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Browns legend Tom DeLeone dies at age of 65

Cleveland Browns elected Tom DeLeone and Vince Costello to the 2011 Legends Class.

Former Browns center Tom DeLeone, a two-time Pro Bowler who was recently inducted into the team's Legends Club, died early Sunday. He was 65.

DeLeone, a proud Ohio State alum who was born in Ravenna and grew up in Kent, spent 11 seasons with the Browns from 1974-84 and was most famously remembered for his role on the "Kardiac Kids" team of 1980. One of three Browns centers to make multiple Pro Bowls, DeLeone started 104 games and appeared in 176.

DeLeone was the reliable triggerman and protector for Browns quarterback Brian Sipe, who was the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1980.

"He was as feisty as they could be," said Doug Dieken, a longtime teammate of DeLeone's and fellow member of the Kardiac Kids offensive line. "He played for Woody (Hayes) and was gung ho Ohio State. He was just a great teammate. If you were going to get in a fight, you wanted Tom on your side."

DeLeone battled brain cancer throughout his final years, a diagnosis he was dealt in 2011. In recent months, Dieken and numerous other members of the 1980 team visited with DeLeone in his home in Park City, Utah.

"He said to Sipe that I'm glad it happened to me because I don't think anyone else in my family would be tough enough to handle it," Dieken said. "That's the attitude he had."

DeLeone, a long snapper in his first two NFL seasons with the Bengals, took over as the Browns' starting center in 1975 and started 92 consecutive games. He earned the George Halas Award in 1976 as the NFL's most courageous player, an honor bestowed upon him after he played through the loss of his first wife, Susie, who died of cancer. His Pro Bowl seasons were in 1979 and 1980, when the Browns were a combined 20-12 during the regular season.

At 6-foot-2 and 248 pounds, DeLeone was undersized throughout his NFL career but made up for it with toughness and grit that was a consummate characteristic of the Browns of that era.

"He utilized his skill set," Dieken said. "He wasn't the biggest guy in the world, he wasn't the strongest guy in the world but he was probably the quickest center in the league and he maximized that and he maximized the use of leverage. He knew who to block and he's calling out the blocking assignments between him and Robert Jackson. They were like the computer chips on the offensive line. He played hard and he played well. He was tough as can be. He was just a super tough guy."

The Cincinnati Bengals selected DeLeone in the fifth round (106th overall) of the 1972 NFL Draft. He joined the Browns midway through the 1974 season and retired as a member of the team after the 1984 season.

Following his retirement, DeLeone worked as a criminal investigator with the U.S. Department of Treasury. He rose to the position of senior special agent within the U.S. Customs Service and was a member of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He retired from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2007 and went on to work as a substitute teacher and assistant high school football coach.

Along with the Browns Legends, DeLeone was a member of the Hall of Fames of Kent City Schools and Ohio State.

DeLeone is survived by his wife, Mindy, and their three children; Dean, Kent and Rachel.

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