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Josh Cribbs could play on any Browns team in any era

Oct 04, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi

Photo/Getty Images


The Morning Kickoff …

Josh b’gosh: There hasn’t been a more selfless, fearless or courageous player in the Browns’ expansion era than Josh Cribbs.

Yes, he likes to talk and Tweet and play off his well-crafted bond with Browns fans. He is always marketing his brand. You’re going to beat him up for being outspoken, available, active in the community?

The next time the thought creeps into your mind that Cribbs is selfish, that he is a me-me-me guy, view the video of Cribbs getting knocked out while running back a punt against Baltimore on Thursday night.

Cribbs was slowed on a hit from the right and then he was slammed from the left by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. The shoulder hit sent Cribbs’ helmet popping off like a champagne cork on New Year’s Eve. Cribbs was unconscious when his unprotected head then bounced off the turf. Then a Baltimore player’s cleat scraped his face.

Cribbs lay motionless for several minutes. When he recovered, he didn’t know why players were kneeling beside him in prayer or why NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin grabbed his hand on the way off the field and wished him well. He had no recollection of the play.

On Wednesday, none the worse for wear, Cribbs said his wife and brother, who inspired him to play football and pursue an NFL career, are urging him to quit. They fear for his long-term health.

Cribbs has visited former Browns running back Jerome Harrison, whose life has been changed forever by a brain tumor that may or may not have been caused by head trauma. “He’s not the same person,” Cribbs said.

“I love the game. I signed up for this,” Cribbs said. “If I get something long-term, that will be my story, my legacy.”

Cribbs said the only pain he felt was from the kick to his face. He will play Sunday against the New York Giants.

“I’m not scared of those type of hits,” Cribbs said. “I welcome guys to keep trying to hit me because I’m going to hit them if they don’t.”

It is not false bravado. It’s the way Cribbs plays. It’s the way he earned a spot on the Browns’ roster in 2005 as an undrafted rookie and converted running quarterback from Kent State. It’s the reason he earned two Pro Bowl berths as a returner and tackler on special teams. It’s how he has written his name in Browns’ and NFL record books.

Why the hate?: Cribbs has been accused of sitting on a big contract he extracted from the Browns after the 2009 season when he effectively leveraged his huge popularity. “Pay the man!” became a national buzz phrase.

Since then, he has had only one return touchdown. That gave him 11 in his career – fifth all time. His eight kickoff return touchdowns are an NFL record. And yet …?

“Everyone wants to see me out in the open, running a long return and be Cribbs again,” Cribbs said. “And if they don’t get that, they’re like, ‘He’s washed up, get somebody else.’ I’m doing my job … I’m in the top 10 (in punt and kickoff returns this year). But they want to see touchdowns. And I understand that. I want to see it too.

“We have a different special teams every year. Until we start winning, then we’ll start keeping our guys. That’s the dilemma that we’re in, teaching guys every year. Just coming out of college, special teams don’t mean a lot to them until they get here.”

Cribbs is 29. His detractors say he is over the hill and doesn’t have that extra gear that used to propel him to the end zone.

“I do,” he protests. “I just can’t really use it. People don’t understand. We don’t have the same special teams unit. We’ve got all these babies. We got kids … Josh (Gordon), he was born in ’91. We’ve got young guys blocking for us. So I’m not going to have the holes I had in ‘05 and ‘06 and ‘08. I got to bust through the hole. Alex Smith, he’s in the wedge, but he’s gone with a concussion, so we’ve got guys who’ve never done it before and I’m coaching on the field. Being as though we’re such a young team, it looks like it’s on me, but it’s a collective unit. I’m still hitting those holes hard. Age might make me lose a step, but once I get in the open, I’m not getting caught from behind. When do you see that?”

He talks too much?: Cribbs also rankles fans by constantly asking for the ball on offense.

“What do you say to that?” he asked. “I’m selfish because I want the football and want to help my team win? I just want to win. If it hasn’t been working this way, then try to give me the ball. It might work that way.

“This ‘me’ thing, that’s kind of overrated. I don’t want to be on a team with nobody who doesn’t want the football. Are you telling me you’re not good enough to have the ball to want it?

“I think I should get the football. I think I’ve been playing here long enough to say I think I should get it every now and then. If I was the coach, I would give me the football a couple times a game. That’s how you win, by getting the ball to your weapons.

“I can contribute. I think everybody would agree with that. I don’t (understand) why people say … I can’t catch. I’ve never had to come in on a Wednesday and go to the JUGS machine. You know what I’m saying? For one, I don’t get that many looks a game. But when they do come to me, I show up.”

Ultimately, Cribbs’ appeal to fans is not because he cultivates them with Twitter contests. He is one of the few players of this era who could play in any Browns’ era.

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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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