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Throwback Thursday: Zeke O'Connor reflects on 1949 Browns season, what made Paul Brown 'special'

In 90 years, Bill "Zeke" O'Connor has seen it all.

Perhaps best known for his game-winning catch to lift the Toronto Argonauts to the 1952 Grey Cup and for his work in Nepal alongside Sir Edmund Hillary, who became the first person to climb Mount Everest along with Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay, O'Connor's life experiences are as eclectic as they come.

But before that, O'Connor was a standout at Notre Dame and made his way next to the All-America Football Conference (the league that eventually gave way to the NFL). O'Connor, who played as an end on both offense and defense, was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the fourth round of the 1948 draft.

The next season, O'Connor was traded to the Browns, where he played for legendary Cleveland coach Paul Brown and helped guide the franchise to its fourth-straight AAFC Championship.

"I came to the Browns and was in competition, it was a very rough competition, there were eight of us for one position," O'Connor said. "Luckily I made it and I can remember getting the letter from (former Browns coach) Paul Brown saying I was one of the 32 playing for the 1949 Cleveland Browns. I was so excited because the year before we — the Buffalo Bills — had lost to the Browns in the playoffs for the championship."

O'Connor also remembers his impressions of the legendary Brown.

"He was a special person right from the beginning. Not the way he is now revered. But he had a discipline that was very similar to a coach I played for at Notre Dame, (Frank) Leahy," he said.

"But I think Brown had a little bit more of a compassion in his dealing and he developed many things in football including the players running in and out with signals. He had just a great football mind and he was a great picker of talent in the fact when you look at people like (former kicker Lou) Groza."

O'Connor added teams these days could learn from Brown's emphasis on the offensive/defensive lines and carefully selecting assistant coaches.

"It's really the men who protect all those things and allow those things and open holes so Jimmy Brown can zip through them and so forth. Because if they don't, nobody zips through them, they're too tough," he said. "But Brown had that ability and he was a good leader. And I think as much of his picking of his players, he was a great picker of assistant coaches."

His advice to this generation of Browns fans?

"I guess the one word is patience … but I think that time will come. And with me, even though I'm a Browns fan, I enjoy a good game. And I'm sure the fans do," he said.

"If the Browns play well and they get beat, what can you do? You just wait for the next game … as long as the team and its owners give the best they can — winning is important — but it's not as important as being a member of a team."

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