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Dante Lavelli

Dante lavelli, Cleveland Browns player, is photographed in Cleveland, Ohio, on Dec. 10, 1953. (AP Photo/Julian C. Wilson)

Dante Lavelli – End

Among the many innovations the Browns brought to pro football when they burst onto the scene in 1946 was a revolutionary passing scheme. It was motion-based, with players running various patterns all over the field, being the forerunner of the West Coast offense that began to gain popularity over three decades later. Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was a ball boy for his father's team in the 1950s, was amazed by what he saw in games against the Browns, recalling later, "It was like watching a basketball game on a football field."

One of the key components of that was wide receiver Dante Lavelli. Nicknamed "Glue Fingers" for his ability to latch onto just about everything thrown his way, he played for the Browns for 11 seasons (1946-56). Using that passing game as the catalyst for a prolific offense, the Browns made it to the league championship game in each of their first 10 years, winning seven times. With his best season in the All-America Football Conference being 1947, when he had 49 receptions for 799 yards (a 16.3 yards-per-catch average) and nine touchdowns, Lavelli finished his four years in the league (during which the Browns won every championship) with 142 receptions for 2,580 yards (18.2) and 29 TDs. In seven seasons in the NFL, he had 244 catches for 3,908 yards (16.0) and 33 TDs, including 47 receptions for 802 yards (17.1) and seven scores in 1954 as the Browns won the first of back-to-back league championships to complete their unprecedented decade run. Based on his NFL numbers, Lavelli is 10th on the Browns career receiving yards list, fifth in TDs and tied for eighth in average yards per catch. But if you added together his statistics for both leagues, Lavelli would be second in career receptions with 386, second in receiving yards (6,488) and second in scoring catches (62). Whenever Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham needed to make a play, he knew where to look. Lavelli grew up about 20 miles south of Cleveland, in Hudson, Ohio, where the high school stadium is named in his honor.

– Steve King