By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Updated at 11:30 a.m.
The Morning Kickoff …
Number, please: What’s in a number? To NFL players, jersey numbers can be more than an I.D. They can become an identity. And in this age of social media, a personal brand.
NFL Twitter handles often include a player’s name and number such as @joehaden23, @JOSH_GORDONXII, and the new Browns Twitter king, the 966,000-follower strong, @JManziel2.
When Miles Austin joined the Browns, he requested Bernie Kosar’s permission to wear Kosar’s revered No. 19, which had been issued but one time in 20 years – and only for one year. Austin wore No. 19 for seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Kosar was touched by the request and happily granted permission. The two pros, a generation apart, celebrated their new friendship over dinner.
Several years ago, the NFL started discouraging teams from retiring numbers because of the real possibility of running out of numbers over time. As a result, franchises conceived Rings of Honor to commemorate their former greats.
Austin’s personal gesture brought to mind something we’ve thought of doing for some time now – a list of the greatest Browns, or most memorable, by jersey number.
We’ll go from 1 through 50 on Monday and 51 to 99 on Tuesday. Enjoy.
No. 1 – Dino Hall: A 5-7, 165-pound kick returner who survived five seasons in the early 1980s. He once challenged offensive tackle Doug Dieken to a fight.
2 – Tim Couch: Soon to be owned by Johnny Manziel, we give Couch his props. The only quarterback to lead the expansion-era Browns to the postseason. The fact he was injured and couldn’t play in the playoff game epitomizes his career.
3 – Derek Anderson: The only quarterback since 1999 to make the Pro Bowl.
4 – Phil Dawson: A Ring of Honor candidate.
5 – Jeff Garcia: Well, his 99-yard completion to Andre Davis matches an NFL record never to be broken. Also posted a 0.0 passer rating in a game in his historic one season.
6 – Seneca Wallace: Seven starts, one win, earned his number.
7 – Tom Tupa: Brecksville’s own.
8 – Billy Cundiff: He can own this number with one game-winning field goal.
9 – Matt Bahr: 1980s kicker is one of the all-time characters.
10 – Kelly Holcomb: One more career win (four) than Brady Quinn.
11 – Jim Ninowski: The backup quarterback on the 1964 championship team.
12 – Don Cockroft: Combination punter-kicker who was down to just place place-kicking in the Kardiac Kids 1980 season, his last.
13 – Frank Ryan: Mathematical genius and quarterback of the last Browns championship team.
14 – Otto Graham: Google “championship quarterback” and his name should come up. An 80.9 win percentage in six NFL seasons with three league championships. Four championships in four seasons of the AAFC.
15 – Mike Phipps: He was supposed to be Cleveland’s Terry Bradshaw. That pretty much sums up the 1970s.
16 – Josh Cribbs: The franchise’s all-time specialist edges Bill Nelsen, an under-rated field general who was three wins shy of three Super Bowl appearances.
17 – Brian Sipe: Leader of the Kardiac Kids and one of the most popular players in team history.
18 – Gary Danielson: Bernie Kosar’s mentor.
19 – Bernie Kosar: Former GM Ernie Accorsi gave him this number to honor his own hero, Johnny Unitas.
20 – Don Rogers: His untimely death to a massive cocaine overdose on the eve of his wedding in 1985 may – may – have cost the Browns three Super Bowl appearances.
21 – Eric Metcalf: A triple threat playmaker who rewrote kick and punt return records.
22 – Frank Gatski: Hall of Fame center from the dynasty years.
23 – Joe Haden: Only 25 years old, he has time to write new chapters of Browns history.
24 – Warren Lahr: Starting cornerback on four Browns championship teams, his 44 career interceptions rank second in team history.
25 – Charles White: His Browns’ claim to fame was being the central figure in the formation of the Inner Circle program in the 1980s.
26 – Ray Renfro: Averaged 19.6 yards per catch in 142 games over 12 seasons.
27 – Thom Darden: All-time franchise interception leader with 45.
28 – Ben Davis: Remarkable statistic – had interceptions in seven consecutive games in 1968.
29 – Hanford Dixon: One of the franchise’s great cornerbacks, a.k.a. Top Dawg, he co-authored the Dawg Pound in 1986.
30 – Bill Willis: Hall of Fame middle guard who joined Marion Motley in breaking the color barrier in professional football in 1946.
31 – Frank Minnifield: Hanford Dixon’s Corner Brother, Mighty Minnie ranks as one of the franchise’s all-time under-rated greats.
32 – Jim Brown: The greatest football player in the history of the NFL.
33 – Reggie Rucker: Averaged 16.0 yards per catch in 100 games over seven seasons.
34 – Greg Pruitt: Another of the franchise’s under-rated greats. If I were a running back, this is the number I would pay to wear.
35 – Galen Fiss: Defensive captain of the 1964 championship team, and an unforgettable name.
36 – Marion Motley: The Hall of Fame fullback switched to this number in 1952.
37 – Anthony Henry: Towering cornerback shares franchise season record with 10 interceptions as a rookie in 2001.
38 – Johnny Davis: Blocking fullback and team pianist in the 1980s who was known as B-1 Bomber.
39 – Randy Hilliard: A 165-pound cornerback who made 19 starts for Bill Belichick in the 1990s.
40 – Dub Jones: A 6-4, big-play receiver on three Browns championship teams and father of former Baltimore Colts quarterback Bert Jones.
41 – Ray Ventrone: Eric Mangini special teams core player and a man of a thousand hairdos.
42 – Paul Warfield: One of the most elegant wide receivers in NFL history. Imagine that five players have worn this Hall of Famer’s number in the expansion era.
43 – Mike Pruitt: Third on the franchise’s all-time rushing list, he was the leading rusher and receiver on the 1980 Kardiac Kids team.
44 – Leroy Kelly: Second on the franchise’s all-time rushing list, he is the last Brown to lead the league in rushing (1967 and ’68).
45 – Ernie Davis: The first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy joined the Browns in a controversial trade. He never played after being diagnosed with leukemia, and his tragic story contributed to the firing of Paul Brown by Art Modell.
46 – Don Fleming: This safety played 38 games in three years. His number was retired after an offseason construction accident in 1963 resulted in his death by electrocution.
47 – Lawrence Vickers: The steamrolling fullback lead-blocked for Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis.
48 – Ernie Green: He shared the backfield for seven years with Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly.
49: Bobby Mitchell: A triple threat for four years with the Browns, and then was traded to Washington, where he broke the Redskins color barrier in 1962 and continued a Hall of Fame career.
50: Vince Costello: A 10-year fixture at middle linebacker in the 1950s and 60s.
(Next: Numbers 51 through 99.)
Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly omitted Ernie Davis.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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