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Former Browns pass rusher Len Ford was a literal game-changer


Len Ford joined the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1948 as a two-way end. He was excellent on defense and a favorite on offense with leaping, one-hand grabs that netted 67 receptions in two years.

When the AAFC disbanded after the 1949 season, Ford was placed in a special draft pool. The Cleveland Browns, who earmarked him for their defensive platoon, quickly grabbed him. It wasn't long before Ford was recognized as the very best of many stars on a unit that allowed the fewest points of any NFL team six of seven years in the 1951-1957 period.

Ford developed into such a devastating pass rusher that the Browns changed their whole defensive alignment to take advantage of his rare talents. By using the linebackers behind the two ends and a pair of tackles, Cleveland in effect created the first 4-3 defense. This enabled Ford to line up closer to the ball-handling action and have a better shot at enemy quarterbacks.

A serious injury almost ended Ford's career in his first NFL season. When hit by the elbow of Cardinals fullback Pat Harder, Ford suffered a broken nose, two fractured cheekbones and several lost teeth. Len was counted out for the season but plastic surgery, a strenuous rehabilitation program and the use of a specially designed face mask made it possible for Ford to return for the 1950 title game with the Los Angeles Rams. Len responded with one of his finest games to help Cleveland to a razor-thin 30-28 victory. Ford, who recovered 20 opponents' fumbles in nine NFL seasons, was a first- or second-team All-NFL pick seven times. He also played in four consecutive Pro Bowls. In the 1954 NFL championship game against Detroit, he intercepted two passes as the Browns buried the Lions, 56-10.

Ford attended the Detroit College of Law after his retirement. He later worked as the assistant director at Considine Recreation Center, the largest recreation center in Detroit. The former defensive end died 16 months later at the young age of 46.

He was posthumously Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976 and later into the Brown's Ring of Honor.

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