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Throwback Thursday: Don Cockroft fills the shoes of a legend, leaves his own legacy

Don Cockroft entered the NFL with enormous shoes to fill.

A third-round draft pick in 1967, Cockroft was faced with the daunting prospect of following in the footsteps of Lou Groza — who remains one of the league's most legendary players — the following season.

"I had to replace one of the great kickers in the NFL," Cockroft said.

By the end of his 13-year career in Cleveland, though, Cockroft retired with his own legacy, becoming one of the franchise's all-time best players.

"Once Lou got a hold of me and started working with me along with (former Browns coach) Blanton Collier, my rookie season, I led the NFL in field goal percentage," Cockroft said.

Cockroft, who led the league again in 1972 (81.5 percent) and 1974 (87.5 percent), made 66 percent (216 of 328) of his career field goal attempts, which at the time was the highest percentage in NFL history for a retired kicker.

Cockroft, who was also the team's punter for nine seasons, spent his final year in the league as a member of Cleveland's 1980 "Kardiac Kids" team.

"We won so many games in the final minutes … You know, it was a very unselfish team. We just never quit. We knew if we could hang in there we could win and (former quarterback) Brian Sipe, of course, was the MVP of the year that year," Cockroft said.

"So again, it was unique and that was my last year. And when I look back, I'm so glad that I got to finish my career with the Browns and finish with that kind of season in 1980, the Kardiac Kids."

Cockroft decided to document those memories in a book, The 1980 Kardiac Kids — Our Untold Stories, in which he relives what was one of the most exciting years in Browns history.

"So many players like myself, did not realize what we were doing for the city of Cleveland and for Browns fans," Cockroft said.

"Winning those games in the final seconds, we knew what was happening and we were excited, but it wasn't until later that it dawned on us that the city was hurting back then. What hope we gave for the city of Cleveland. Everywhere I went, and now I'm re-acquainted with Browns fans and they say, 'tell us about the 1980 team.'"

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