Josh Cribbs officially retires from NFL, wouldn't trade his Browns experience 'for the world'

Josh Cribbs had any of number highlight-reel moments to identify as his favorite memory in a Browns uniform. There were more than plenty over his eight seasons in Cleveland.

Instead, one of the best kick returners in NFL history remembered the moments in the locker room, the smells, the friendships as he reflected on a 10-year career that effectively ended in 2014 but officially came to a close this week.

Cribbs, who owns 11 Browns return records and sits in a tie for first with the most kickoff return touchdowns in NFL history, made his retirement official Wednesday.

"Knowing the legacy I left behind playing in the NFL, playing for the Browns, it was kind of a difficult pill to swallow. Even when I played at my worst, I was still capable to play better than some guys that were at 100 percent," Cribbs said. "Wanting to step out there on the field every time I see the Browns play, not being able to go to the games because it was almost excruciating to not be out there, it's as though I finally came to terms with letting myself understand, letting myself know that this time has passed.

"I had a great run that I had nothing to be ashamed about or look down on. I felt like I have nothing but great memories in playing in the NFL. I can now look myself in the mirror and say I'm done."

Undrafted out of Kent State, Cribbs -- a star, dual-threat quarterback with the Golden Flashes -- defied the odds when he made the 2005 roster. He quickly found his niche on special teams, both on coverage units and kickoff returns, and notched his first of eight kickoff return touchdowns when he took one back 90 yards in an Oct. 23, 2005, loss to the Lions.

It only foreshadowed what was to come.

"I was definitely not confident I would make this team and thrive like I did. I just was confident I was going to give it my best ability," Cribbs said. "I was confident that if I had to walk away, if I was forced to walk away, I would be able to look myself in the mirror and say I did everything in my power necessary to allow this dream to come true."

By 2007, Cribbs was handling punt and kickoff return duties, combining for 2,214 yards and three touchdowns in his first of three Pro Bowl seasons. He set a career high with three kickoff return touchdowns in 2009, another Pro Bowl season that also saw Cribbs' role on offense significantly expand. In a Dec. 20 win at Kansas City that season, Cribbs tied an NFL record with two kickoff return touchdowns, both of which going for more than 100 yards.

Cribbs was named as one of two kickoff returners on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, but his production continued into the 2010s. In 2012, Cribbs made his final Pro Bowl appearance after registering a combined 1,722 all-purpose yards.

Cribbs, who spent eight years in Cleveland, amassed 1,175 receiving yards, 808 rushing yards and nine touchdowns as a jack-of-all trades weapon on offense. He also led the team in special teams tackles four times and totaled 125 special-teams tackles with the Browns.

Cribbs finished his career tied for third in NFL history with 13,488 career return yards, third in kickoff return yards (11,113) and fifth in career return touchdowns (11).

"It means a lot and confirms to me that not only did I make the NFL, but I exceeded that. I was the best at what I did. The records were confirmation for me and still is confirmation," Cribbs said. "When people mention the best of the best in returners, they mention my name and that's good enough for me. To have my jersey in the Hall of Fame is good enough for me. To have played with some of the best talent in the world, to step on the field with some of the best athletes in the world, that's good enough for me.

"I'm at peace in my soul that my NFL career was a great success."

Though Cribbs' final game as a Brown came at the close of the 2012 season, he made one last appearance at FirstEnergy Stadium in 2014 as a member of the Colts. The moment wasn't lost on Cribbs, who credits Browns fans as the reason why he continues to reside in the Cleveland area and is proud to raise his children here. He's got his hands in a number of roles and is working to obtain his M.B.A. a stone's throw away from the Browns' facility in Berea at Baldwin Wallace University.

"Had the fans not been so great, I would have easily made the decision to move back east to D.C. or move to another location in a warmer climate," Cribbs said. "That experience, the fan base, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

"There's a lot of good fan bases in the country, but none like the Browns."

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