, receiving and returning gave him 540 points, putting him sixth on the club in scoring. Kelly was the perfect runner to play in the adverse weather of Cleveland. He was what is considered a “mudder,” in that, because of running flat-footed, he was able to keep his feet and perform well in wet and slippery conditions while others were struggling to do so. That allowed Kelly, who was named All-NFL five times and made six trips to the Pro Bowl, to have some of his best games late in the year when the Browns were trying to make a stretch run for a postseason berth. With Kelly helping to lead the way, the Browns made the playoffs in six of his first seven seasons on the team, and eight times overall, advancing to four NFL Championship Games with one victory -- in his rookie year. when Kelly retired after the 1973 season, his successor also had to follow a legend.
2001 Quarterback Bernie Kosar (1985-93)
A fan favorite in Cleveland, Bernie Kosar captured the hearts of the Browns faithful during his nine seasons (1985-93) in Cleveland. He topped the 3,000-yard passing mark four times with the Browns, throwing for 3,854 yards in 1986, 3,533 yards in '89, 3,487 yards in '91 and 3,033 yards in '87. Kosar ranks high on the team's all-time passing lists with an 81.6 quarterback rating (second), 21,904 yards (second), 3,150 attempts (second), 1,853 completions (second) and 116 touchdowns (third). He was voted to play in the 1988 Pro Bowl. The Browns obtained Kosar in the 1985 NFL Supplemental Draft.
2008 Defensive End Warren Lahr (1948-59)
A "ball hawk" in Cleveland's defensive backfield, Warren Lahr intercepted 40 passes from 1950-59 to rank second on the team's all-time list, trailing only Thom Darden's team record 45 interceptions. Lahr joined the Browns as a free agent in 1948 and after sitting out the '48 season with a knee injury he became a regular in the defensive backfield. He had a personal-best 8 interceptions in 1950 and either led the team or tied for the team lead in interceptions four times (1950, '51, '53 and '55). Lahr played on four championship teams (1949 in the All America Football Conference and 1950, '54 and '55 in the NFL) with the Browns.
Among the many innovations, especially offensively, the Browns brought to the game when they burst onto the scene a year after World War II ended, was a type of passing scheme that was totally different than anything seen before. It was motion-based, with players running various patterns all over the field, being the forerunner of the West Coast offense that began to gain popularity over three decades later. Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was a ball boy for his father’s team in the 1950s, was amazed by what he saw in games against the Browns, recalling later, “It was like watching a basketball game on a football field.” One of the key components of that was wide receiver Dante Lavelli. Nicknamed “Glue Fingers” for his ability to latch onto just about everything thrown his way, he played for the Browns for their first 11 seasons (1946-56) of existence. Using that passing game as the catalyst for a prolific offense, the Browns made it to the league championship game in each of their first 10 years, winning seven times. With his best season in the All-America Football Conference being 1947, when he had 49 receptions for 799 yards (a 16.3 yards-per-catch average) and nine touchdowns, Lavelli finished his four years in the league (during which the Browns won every championship) with 142 receptions for 2,580 yards (18.2) and 29 TDs. In seven seasons in the NFL, he had 244 catches for 3,908 yards (16.0) and 33 TDs, including 47 receptions for 802 yards (17.1) and seven scores in 1954 as the Browns won the first of back-to-back league championships to complete their unprecedented decade run. Based on his NFL numbers, which are the only ones used for the official team records, Lavelli is 10th on the Browns career receiving yards list, fifth in TDs and tied for eighth in average yards per catch. But if you added together his statistics for both leagues, Lavelli would be second in career receptions with 386, second in receiving yards (6,488) and second in scoring catches (62). Whenever Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham, who played with the Browns for the first 10 years of Lavelli’s career, needed to make a play, he knew where to look. Lavelli grew up about 20 miles south of Cleveland, in Hudson, Ohio, where the high school stadium is named in his honor. He went on to Ohio State and played briefly for the Buckeyes as a sophomore in 1942 before getting hurt as they went on to win the school’s first national championship. While at the school before joining the Army in 1943, Lavelli, a natural athlete who excelled in any sport he tried, received offers to play pro baseball and hockey. When he got out of the service, though, his focus was on football only, and his head coach at Ohio State, Hall of Famer Paul Brown, signed him to play for the pro team he was forming in Cleveland. It was a great move by the head coach, for Lavelli would turn out to be one of the cornerstones of the club, particularly with that trend-setting passing attack.
2007 Running Back Kevin Mack (1985-93)
Kevin Mack led the Browns in rushing in five of his eight seasons with the team, including a personal-best 1,104 yards in 1985. He combined with Earnest Byner (1,002) in '85 to become only the third teammates in NFL history to top the 1,000-yard mark in the same season. Mack's 5,123 career rushing yards ranks fifth on the team's all-time list and his 46 rushing touchdowns are the fourth highest total in Cleveland. A supplemental pick of the Browns in 1984, Mack played in the 1986 and '88 Pro Bowls.
2002 Linebacker Jim Clay Matthews (1978-93)
Clay Matthews played in more games (232) than any other player in team history, however, he is best remembered as one of the league's finest linebackers throughout his career. His 16 seasons in Cleveland are second on the club's longevity list, trailing Lou Groza's 17 years with the Browns. Matthews holds the team record for quarterback sacks with 76.5. The former first-round draft choice (1978) was voted to four Pro Bowls (1986, '88, '89 and '90).
Beginning with Pro Football Hall of Famer Lou Groza, then Dick Schafrath and Doug Dieken and now with Joe Thomas, the Browns have had a tremendous legacy at left tackle since their inception – one of the best in the history of the game, in fact. But when it comes to greatness, right tackle is represented, too, in the person of Mike McCormack. Playing his first NFL season in 1951 with the New York Yankees, who drafted him in the third round that year, he spent the next two years serving in the Army and then was traded to the Browns by the Yanks’ successor, the Baltimore Colts, in a major deal in which Cleveland gave up 10 players, including defensive back Don Shula, to get five. In nine years with the Browns, he made it to the Pro Bowl five times. Following the retirement of Hall of Fame middle guard Bill Willis following the 1953 season, Browns head coach Paul Brown worried the position would become a weak link in his team’s defense. But McCormack, who had been an offensive tackle with the Yankees, moved to middle guard in 1954 at Brown’s request and performed quite well throughout, including making a key play in the 56-10 victory over the Detroit Lions in the NFL Championship Game that year. He then took over at right tackle the following year and remained there until retiring after the 1962 season. With Groza and Schafrath at tackle, and talented Jim Ray Smith at guard, paving the way on the left side, and HOF center Frank “Gunner” Gatski anchoring the middle initially, McCormack’s presence enabled the Browns to work the right side as well, making their offense completely balanced along the line and giving it a variety of ways to attack defenses. When running back Jim Brown arrived in 1957 as the team’s first-round draft choice, he found a ready-made line to clear the way for him to get into the Hall of Fame as the NFL’s career rushing leader. Twice with McCormack at tackle, Brown ran for 237 yards in a game, an NFL record at the time. Quarterbacks took advantage of the quality line play as well. Hall of Famer Otto Graham came out of retirement to lead the Browns to their second straight NFL title in 1955, McCormack’s first year at tackle, and from 1959-61, Milt Plum had three of the most efficient seasons for a quarterback in team history, leading the league in passing in 1960 with a club-record 110.4 quarterback rating. McCormack, a Chicago native who played at Kansas University, is one of five Browns offensive linemen in the Hall of Fame, joining, as mentioned, Groza and Gatski, along with Gene Hickerson and Joe DeLamielleure. Combined, they manned all five positions along the line for all, or at least part, of their careers. With all except DeLamielleure having played in the 1950s, it’s no wonder that the Browns were the dominant NFL team during that decade, playing in seven league championship games, winning three of them, and amassing a regular-season record of 88-30-2.
2008 Running Back Eric Metcalf (1989-94)
Eric Metcalf was an electrifying player who was versatile enough to play different positions and fast enough to score any time he touched the football. Browns fans undoubtedly remember his four-touchdown game at Los Angeles in 1992 and his two punt return touchdowns in a 28-23 win over the Steelers in 1993. Drafted in the first round out of Texas in 1989, Metcalf played six seasons with the Browns (1989-94) and 13 seasons in the NFL before retiring in 2002.
2006 Linebacker Walt Michaels (1952-61)
Walt Michaels was just a seventh-round choice of the Browns in the 1951 NFL Draft out of tiny Washington & Lee. His first stay with the club was brief, as he was traded to Green Bay during training camp, but the Browns wisely re-acquired him in April 29 when they dealt three offensive linemen to Green Bay. Over the next decade, he helped lead the Browns to five NFL title game appearances, including back-to-back victories in 1954 and '55. He intercepted 11 passes in his career, four of which came in his breakout season of 1952, and was selected for the Pro Bowl five straight times from 1955-59. Michaels then went on to become a head coach of the New York Jets from 1977-82, succeeding former Ohio State assistant and East Liverpool, Ohio native Lou Holtz. He had finished his playing career with the Jets with a brief stint in 1963 and then served as an assistant coach for them for 11 seasons.
2005 Corner Back Frank Minnifield (1984-92)
A mainstay at left cornerback from 1984-92, Frank Minnifield was recognized as one of the top cover corners throughout his career. He earned three consecutive trips (1988-90) to the Pro Bowl. Minnifield intercepted three passes against the Houston Oilers on Nov. 22, 1987, tallied a career-high 4 interceptions in 1987 and '88 and intercepted 20 passes in his nine seasons (1984-92) with the Browns. The Browns obtained Minnifield in 1984 through the NFL Supplemental Draft.
For NFL teams, having Pro Football Hall of Famers are like diamonds – that is, precious but rare. If a club has one Hall of Famer on its roster, then it considers itself extremely lucky. Two is a gift. And to have two Hall of Famers at the same position area? That’s just off the charts. But that’s exactly what – or in those case, who – the Browns enjoyed at one time. For four seasons, from 1958-61, they had a pair of Hall of Fame running backs in halfback Bobby Mitchell and fullback Jim Brown. They are two of the four running backs the Browns have in the HOF, joining Marion Motley and Leroy Kelly. The Browns got the steal of the 1958 NFL Draft when they selected Mitchell in the eighth round. He was a tremendous sprinter, and there was some fear by teams that he would forego football and pursue track in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. However, he stayed in football, which turned out to be a wise move for both him and the Browns. Knowing that Brown was the hub of the offense and would get the ball a lot, Mitchell had no problem playing a complementary role. With Brown the power runner, going between the tackles a lot, the fast, elusive Mitchell worked the outside as both a runner and pass receiver. As a rookie, Mitchell was second on the Browns to Brown in rushing with 500 yards, averaging a team-high 6.3 yards a carry, and though he caught just 16 passes, three went for touchdowns, second on the club. He was even better in 1959 as he upped his rushing yards total to 743 and again led the team with a 5.7 average while having five TDs. As a receiver, he was second in catches with 35, good for a team-best four scores. He had five rushing TDs again in 1960 to go along with 506 yards, and led the Browns in both receptions (45) and scoring catches (six). In 1961, in what would turn out to be his last season as a Brown, he rushed for five scores for a third straight time, and 548 yards. He also caught 32 passes for three TDs. But Mitchell’s rushing and receiving were not his only contributions to the Browns, as he was one of the best returners in club history, too. He had both a kickoff and punt return for a TD as a rookie, and returned a punt for a score the following year. He added a kickoff return for a TD in 1960, and had two scores – one each on a punt and kickoff – in 1961. When it was all said and done with the Browns, Mitchell had rushed for 3,204 career yards, eighth-best in team history, averaged a team-best 5.4 yards a carry and had 16 TDs, and had 16 more scores on 128 receptions. He added six returns for TDs – three each on punts and kickoffs. But Browns head coach Paul Brown wanted a bigger runner to pair with Jim Brown to have more of a power backfield, so he traded with the Washington Redskins for the rights to the No. 1 overall pick in the 1962 NFL Draft, Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis. The price was steep, for the Browns had to give up Mitchell. The Redskins switched him to wide receiver and, as the go-to man on the offense, he starred over the next seven seasons, finishing his 11-year NFL career with 521 receptions for 65 TDs overall.
When Paul Brown signed Marion Motley in the Browns’ first training camp in 1946, it was initially to give African American Bill Willis, whom the head coach had just signed, an African American roommate. His plan worked. The two players found solace in each other as they went through the difficult task of permanently breaking the color line in pro football. From having watched him play for arch rival Canton (Ohio) McKinley High School while he was serving as head coach at neighboring Massillon, Brown knew Motley was a good player. But he probably had no idea how good Motley would turn out to be in an eight-year (1946-53) career with the Browns, being one of four Hall of Fame runners the team now claims. Brown built his early clubs on speed. The faster his players were, the better. As such, the 6-foot-1, 232-pound Motley, who had thick, muscular legs, was the powerful -- and perfect -- complement to all that speed. Sending Motley, who had good speed himself, up the middle on the trap play Brown developed, proved to be a nightmare for defenders who wanted no part of trying to tackle the big man, especially after he had gotten up a head of steam. Though he was 26 (old for a pro rookie) when he came to the Browns, Motley quickly proved he had plenty of football left in him. Playing in the new All-America Football Conference in 1946, he finished fourth in the league in rushing with 601 yards, averaging an impressive 8.2 yards per carry. He improved to third in the league with 889 yards in 1947, and then was first the following year with 964. Getting 570 in 1949 in the final year of AAFC, he finished his four-year stint in the league with 3,024 yards, a 6.2 yards-per-attempt average and 26 touchdowns. His play was a key reason why the Browns won all four AAFC crowns, losing just four games in the process. He proved his success in the AAFC was no fluke when the Browns moved to the NFL in 1950 as he led that league in rushing with 810 yards, including a 69-yarder for a TD, to help lead the club to the league crown. He paced the Browns in rushing again in 1952 with 444 yards and a season later finished his four-year stay with the team in the NFL with 1,696 yards and a 5.0 average. Add the totals of the two leagues together and Motley has 4,720 career yards, which would place him sixth on the Browns’ all-time rushing list if AAFC stats were allowed to be considered. However, only NFL numbers are used. Though the Browns didn’t need him to be much of a pass catcher because of all the other talented players they had, Motley still managed to have 85 receptions for 1,107 yards (a 13.0-yards-per-catch average) and seven TDs during his time with the club. He left the Browns the same time that Willis did, following the 1953 season, which seemed fitting. After all, from working together to help change pro sports racial history with what they did on the field, to being roommates off it, they will forever be linked.
The arrival of Ozzie Newsome changed the Browns, and in a broader perspective, it changed the way the NFL game would forever be played. When Sam Rutigliano was hired as Browns head coach shortly after the 1977 season ended, he was already familiar with Newsome. Immediately before coming to Cleveland, Rutigliano had been offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, and being in Southeastern Conference country, he had had a chance to see a lot of games involving Alabama, where Newsome was playing as a wide receiver in a wishbone offense. Rutigliano sent a scout to check out Newsome in the months leading up to the 1978 NFL Draft to see if his frame was big enough for him to put on about 15 or 20 pounds to get up to about 240. When the scout returned and told him the 6-foot-2 Newsome could add the weight without any problem, Rutigliano was convinced he would be big enough to block and thus could be converted to tight end, where the Browns had a need. So after using his first pick of the first round, at No. 12 overall, to take USC linebacker Clay Matthews, the coach used his second choice of the round, at No. 23, to tab Newsome. Rutigliano immediately converted Newsome to tight end, and then took Dave Logan, who had tried to play tight end the previous two years with the Browns despite being undersized, and moved him to wide receiver to go along with Reggie Rucker. Logan flourished at his new spot, and so did Newsome in a 13-year career that ended following the 1990 season. Those two players helped to energize the team’s passing attack. Not only was Newsome big enough to block, but he was also athletic enough to run downfield and catch passes. As such, he became the first tight end in NFL history who could help in the vertical passing game. Before he came along, tight ends were more blockers than anything else, almost like another offensive tackle. When they were involved in the passing game, it was on short routes. Newsome’s presence as an extra wide receiver created tremendous match-up problems for opposing defenses because he was too fast and athletic to be covered by linebackers, and too big and physical to be covered by cornerbacks and safeties. In his second season of 1979, Newsome had 55 receptions for 781 yards and nine touchdowns, all of which were, far and away, the best ever amassed by a Browns tight end. He followed that up with 51 catches in 1980 as the Kardiac Kids Browns won the AFC Central title, then 69 the next year to set a team record for receptions at any position. He broke that mark in 1983, and tied it in ’84, by catching 89 passes both seasons, and added 62 in 1985. Those gaudy numbers propelled him to a final total of 662, a team record and exactly twice as many as the next man. He added 7,890 yards receiving yards, also easily a Browns mark, and 47 touchdowns, fourth-best in club history. He was All-NFL twice and made three trips to the Pro Bowl.
2001 Defensive End Michael Dean Perry (1988-94)
Michael Dean Perry was one of the quickest defensive linemen in the NFL during his seven seasons (1988-94) with the Browns. Perry collected 47.5 sacks in Cleveland, including a career-high 11.5 in 1990. He was recognized for his outstanding play with four trips to the Pro Bowl (1990-92, '94). The Browns selected Perry in the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft.
2001 Running Back Greg Pruitt (1973-81)
A dynamic running back, receiver and kick return, Greg Pruitt electrified fans at Cleveland Municipal Stadium for nine seasons (1973-81). Pruitt produced three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, gaining 1,067 yards in 1975, 1,000 yards in '76 and 1,086 yards in '77. He was also dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield, hauling in a career-high 65 passes for 636 yards and 4 touchdowns in 1981. He ranks near the top of several of the team's all-time lists, including first in kickoff return average (26.3), first in punt return average (11.8), third in receptions (323), fourth in rushing yards (5,496) and third in combined yards (10,700). A second-round draft pick of the Browns in 1973, Pruitt was selected to play in four Pro Bowls (1974, '75, '77 and '78).
2004 Running Back Mike Pruitt (1976-84)
A hard-nosed runner, Mike Pruitt topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark four times (1979-81, '83) in his nine seasons in Cleveland. His best season statistically came in 1979 when he rushed for a career-high 1,294 yards for the seventh-highest total in club history. Pruitt ranks third on the team's all-time rushing list with 6,540 yards and third with 47 rushing touchdowns. He was also a dangerous weapon out of the backfield, collecting 63 receptions in 1980 and '81. Pruitt, who joined the Browns in 1976 as a first-round draft choice, played in the 1980 and '81 Pro Bowls.
2001 Wide Receiver Ray Renfro (1952-63)
The Browns most feared receiver in the mid-to-late 1950s, Ray Renfro played in three Pro Bowls (1954, '58 and '61) during his 12 seasons with the Browns. Renfro had superb speed, setting a team record with a career average of 19.6 yards per catch. He ranks second on the team's career list with 5,508 receiving yards, eighth with 281 catches and eighth with 330 points. He led the team in receiving yards in 1958, '59 and '61. Renfro, a seventh-round draft choice of the Browns in 1952, helped the team to NFL titles in 1954 and '55.
2005 Quarterback Frank Ryan (1962-68)
Frank Ryan quarterbacked the Browns to their last NFL Championship - a 27-0 upset of the Baltimore Colts in 1964. Ryan received many accolades throughout his 11-year NFL career (seven seasons with the Browns), including three consecutive Pro Bowl nominations (1965-67). His best season statistically was 1966 when he threw for 2,974 yards and 29 touchdowns. Ryan ranks near the top of every Browns career passing list with an 81.4 quarterback rating (third), 13,361 passing yards (fourth), 134 touchdown passes (second), 1,755 attempts (third) and 907 completions (third). Originally selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1958 NFL Draft, Ryan was traded to the Browns in 1962.
2003 Guard Dick Schafrath (1959-71)
Dick Schafrath stepped in at left tackle for Lou Groza in 1960 and the team's offense never missed a beat. Schafrath manned the left tackle position for 12 seasons, playing a key role in the success of Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly and quarterback Frank Ryan. Schafrath was recognized as one of the game's elite offensive tackles throughout the 1960s, earning Pro Bowl nominations in six consecutive seasons (1964-69). The Browns selected Schafrath in the second round of the 1959 NFL Draft. Schafrath was a member of Cleveland's 1964 NFL Championship team.
2005 Defensive Tackle Jerry Sherk (1970-81)
Cleveland's most dominating defensive lineman in the 1970s, Jerry Sherk ranks second on the team's all-time sack list with 69 while sharing the Browns record for most sacks in a game with 4. Sherk was recognized as one of the game's best defensive tackles in the mid-1970s, playing in four consecutive Pro Bowls (1974-77). His career was cut short by knee injuries and a serious staph infection. Sherk joined the Browns as a second-round draft choice in 1970.
2001 Quarterback Brian Sipe (1974-83)
Brian Sipe was the most productive quarterback in team history and led the "Kardiac Kids" teams of the late 1970s and early '80s. He is best remembered for the 1980 season when he was named consensus NFL MVP after leading the team into the playoffs and passing for 4,132 yards and 30 touchdowns - both team records. Sipe also set an individual game record for the Browns with 444 passing yards on Oct. 25, 1981 against the Baltimore Colts. He holds the Browns career passing marks for yards (23,713), touchdowns (154), attempts (3,439) and completions (1,944). A 13th round draft choice of the Browns in 1972, Sipe was selected to play in the 1981 Pro Bowl.
2005 Guard Jim Ray Smith (1956-62)
He was a member of the great Browns offensive line that blocked for Jim Brown. The left guard played in the Pro Bowl five straight years, beginning with the game following the 1958 season, his first year as a full-time starter with the Browns. He played with the team from 1956-62 after being drafted in the sixth round in 1954, when he still had one year of eligibility left at Baylor. After leaving college, he spent two years in the Army, joining the Browns midway through the 1956 season. He started his pro career as a defensive end before being shifted to the offensive line.
2002 Wide Receiver Mac Speedie (1946-52)
Mac Speedie teamed with Hall of Fame receiver Dante Lavelli to provide the Browns with the most feared pass-catching tandem of the 1940s and '50s. Speedie joined the Browns as a defensive end but was soon converted to offensive end. He led the All America Football Conference in receiving three times (1947-49) and led the Browns in receptions five times (1947-50, '52). Including his statistics from his four seasons in the AAFC, Speedie accumulated 349 receptions for 5,602 yards and 33 touchdowns in seven seasons with the Browns. In a game in 1948, Speedie took a screen pass from Otto Graham and raced 99 yards for a touchdown. He played in the championship game every season with the Browns, helping the team claim AAFC championships in 1946-49 and the NFL title in 1950.
Few rookies in Browns history have made the impact wide receiver Paul Warfield did in 1964. Taken with the No. 11 overall pick in the NFL Draft that year, he led the club in every receiving category. He had 52 receptions, 16 more than anybody on the club, for 920 yards, 376 more than anybody else, and nine touchdowns, one better than the No. 2 man. His 17.7 yards-per-catch average was 2.2 yards better than anyone on the team with double-digit receptions, and his 62-yarder was the longest catch of the year, 19 yards more than his nearest competitor. He was a big boost to an already productive Browns offense, helping the club win its first NFL championship in nine years. Surprisingly, there was no learning curve at all for Warfield. Not only was he going against pro players for the first time, but he was also playing a new position. He had been a star halfback at Ohio State and before that at Warren (Ohio) Harding High School, a little over an hour away from Cleveland, but when Browns head coach Blanton Collier saw his speed and hands and the fluent manner in which he ran pass routes, he felt he’d be an even better wide receiver. Collier was correct in his assessment – maybe more so than he could have ever imagined at that time. Warfield played just one game in 1965 because of a separated shoulder, but he didn’t let that slow his development. Although he finished third on the team in receptions in 1966 with 36, he increased his average yards per catch to 20.6, the first of seven straight seasons in which his per-catch average would be over 20 yards. It went up to 21.9, which would turn out to be his best as a Brown, in 1967. A year later, despite the team switching quarterbacks early in the season in going to Bill Nelsen from Frank Ryan, Warfield set a team record that stood for 21 years when he had 1,067 receiving yards on 50 receptions, and he led the NFL with 12 TD catches. He also averaged 21.3 yards per reception. It was more of the same in 1969 when, in his sixth year, he had 42 catches for 886 yards (21.1) and 10 scores. However, that was the final season of his first tour of duty with the Browns. The club, knowing that Nelsen’s knees were quite bad and that a young replacement to groom for the future was needed sooner rather than later, began exploring trade possibilities to position themselves to get a top-flight passer in the 1970 draft. The Miami Dolphins, who had the third overall pick, were willing to make the trade, but they insisted on getting Warfield in return. After thinking long and hard about it, the Browns went through with the deal and ended up selecting Purdue’s Mike Phipps. Warfield went on to help lead the Dolphins to three straight Super Bowls, two of which they won. The Browns, though, re-acquired Warfield in 1976 and he played two more years with them, getting 38 catches, six of which were for TDs, in that first season. He retired after the following year with 271 receptions for 5,210 yards (19.2) and 52 TDs, second-best in team history, during his eight seasons with the Browns. Overall in 13 years in the NFL, Warfield finished with 427 catches for 8,565 yards (20.1) and 85 scores.
2008 Defensive End Paul Wiggin (1957-67)
A tad undersized for his position, Paul Wiggin made up for his lack of size with technique and a keen knowledge for the game. Wiggin helped the Browns to two NFL Championships (1957 and '64) as he was a fixture on the Browns defensive line for a decade. He earned a spot in the Pro Bowl in 1966 and '68 and was generally regarded as one of the game's top defensive ends. Wiggin joined the Browns in 1957 as a sixth-round draft choice.
Bill Willis wasn’t just a great football player but also a historical figure in the advancement of African Americans in sports and society while playing middle guard, the equivalent of middle linebacker in today’s game, for the Browns from 1946-53. He and teammate Marion Motley, a fullback and a fellow Hall of Famer who was signed to serve as Willis’ roommate, are credited with permanently breaking the color barrier in pro football when they appeared in the Browns’ first game ever on Sept. 6, 1946, the season opener against the Miami Seahawks at Cleveland in the new All-America Football Conference. It marked the first time that an African American had appeared in a pro football game since 1933, and preceded by more than six months Jackie Robinson’s much-celebrated breaking of the color barrier in major league baseball on April 15, 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Willis, one of just two defensive players among the 15 Browns players enshrined in the HOF, was an anchor on Cleveland teams that made it to the league championship game in each of Willis’ eight seasons, winning five times. With his excellent quickness helping him to overcome the fact he was just 213 pounds, he was named all-league in three of his four NFL seasons while going to the Pro Bowl twice. However, his most lasting legacy may be the fact he refused to fight back against the many racial taunts he received, knowing that if he did so, it would have hurt the cause of African Americans in sports and elsewhere. Willis’ decision to be different as a teenager set into motion his journey into history. Not wanting to be compared to his older brother, Claude, who had been an all-state fullback at the school a few years earlier, Willis opted to play defensive line at Columbus (Ohio) East High School and went on to become honorable mention all-state himself. He went to college just a few miles away at Ohio State, and although he was but 202 pounds at the time, he had a coach in Paul Brown who favored quickness over size and gave him the chance to play. As just a sophomore, he helped lead the 1942 Buckeyes to the school’s first national championship, and in 1944, he was an All-American. Realizing that there were no African Americans in the NFL when he left Ohio State, he pursued a coaching career by being named head coach and athletic director at Kentucky State in 1945. By then, Brown had been hired as head coach of the Cleveland team that would begin play in the AAFC the following year. When training camp opened in 1946, Brown got word to Willis that it would be worth his while to try out for the team. He did and easily made the squad after repeatedly blowing past offensive linemen, including HOF center Frank “Gunner” Gatski, in practice sessions and crashing into Otto Graham, irritating the HOF quarterback. Willis’ greatest moment as a player came in the Browns’ first year in the NFL in 1950 when he somehow chased down speedy New York Giants running back Charlie “Choo-Choo” Roberts from behind at the Cleveland 7 in a special American Conference playoff game. The Giants didn’t score on the possession, and the Browns ended up winning 8-3 to advance to the league title game, in which they edged the Los Angeles Rams 30-28.