Browns C Frank Gatski | Cleveland Browns -

Frank Gatski

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 1956 file photo, Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame center Frank "Gunner" Gatski poses in Cleveland, Ohio. Gatski's family has the late football star's Hall of Fame ring back, just in time for the holidays. (AP Photo/file)

Frank Gatski – Center

Frank Gatski is one of the greatest Browns ever, as evidenced by the fact the center is among the franchise's 16 Pro Football Hall of Famers after an 11-year (1946-56) career with the team. But he may have the greatest nickname of the select group: "Gunner," which came from his hard-nosed, rough-and-tumble ways on and off the field.

How tough was Gatski? So much so that he never missed a game or even a practice at Farmington (W. Va.) High School, Marshall College (now University), with the Browns, or in 1957 with the Detroit Lions. He wore a perpetual grin that earned him two other nicknames as well, "Li'l Abner" and "Joe Palooka," after comic strip characters of that era. Indeed, he was a special player – and a special man – in many ways. In fact, he did not have a phone where he was staying in 1985 in a remote part of Central West Virginia when the Hall of Fame induction list for that year was announced and instead had to learn he was included on it by reading it in the newspaper.

Gatski showed up at one of his first high school practices wearing shoes of two different sizes. But neither that nor anything else could keep him from becoming a legend wherever he played. Gatski was the first Marshall player to have his jersey retired, and has a bridge near campus named in his honor. He was a hero to another Farmington High product, Hall of Famer Sam Huff, against whom Gatski played at the end of his career when the middle linebacker was with the arch rival New York Giants.

Gatski came to the Browns during their inaugural season, but sat behind veteran Mike "Mo" Scarry for his first two years. He took over as the starter in 1948 and the Browns promptly went on to win their third straight All-America Football Conference championship with a 15-0 record, becoming the first pro football team – and still one of just two in history along with the 1972 Miami Dolphins – to finish the season perfect. It began an eight-year stretch in which Gatski snapped to Otto Graham and served as the bodyguard for the Hall of Fame quarterback. The Browns went to the league championship game all eight seasons, winning four times. Gatski's presence helped the Browns offense to flourish and serve as the key unit in that run of success. Gatski was named All-NFL four times during that stretch. He was traded to the Lions in 1957 and helped lead them to the league title that year with a victory over his former team. He retired after that, ending a career in which he made it to the league championship 11 times in 12 seasons.

– Steve King