Doug Dieken's retirement will end a 23-year partnership with play-by-play voice Jim Donovan and a run of 51 years with the Browns -- longer than any other person. (Cleveland Browns)
Doug Dieken calling it quits after 50 years as Browns player and broadcaster
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Doug Dieken estimates he has seen more Cleveland Browns games live than any person that’s ever lived.
He’s been a part of the team as a player and broadcaster for 50 years. That’s almost 70 percent of the franchise’s 75 years of existence.
Nobody has close to that service time in Browns history. For three of those years the franchise was in a holding pattern while Dieken served with the Cleveland Browns Trust in preparation of the expansion restart.
“I started counting the number of games I’ve been involved in,” Dieken said. “Basically, it’s at least 48 years times 20 games (regular and preseason). So that’s in the 900s at least. You throw in the playoff games and we’re getting close to a thousand.”
He never set 1,000 games as a goal and he won’t reach it. Dieken is retiring as the team’s radio analyst at the conclusion of this season. Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals will be his last next to play-by-play announcer Jim Donovan.
Guess how many games Dieken has missed since joining the Browns in 1971 as a sixth-round draft pick from Illinois?
None as a player in 14 years.
Two as a broadcaster in 34 years.
“One was when my mother passed away,” Dieken said. “And I missed the one in London (in 2017) because of a case of vasovagal syncope (unexplained fainting spells).”
Donovan, Dieken’s radio partner for the past 23 years, recalled the time Dieken came down with laryngitis prior to a meaningless exhibition game. Over the phone, Donovan could barely hear Dieken explain why he called.
“I said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s a preseason game,’” Donovan said. “Well, he found a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic and got a shot to his vocal chords and there he was answering the bell. He was a real iron man. He wanted to be at every game.”
Two streaks may never be broken
As a player, Dieken was most proud of his franchise records for consecutive games played (203) and consecutive games started (192). Three other players – Clay Matthews, Lou Groza and Phil Dawson -- have more total games in a Browns uniform, but Dieken’s two streaks may never be broken.
“You break a hand, break a thumb twice, two torn-up knees [and play through it all],” Dieken said. “I always thought once I miss that first game, it’s going to be a lot easier to miss the second one.”
Dieken was a tight end on an Illinois team that didn’t throw the ball much when he was taken in the sixth round by the Browns in 1971.
“They called me and said they drafted me as an offensive tackle,” Dieken remembered. “I said any chance I can play tight end? They said, ‘We’ll see when you get here.” They gave me No. 73 and I knew that wasn’t a good sign.”
He replaced the legendary Dick Schafrath as the Browns’ left tackle in his 10th game as a rookie. Up until then, the Browns’ main left tackles since their inception in 1946 were Groza, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Schafrath, who has been a finalist for the shrine.
“I never played tackle in my life,” Dieken said. “I kind of learned along the way. Probably a little more unorthodox as most tackles. I played left tackle in a right-handed stance for 14 years. Today, you don’t see anybody in a right-hand stance on the left side. I asked [former Browns line coach] Howard Mudd why he never converted me and he said, ‘You’re doing it well enough, there’s no sense changing.’”
As a player, Dieken blocked for quarterbacks Bill Nelsen, Mike Phipps, Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar. You may think his individual highlight was catching his lone touchdown pass from backup QB and holder Paul McDonald on a fake field goal play in a 1983 game. But it is typical for Dieken to put team highlights on a higher pedestal.
“No, I think the Kardiac Kids era was probably the personal highlight because the way the city enjoyed that football team,” he said.
That team mentality impressed Donovan from the start of their partnership in the radio booth in 1999.
“I’ve always thought that he must have been a great teammate when he played,” Donovan said. “He’s taken that teamwork theme that he lived by and brought it into the broadcast booth. We’ve become much closer than partners. I always knew he would do anything for me. It will be a tremendous adjustment to be in the booth without him because it’s been 23 years with him.”
Only one regret
Humility and humor were staples of Dieken’s personality as a player and in the broadcast booth. He was a prankster and a needler with a heart of gold, a relentless giver of time and money to community charity causes.
Donovan remembers the time he and Dieken were waiting on the field in an empty Mile High Stadium in Denver for a pre-game television hit. Donovan asked Dieken if he knew where the closest men’s room was.
“He pointed to a tunnel and said go through there and it’s the second door on the right,” Donovan said. “He said make sure it’s the second door on the right. I go through the second door on the right and I’m in Thunder’s [the Broncos mascot’s] stall. Some guy yells at me, ‘Get out!’ He did a lot of covert work like that.”
The willingness to poke fun at himself, his reputation as a blue-collar player with a relentless work ethic, and his ability to simplify the complex game of football made Dieken a popular commentator for generations of Browns fans.
“I still get grief from some of my buddies because one game I spotted the ball on the 52-yard line. I don’t know how I did that one,” he said.
His only regret is not being able to call a Browns game in the Super Bowl after not being able to play in one.
Still, it’s been an incredible ride. He’ll retire at the age of 73 – the jersey number he wore for 14 seasons with the Browns – because of health issues. Two knee replacements, two hip replacements, and an irregular heartbeat have taken their toll.
“When you walk out of the radio booth and you feel worse than you did walking out after 14 years of playing, you know your body’s telling you it’s time to move on to something else,” Dieken said. “You never quit. To me, quitting is a bad word. I always took retirement as a bad word, but I have a different understanding of it now.”