Paul Warfield has always been remembered as one of the fastest wide receivers in NFL history and was a key member of the Browns’ 1964 national championship team and the undefeated 1970 Miami Dolphins squad.
His elusiveness and leaping abilities made him one of the toughest receivers to cover in the league, but if it wasn’t for a mandatory meeting called by his junior high school football coach, Warfield may have never made it to the NFL.
Warfield played baseball, track and field and football in ninth grade in Warren. He had no intentions of playing football in high school — he thought he was much better at baseball and track and field — until his junior high school football coach mandated all players to attend a meeting with Gene Slaughter, the new football coach at Warren Harding High School.
Warfield, 76, still remembers the speech to this day.
“It was a life-changing experience,” Warfield said. “In 15 minutes of listening to this new head coach, I got the feeling that one would have watching a television promotion. And it really stuck with me.”
So, Warfield continued playing all three sports in high school and eventually became a football and track and field athlete at Ohio State. He played under legendary coach Woody Hayes, but Warfield was arguably just as good as a wide receiver as he was a track and field athlete.
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Warfield was the NCAA runner-up in the long jump his sophomore year, finished a two-time letterman and strongly considered an attempt to join the U.S. Olympic team. He believes his athleticism was strong enough to participate in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
“It's a chance to represent your country, and a chance to compete on the world basis,” Warfield said. “If I had been lucky enough to stand on the stand of one of those three places, that's a very special honor.”
Then, Warfield was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 1964 NFL Draft. His talents and college statistics — which include 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns in three seasons as a running back — were too good for the Browns to pass up with the 11th pick of the draft.
The Olympics were tempting, but were likely to be just a one-time experience for Warfield. If he delivered in the NFL, the career could last decades.
After a first-round selection from a team in his home state, though, the decision was too easy. Warfield was going to the NFL and bypassing a career in track and field or baseball, which he still considered in college.
“I'm sitting by my radio, and all of the sudden, my name is called,” Warfield said. “So, I'm elated. My favorite team is going to draft me. This is unbelievable. So, it all worked out.”
The Browns believed Warfield’s freakish athleticism would work best as a defensive back, but the Browns had more pressing needs as a wide receiver and liked what they saw out of Warfield in mini-camp, which was only one-day event at the time.
That decision, perhaps, changed the history of the franchise. The Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship behind Warfield’s 52 receptions and nine touchdowns his rookie season. He became one of the best wide receivers in NFL history and finished a 13-year career with 8,565 receiving yards and 85 touchdowns, and he’s sixth on the Browns’ all-time receiving list with 5,210 yards.
None of that would have happened, however, without hearing a speech from his high school football coach.