Dante Lavelli, a quarterback in high school and a halfback as an Ohio State freshman, was switched to end by Buckeye coach Paul Brown before his sophomore season. Yet, when Dante joined the newly formed Cleveland Browns in 1946, injuries and a long stint in the U. S. Army had limited his college experience to just three games.
To make the Browns, he had to beat out four more experienced and highly regarded candidates. But Dante not only prevailed, he led the league in receptions and won All-AAFC honors in his rookie season. He also caught the winning touchdown pass in the first AAFC championship game between the Browns and the New York Yankees.
There were many more high moments in Lavelli's career. He was All-AAFC again in 1947 and, when the Browns moved to the NFL, he was all-league twice more and a starter in three of the first five Pro Bowl games. In the 1950 NFL Championship Game, Dante caught 11 passes, then a record, and scored two touchdowns as the Browns edged the Los Angeles Rams, 30-28.
Lavelli was a favorite target of the Browns' great quarterback, Otto Graham. All but 20 of Dante's 386 career receptions came while Otto was at the Cleveland helm. Like any great pass-catch team, the two spent long hours learning the other's every habit. Dante was a dedicated pattern-runner but once there was a hint things weren't going right, he preferred to take off down the field and yell for the ball. More than once, his penetrating voice provided a homing signal for Graham and the combination clicked for a long touchdown. What set Lavelli apart from all other receivers were his great hands. When Dante went up for a pass in a crowd, you could be sure "Gluefingers" would come down with the ball.
The former end was instrumental in helping form the NFL players union. While a member of the Browns, Lavelli and other teammates pressed for a pension plan and minimum pay standards, as well as meal money on road trips and uniforms that they did not have to pay for themselves.
Gluefingers achieved the highest honors in football when he was Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975.
Lavelli owned and operated a furniture store in Ohio after retirement, but quickly found his way back into football. He served as a scout for the Browns. He also helped form the NFL Alumni Association, which is a non-profit service organization of former professional football players who work voluntarily on behalf of youth and charity.
Lavelli died on Jan. 20, 2009 at the age of 85.
The Dante Lavelli Scholarship Fund was established in 2010 by the Akron Community Foundation to help carry on Lavelli's legacy. The scholarship helps athletes at Hudson High School, his alma mater, attend college.