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Jim Shofner's lasting impact beyond football fondly remembered by Browns alumni

Shofner passed away July 17 at age 85 in his native state of Texas, and his loss was felt throughout the Browns alumni community


Jim Shofner always considered the Cleveland Browns his most significant franchise he was a part of across his nearly four decades in the NFL.

His first memory came in 1958, when the Browns drafted him in the first round out of TCU. Shofner, a cornerback, recorded 20 interceptions across six NFL seasons and is tied with Frank Minnifield for 12th all-time in picks in franchise history.

Fifteen years after retirement, Shofner came back to Cleveland as a quarterbacks coach for three years, a stretch that included the memorable season of 1980 and the "Kardiac Kids." Shofner provided tutelage for MVP quarterback Brian Sipe and further cemented himself as a pivotal figure in Browns franchise history.

Shofner passed away July 17 at age 85 in his native state of Texas. His loss was felt throughout the Browns alumni community, which includes several people who remembered Shofner beyond his contributions on the field — his kindness, patience and ability to bring the best out of his teammates and peers stands out most.

"He always trusted me, which gave me confidence," Sipe said. "I never played football more confidently than the three years he coached me.

"He was a man of few words, but there was something so important about what he meant to all of us and those few words he had to say."

From his days as a player from 1958-1963 to his career as a coach, which spanned from 1966-1996 and included stints in the NFL and at TCU, his alma mater, Shofner's even-keeled, calm demeanor was built to last in football. 

John Wooten, an offensive lineman who played for the Browns from 1959-1968, always remembered Shofner for his willingness to befriend all teammates during a turbulent time for Black people in America when segregation and Jim Crow laws were in effect. Wooten recalled how many NFL teams didn't have the level of camaraderie that could bring teammates of all races together in spaces beyond the field, but that wasn't the case with the Browns.

Shofner, Wooten recalled, was one of the teammates who helped facilitate the deep friendships. He'd invite teammates for a round of golf, a trip to the movies or treat them and their wives to dinner. He always recognized the importance of making others feel welcomed in the Browns franchise.

"He was an outstanding person as it relates to what he felt his teammates were," Wooten said. "We as a team didn't allow those things to separate us as players. Shofner treated everybody the same way. That's just the kind of guy he was."

When Shofner re-joined the franchise as a coach, first as a quarterbacks coach from 1978-1980 and then as an offensive coordinator and interim head coach in 1990, he was lauded again for his leadership and ability to find ways to best coach each player. That's precisely what he did with Sipe, who continued to build a close relationship with Shofner after he worked with him as a quarterbacks coach during the "Kardiac Kids" season, where the Browns went 11-5 and survived numerous close-game finishes.

The season was immensely nerve-wracking for Sipe, too. Yes, he finished with 30 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 4,132 passing yards that season, but he felt pressure every week to be perfect and help the Browns maintain their winning ways. He experienced several roadblocks throughout the season, but he always found comfort in having Shofner believe in him.


Shofner never failed to remind Sipe he was there in his corner. Sipe recalled a game where he threw two interceptions early and walked back to the sideline with crippled confidence. A thousand thoughts, none of them good, went through Sipe's mind as he picked up the phone to discuss the errors with Shofner, sitting in the booth.

"What do you got for me?" Sipe said with a low tone.

"Go get 'em," Shofner said in a more upbeat manner. The short, but confident response stunned Sipe, who suddenly felt refreshed and performed well the rest of the game.

"He was telling me he had complete confidence in me," Sipe said. "That meant the world to me. He didn't have a panic button — and he helped me get rid of mine."

Sipe recalled that story when he spoke about Shofner at his funeral services on July 30. He remembered how Shofner continued to guide him via weekly phone calls when Sipe became a high school football coach near his California hometown, and he attributes Shofner with helping him build his strong Christian faith. 

Sipe, however, was just one person whom Shofner deeply impacted. The outreach of his life extended far beyond football, and that's how many Browns alumni will remember him.

"I knew I was going to greatly miss him when he left," Sipe said. "That turned out to be the case. I was just grateful I ended up having a long friendship with him."