In the context of casual conversation, I am frequently asked, "who is your favorite Cleveland Browns' player?" My immediate response to that question is usually along the lines of,
"I love the team and enjoy the players."
Cliche, I know - but it's true. Even for a team that has caused nothing but heartbreak and disappointment, I can't help but love them all. Any football player who willingly sacrifices his body and plays with passion for my city has a place in my heart regardless. With that said, there have been players over time that have stepped up to the plate and defined what it means to be a Cleveland Brown. Today I recognize those players that make me so proud to support this organization.
Before I get to this list, I must say it was extremely difficult coming up with only 10. When names like Eric Metcalf, Clay Matthews, Brady Quinn, and Otto Graham don't even crack the list, you know it must have been a tough cut.
Without further ado, Sircheeks presents: My Top 10 Favorite Cleveland Browns of All-Time.
10. Ozzie Newsome (1978-1990)
There's no disputing Ozzie Newsome as the greatest tight end in Cleveland Browns' history. Ozzie spent his entire career with the Browns and highlighted some of those high scoring teams in the early 80s. Newsome has virtually seen it all with the team as he was one of the few players around for "Red-Right 88," "The Drive," and "The Fumble." He was an intrical piece of the Cardiac Kids and was a huge reason Cleveland football was respected so greatly during his day. Ozzie would have been significantly lower had that whole Ravens' GM thing never occurred. Through no fault of his own, I harbor a minor grudge against Newsome, but his exploits as a player were great enough to land him at the number 10 spot.
9. Pepper Johnson (1993-1995)Johnson makes this list because of not only who he was, but what he represented. Pepper Johnson was an all-American linebacker who graduated from Ohio State University. After learning the game from Bill Parcells in New York, he followed Bill Belichick to Cleveland where he played for the Browns. According to a fantastic book written by David Halberstam, Belichick described Pepper Johnson as a quick, smart, well rounded linebacker who was good in pass coverage and got along well with his teammates. If you asked me what kind of player best represents the prototypical Browns linebacker - that would be it. Johnson makes this list not only because of his collegiate connection to the hometown team, but because he played the game the right way...and for the right people.
8. Courtney Brown (2000-2004)Ahh yes, Courtney Brown. You never forget your first love, and Courtney Brown was certainly mine. Back when he was drafted with the number one overall selection in the 2000 NFL draft, I fell in love. Brown had the size, reputation, speed, and draft status to transform the Browns' defense into something fierce. In addition to that, he carried that surname which lead me to believe it was a match made in heaven. I was wrong. Courtney Browns was the first real disappointment I experienced on a first-hand basis. For years I pulled for this guy - hoping he would live up to his full potential. Courtney teased me in return - showing flashes of dominance at times while remaining injured on the sidelines at others. Courtney represents my first personal encounter with frustration, and for that he finds his way on this list.
7. Lawrence Vickers (2006-present)From one man-crush, we go to another. Man, I love me some Vickers! The thing about Lawrence is he plays a position synonymous with Cleveland Browns football, and boy does he play it well. In a league where fullbacks should be monitored and bred on reservations, Vickers plays that hard-nosed position with that old school determination rare in today's game. Though he was never a graceful runner like his Brownie ancestors, Vickers is one of the most punishing blockers the NFL has seen in quite some time. The Cleveland Browns' tradition is built on excellent fullback play, and nothing comforts me more than knowing we still have one of the games' best. Vickers' selflessness and immense talent land him at the number 7 spot, but he very well could be lower if properly utilized.
6. Bernie Kosar (1985-1993)I prefer to remember Bernie Kosar as the clumsy young quarterback who sent Cleveland to the brink of several championships instead of the man he is today. Kosar does commentary for preseason games, and seems pale and lifeless at times. The man I see on NFL Films and read about was nothing of the sort. Bernie and the Browns gave Cleveland their last taste of excellent football, and for that I could not be more appreciative. The teams he quarterbacked were the most memorable ones in recent history, and he gave youngsters like myself something to refer to for those unaware of his predecessors. My only regret was not being able to see Bernie work his magic with my own eyes. I'm a bit jealous for that reason, which is why Kosar ends up where he is on this list.
5. D'Qwell Jackson (2006-present)D'Qwell Jackson is a budding star. On a roster where physicality and toughness come at a premium, Jackson brings both on every play. There are very few things or even players to cheer about on today's incarnation of the Browns. We have superstar athletes who lack focus, linebackers who don't tackle, and safeties who shy away from contact. This is precisely why I hold D'Qwell is such high regard: he plays the game properly. His game is still slightly raw and he does make the occasional mistake, but he hustles on every single play. D'Qwell ends up at the 5 spot because he gives me hope for a brighter future. I sincerely hope the attitude and character Jackson exibits on a daily basis permeates every inch of this roster. The Browns have a great football player in D'Qwell Jackson, and I couldn't be happier he wears brown and orange.
4. Bill Willis (1946-1953)What more could you ask for out of a football player? Willis not only excelled as a defensive lineman at Ohio State, but played his entire Hall of Fame career with the Cleveland Browns. Willis was born and raised in the blue collar town of Columbus and played football for Paul Brown at both the collegiate and professional levels. Bill Willis played today's eqivilant of nose tackle in the Browns' formidable seasons. Under his coach, Willis was named all-pro in each of his 8 seasons in the league. He was instrumental in making Ohio football what it is, and his brand of football left a lasting legacy on countless people after him. In addition to his sensational credentials, Willis makes this list for what he went through as one of the first two African Americans to play in the National Football League. His courage and perseverance revolutionized the NFL and opened the door for thousands of minority athletes to enjoy the privilages they do today.
3. Lou Groza (1946-1959, 1961-1967)Football analysts and broadcasters joke that kickers are not athletes and have no place on the football field. Such a statement is ironic because Lou "The Toe" Groza was one of the greatest athletes in the NFL who happened to be a kicker. Groza, like Bill Willis, was an Ohio product who played at Ohio State and helped establish the tradition of Ohio football. Groza is one of my favorite football players because he was hands down the most versatile player of his era. Groza spent his entire career playing both kicker and offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns. Think about that for a second - kicker and tackle! Could you imagine Joe Thomas or D'Brickashaw Ferguson blocking for an entire game only to kick a game winning field goal as time expires? Absurd. Groza's kicks were a huge part of Cleveland's championship run in the 1950's, and I admire him because of it.
2. Marion Motley (1946-1953)I laugh when I hear Steelers fans argue Jerome Bettis or Franco Harris invented the power running game. Far from it. If Jerome Bettis is the modern day bus, Marion Motley is the British 1916 Mark-I Tank developed for usage in WWI. To call Marion Motley a bruiser is an understatement. Motley simply abused would-be tacklers, pounding away as the opposition until they quivered with fear. The offense behind Cleveland's dynasty had to come somewhere, and that place was on the back of Motley. To put it in contemporary terms, Marion Motley had the strength of Brandon Jacobs, the vision of LaDainian Tomlinson, the moves of Adrian Peterson, and the determination of Marion Barber. He was that good. In addition to shouldering the load for the Browns, Motley carried another burden with him - bigotry. Motley was the one who broke the color barrier in football along with Bill Willis. My appreciation of his efforts stems far deeper than what he did for the Cleveland Browns.
1. Jim Brown (1957-1965)The Packers, Rams, 49ers, the Packers again, and the Steelers all passed on Jim Brown in the 1957 NFL Draft. Such fools. I can say with 100% certainty that Jim Brown is the greatest football player to ever play the game...ever. There's no reason for me to describe Jim Brown as a runner. I could talk about his 3 NFL MVP awards, his 5.2 yards per carry career average, or how he made the Pro Bowl in each of his 9 seasons in the league, but it would never do justice to the enigma that is Jim Brown. What's more frightening is he retired at age 29 - clearly in the prime of his career. Jim Brown is the ultimate Cleveland Brown. A living legend, there is no player that did more for this organization than Brown, and he is far and away my favorite Cleveland Brown to ever play the game.
So there you have it.
The Cleveland Browns have a history rich in tradition and filled with some of the greatest players to ever play the game. The tradition established by the likes of Brown, Groza, Willis and others is simply remarkable. Although the Browns have fallen on hard times of late, the rich history provided by these marquee athletes makes me proud to be a Browns fan.