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50 Years of Doug Dieken
Celebrating the best moments from Dieken’s playing days, to his 34 seasons in the booth and everything in between
By Andrew Gribble Jan 06, 2022

Dieken, who calls his final game Sunday, leaves an unmatched legacy as an exemplary ambassador for the Browns organization

When opportunity knocked in 1971, Doug Dieken answered the call.

Then, when it resurfaced in a brand new way 14 years later, he did the same.

The rest is, well, 50 years of Browns' history.

The first came in 1971, when Dieken received a call from Browns coach Nick Skorich to let him know he'd be Cleveland's sixth-round pick in the NFL Draft. In the brief phone conversation, Skorich let Dieken, a tight end from the University of Illinois, know he'd be getting his shot with the Browns as an offensive tackle. Dieken asked if there was still a chance he could play tight end, and Skorich gave him a "we'll see."

When Dieken reported for his first minicamp, he was assigned No. 73.

"I knew that was kind of the end of it," Dieken said.

But it was only the beginning for a playing career that is matched by few others in franchise history. Dieken took over at left tackle for seven-time Pro Bowler Dick Schafrath midway through his rookie season and never missed another start until he called it a career after 14 seasons.

Just months after Dieken announced his retirement, another opportunity came calling when the Browns had an opening to fill on their radio broadcast team for the 1985 season. And though Dieken had no experience behind the mic, he was open to a new adventure when those around him encouraged to pursue it.

A lot of sports is about talent. Another thing is it’s about timing. Doug Dieken

"A lot of sports is about talent," Dieken said. "Another thing is it's about timing."

It's that mix of talent — as a player and broadcaster — and timing — both in terms of the opportunities he capitalized upon and his uncanny ability to provide concise analysis alongside whoever was next to him in the radio booth — that paved the way for 50 unforgettable years with the Cleveland Browns. He'll call his final game Sunday when the Browns close the season against the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium, putting an end to an unimaginable and unforgettable half-century as a pillar of the Browns organization.

"This guy has been through countless honors, two stadiums, I don't know how many coaches — and you don't even want to think about how many quarterbacks," said Terry Pluto, a sports columnist at The Plain Dealer who has written numerous books about the Browns. 

"It's kind of like empires have risen and fallen, plants have come and gone, and Doug is still there."

Dieken was at his childhood home when he got the call that started the clock on his 50 years with the Browns. There was little fanfare because, well, the draft was different back then.

So was the NFL.

"They brought me in after they drafted me and I had a meeting downtown with the owner, Art Modell, and some other people," Dieken said. "When we got done, he asks his gopher, 'Can you take Dieken to the airport?' He said, 'yeah, I can do it.'

"He takes me down to the Higbee's building and says 'There's a Rapid transit going West. When it ends, get off.' So, that was my welcome to the NFL in Cleveland."

When Dieken arrived for his first official training camp, he was joining a Browns team that was "on fumes" from its NFL Championship seven years earlier in 1964. Schafrath was entering his 13th and final season. Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson was in his 14th of 16 seasons with the Browns. After failing to make the playoffs in 1970, it was safe to call 1971 a transition year, and Dieken was a part of the new guard.

He just had to learn how to play offensive tackle.

Sometimes you have to play hurt. Later on it catches up to you, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Doug Dieken

"I can remember lining up across from him, and he didn't even know how to get into a stance," said former Browns defensive lineman Jerry Sherk, a close friend and teammate of Dieken's from 1971-81. "He was just kind of looking around, and I went, 'Boy, this guy isn't going to make it.' But within a couple weeks, he started picking it up.

"He got really good, really quickly, and he was able to look at his own strengths, and he capitalized on his strengths."

Dieken made his first career start in the Browns' Week 10 matchup with the New England Patriots. He'd do the same 193 more times for the rest of his playing career, giving him a record for offensive tackles that still stands today. In between were a barrage of bruises, cuts, torn ligaments, broken bones and numerous offseason surgeries.

It was never enough for Dieken to take a day off. He played through winning seasons and losing seasons; seasons that ended in ultimate heartbreak and seasons that ended before Thanksgiving — no questions asked.

"Back then, the one thing that was really different from today was you only had 43 guys on the team. When you got hurt, you better be really hurt if you weren't going to play," Dieken said. "You found that out. You always heard coaches talking about dependability and accountability. Sometimes you have to play hurt. Later on it catches up to you, but I wouldn't have done it any other way."


Dieken did it his own way, too. He relished getting under the skin of opposing defensive linemen, who believed he was getting away with holding when he prevented them from getting to the quarterback. It became part of his reputation and both he and his teammates embraced it.

"He was very proud that he was able to hold legally," Sherk said. "The game changed right after Doug came in that they allowed you, as an offensive lineman, to grab somebody that was right in front of you, and he just took great pride in being able to hold people without being called. I actually think he would've been voted for a few more Pro Bowls had he not held people because they would get so mad at him for holding illegally."

Dieken made one Pro Bowl. It came in 1980, a year that featured the best regular season mark of his career (11-5) and the most gutting end, as Cleveland was eliminated from the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion when MVP QB Brian Sipe was intercepted in the end zone by Raiders safety Mike Davis with less than a minute to play in the Browns' 14-12 loss.

"That was like playing your stereo full blast and all of a sudden somebody pulls the cord," Dieken said. "We were going down to drive to get the winning score and we get intercepted by a guy who, according to some people who played for the Raiders, probably couldn't catch 10 balls in a row, let alone that one."

Talk to Dieken's former teammates, and the wins and losses aren't what they want to discuss about Dieken, the player. The same goes for Dieken, who talks just as fondly about "replenishing his fluids" with teammates after two-a-days as he does some of his best on-field moments. 

It's the memories from behind the scenes that remain crystal clear.


Dieken, especially as he grew older, lived to get under the skin of his teammates with regular pranks. Sherk's favorite was the time Dieken wired firecrackers into one of his teammate's shoulder pads, causing a loud "pop, pop, pop" when he pulled them out of his locker.

Dieken didn't fess up to it, but he didn't have to. Everyone knew. 

"No one was immune to his pranks," Sipe said. "Whether it was goofing with the rookies and keeping them on their toes, or playing a prank on one of the other offensive linemen. Just creative things he did that always kept us laughing, always kept us on our toes and always on the lookout for what was happening next. 

"I think it had a real positive effect on the team, to be honest with you. Football can be not just a grind, it can be pretty sobering at times, so having a guy like Doug in the locker room was a bonus."

The ones who tried to get a little revenge often regretted it because Dieken would come back with something even bigger. He'd never be the one to say "uncle" in a prank war. Dieken lived for the give and take and he lived for the stronger bonds that emerged from all of these moments together. 

"You have a lot of friendships you can't replace," Dieken said. "You have fun with your friends, the guys you respect. As a player, I looked at my friends as to how they played. The guys who played hard, played tough, they were always my friends. The guys who were trying to steal a check, I had nothing to do with."

Dieken walked away from football after the 1984 season, his 14th. Even though the signs were clear that his body had had enough after 203 games, Dieken struggled with the decision. He just loved the game so much.

"You never said you were going to retire because if you said you were going to, you'd play like you were going to," Dieken said. "I was always leery of being that guy that was just getting that last check. I wanted to be that guy that earned that last check."

Opportunity and timing came together shortly after Dieken ended the first chapter of his Browns career.

Longtime Browns broadcaster Gib Shanley, looking to take the next step in his career to Los Angeles, was set to step down from his role entering the 1985 season. He reached out to Dieken and encouraged him to pursue it. 

Dieken applied and got the job. Simple as that.

"He worked in insurance and some other things, so why not?" Pluto said. "But in the same way, like when he went to Browns camp and he was changing positions on him and didn't realize how long that would last, it was the same thing for broadcasting."

Dieken was put in a unique situation for his first season, joining Nev Chandler and Jim Mueller, who rotated play-by-play duties alongside Dieken for each quarter of a game. Dieken — just like those first few weeks in training camp when he learned the nuances of left tackle — was green. It was understandably clunky, starting with the season opener against the Cardinals. The game went to overtime, and Chandler and Mueller didn't know who would be on the mic.

"It was totally different," Dieken said. "We weren't in a radio booth, per say, like we are today. We were on the roof of the stadium right next to the cameras where they recorded the game from above. The bathroom for lack of a better term was an outhouse."

Everything got better from that point forward, including Dieken's comfort behind the mic. He was meticulous in his drive to be better and even spent time with longtime Cleveland sports broadcaster Joe Tait, who reviewed Dieken's games and provided feedback on how he could improve.

He doesn't want to be a player that would come in, show up and tell a couple of old stories and take a look at a replay and analyze it. He wanted to understand the mechanics of what made the broadcast sound well. Jim Donovan

Paired with Chandler from 1986-93, Dieken picked his spots and delivered concise observations while letting Chandler run the show. As Pluto described it, Dieken lets the play-by-play announcer draw the entire outline of the picture while he picks his spots to color in certain parts of it.

"He doesn't want to be a player that would come in, show up and tell a couple of old stories and take a look at a replay and analyze it," said Jim Donovan, Dieken's partner in the booth since 1999. "He wanted to understand the mechanics of what made the broadcast sound well. On radio, he understood that the play-by-play guy really needed some room to be able to describe the game and paint the picture.

"He had a real easy way of describing the game. He could really make the fans understand it in real simple ways. Sometimes football gets wrapped up in all these languages, but Doug has it broken down to a real simple language of blocking, tackling and being able to do that and playing hard."

Dieken called it a "sucker punch" when The Move became official. 

"You just didn't want to believe it," he said.

The Browns officially went away after the 1995 season, but Dieken never left. He became a key member of the Cleveland Browns Trust, which worked to ensure the team's history would be preserved and respected during the transition years. It was one of many instances in which Dieken has served as the glue guy for Browns alums, bridging the gaps between generations of former players who identify themselves first and foremost as Cleveland Browns.

"They wanted to make sure they didn't become the Baltimore Colts — alums with the team that no longer existed," said Tony Grossi, Browns analyst for ESPN 850 Cleveland who has covered the team since the 1980s. "He was very active in preserving the hope that the Cleveland Browns would stay intact and it would've been a new team named something else, because they all knew a lot of players from the Baltimore Colts who never went with the team to Indianapolis and felt they didn't have a team anymore."

They didn't have to wait long.

There’s rules, and there’s getting an edge. Sometimes you like to see what the test is all about. Doug Dieken

The NFL decided its next expansion franchise would be in Cleveland, and the Browns would be officially back on the shores of Lake Erie in 1999. What's old was new again, and that included the radio booth, but Dieken wasn't provided any shortcuts. 

Dieken had to first apply for the job and then, once the field was narrowed to a select few, compete with a number of other former players in a tryout before he was able to get back to calling games. He'd have to call one-quarter of an NFL game off a TV screen alongside one of the candidates for the play-by-play job.

The candidates were informed ahead of time they'd be calling a game between the Eagles and Giants. This was 1999, not 2022, and replays weren't anywhere as easy to access as they are now.

Dieken, though, found a way. He got on the phone with Dale Lindsay, a former teammate who became a longtime NFL assistant, and asked for a copy of the game. The VHS tape arrived one day later, and Dieken watched it three times before his audition.

"There's rules, and there's getting an edge," Dieken said. "Sometimes you like to see what the test is all about."

Needless to say, Dieken got the job. Donovan landed the other seat despite never auditioning with Dieken. Their first game together in the booth would be the Browns' official return to football on Aug. 9, 1999, when the team squared off with the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game. The Browns won in overtime, 20-17.

The rest of the first season wouldn't go as well, but Dieken and Donovan developed a quick, comfortable rapport with each other that only got better with time.

"We really always approached it like we were two friends sitting together with seats beside each other, and we were going to watch the game and talk back and forth. It really worked," Donovan said. "We both understood what our strengths were. I wasn't going to analyze the game. I wasn't going to be the football guy, and he wasn't going to be the play-by-play guy. We understood that we each had our own territory and weren't going to invade the other guy's territory. We respected the jobs that each one of us had to do."

Said Dieken: "The one thing I learned was to keep your mouth shut and let the pros do their job."

Dieken, though, didn't keep his mouth shut during one of the most memorable radio calls of the new Browns era. Instead, he provided the icing on the cake for Donovan's "Run, William, Run" call of William Green's game-breaking, 64-yard touchdown run against the Falcons that catapulted the Browns into the 2001 playoffs. 

Donovan breaks down the play as it's unfolding and grows more and more excited with every yard Green gets. When Green reaches the 40-yard line, Donovan shouts, "Run, William, Run!" before resuming his narration of the play.

An exuberant Dieken, who's chuckling as Donovan yells "Touchdown!" takes his cue and promptly colors in his section of the picture. 

"We've been waiting for him to break the big one!" Dieken said. "But he saved it for the right time!"

Concise and direct with perfect timing. The Dieken Way.

It hasn't always been that fun in the booth, of course. 

In his 34 years as the radio color analyst, Dieken has experienced 25 losing seasons. His upbeat attitude, though, has never wavered. He was hardened by adversity that dated back to his college career when Illinois labored through restrictions of NCAA probation during his time with the team, and his playing career with the Browns, when he experienced an eight-year playoff drought.

"You watch these games, and as a player you know what they're going through," Dieken said. "When you put that many guys together, you don't know what you're going to get. Like Forrest Gump said, it's like a box of chocolates. You just always hope. I would always say I never played in a game I didn't think I was going to win. If you don't think that way, you're not going to win."

Dieken, though, endured far tougher losses from within the booth.

In 1992, Chandler was diagnosed with colon cancer. He pushed through the pain and exhaustion through the next two seasons before ultimately stepping away at the end of the 1993 season. He died in August 1994 at the age of 47.

Casey Coleman, who served as the play-by-play announcer from 1994-95 and then assumed a role as the Browns' sideline reporter when the team returned in 1999, was forced to step away from his position in 2005 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away one year later after a 14-month battle.

Donovan battled leukemia for 10 years before publicly revealing the illness in 2011 when he was forced to undergo a bone marrow transplant. He was back in the booth just a few months later and has remained cancer-free in the years since, but there have been plenty of trying moments along the way.

Dieken has been there for every step.

You see these guys on the football field and think how tough they are. Then you see some of the guys you broadcast with, and you realize that the guys on the football field aren’t the only tough guys. Doug Dieken

"Whatever I needed, whatever he could do," Donovan said. "There were a lot of times he was frustrated because he couldn't do much and because I couldn't be around a lot of people. I didn't have a real protective immune system, and I knew that frustrated him, but he was very protective of me. He was also very respectful of my privacy. We had a lot of heart-to-heart talks of what I was going through. He made sure I felt OK and that I was OK to go on the plane when we were traveling. He was wonderful. He really was."

It was the same for Chandler and Coleman, too. 

Donovan, then a young TV reporter, remembered how Dieken would regularly drive Chandler wherever he needed to go while battling his disease. When Coleman fell ill, Dieken began a tradition of calling him 30 minutes before the Browns played to see how he was doing and get his thoughts on the game.

"You see these guys on the football field and think how tough they are," Dieken said. "Then you see some of the guys you broadcast with, and you realize that the guys on the football field aren't the only tough guys."

A few years into his career, Dieken decided to make Cleveland his permanent home. From that point forward, Dieken has embraced the city to the fullest and given back at every opportunity.

When he was a player, Dieken took advantage of all the free time he had because he was single — he waited until after his playing days to start a family — and immersed himself in community endeavors. He was particularly devoted to The Special Olympics, where he's helped raise more than $250,000 since his playing days.

"When Doug commits to something, he puts his heart, soul and passion into it," said Jenner Tekancic, Browns Vice President of Community Relations. "He's extremely humble, but one of his biggest passions is seeing the joy of his family."

Dieken was inspired by his younger brother, Paul, who participated in the games. There's one moment with Paul, who passed away in 1982, he'll never forget. It happened at a root beer stand shortly after Paul had finished competing.

"He unzips his jacket and he's got these four ribbons," Dieken said. "He says, 'What do you think of this, Mr. Big Shot?' I always say that's the greatest moment I've had in sports."


Name a moment in Cleveland worth celebrating, and Dieken's probably been there.

His affability and comfort behind the microphone made him a go-to for seemingly every organization that needed a notable speaker or emcee to give their event a little more life. It wasn't something that came easily to Dieken, but just like he did as a left tackle and color analyst, he worked at it.

Sherk remembered Dieken, back when speaking engagements didn't come as easily, buying joke books to help give him some additional material. It just wouldn't be long before Dieken accumulated the endless memories and belly-laugh-inducing stories he's been able to share during a marvelous 50 years.

"He loved the notoriety. He loved the fans. He loved public speaking," Sherk said. "He loved football more than the rest of us loved it, and that's why he stayed there 50 years.

"He loved every part of it."

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