Jim Brown and Art Modell were dominant figures in the history of the Browns. Where do they rank on my list?
Where does Jim Brown rank on the list of most prominent figures in Browns history?
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Jim Brown’s passing at the age of 87 last week incited plenty of conversation about his complicated legacy and his place in Browns history. To some, Brown is not only the greatest player to wear a Browns uniform but also the most prominent figure in franchise history.
We don’t share that latter opinion, but he’s close. It prompted us to come up with this list.
These are the 20 most prominent figures that shaped who the Browns once were and who they are today.
20. Joe Thomas
The first player of the expansion era to be voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame endeared himself to Cleveland fans with his blue-collar work ethic and undying loyalty, not to mention an impeccable playing career that qualifies him as the franchise’s greatest offensive tackle.
19. Paul Warfield
The most elegant wide receiver in NFL history, his trade to the Miami Dolphins in 1970 was a momentous blunder that deflated the fan base and caused a decade-long drought. Warfield enjoyed two Super Bowl championships in Miami. He returned to play again with the Browns and serve several years in various front-office positions.
18. Jimmy Haslam
As current owner, he has the capacity to rise precipitously on this list in future years. For now, hiring Mike Lombardi as his first GM and drafting Johnny Manziel as his first quarterback were egregious mistakes he has yet to overcome.
17. Brian Sipe
Immensely popular because of matinee-idol looks and a daring quarterback style, the leader of the Kardiac Kids had an amazing run, rising from unwanted 13th-round draft pick to league MVP in 1980. He is beloved.
16. Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield
Inseparable as teammates, the Corner Bros. were the league’s best pair of cornerbacks during the franchise’s run of five consecutive playoffs in the late 1980s. They coined the bleachers the Dawg Pound and were responsible for the dog-barking mentality that still exists today.
15. Sam Rutigliano
The coach of the Kardiac Kids kept everyone entertained in the early 1980s with his wit, wide-open offenses and dramatic finishes. He was ahead of his time in pioneering a team self-help program to combat the era’s exploding drug problem and also hired the first NFL team security officer.
14. Al Lerner
The banking billionaire assisted his friend in moving the team to Baltimore and then sought redemption by sparing no expense to create a greater organization via the NFL expansion process. He was on his way to doing that, as the new Browns made the playoffs in their fourth year of existence, until his untimely death in 2002.
13. Clay Matthews
The selfless linebacker played the most games for the franchise (232) over 16 years and may be the greatest defensive player in the team’s history. He is overdue to be the next Browns player voted to the Hall of Fame.
12. Marty Schottenheimer
The buttoned-down successor to Rutigliano as coach ruled the last great run of the Browns in the late-1980s. His .597 win percentage is the franchise’s third-best behind Paul Brown and Blanton Collier.
11. Arthur B. “Mickey” McBride
The first owner of the Browns is too-often overlooked. The largest operator of taxi cabs in Cleveland in the bustling 1930s, he jumped at the chance to purchase a Cleveland franchise in the fledgling All-America Football Conference and then hired Paul Brown to lead the franchise. McBride wisely stepped aside and allowed Brown full control to create what became pro football’s first real dynasty.
10. Ozzie Newsome
After a Hall of Fame career as a tight end and the franchise’s receptions record-holder, Newsome followed Art Modell to Baltimore and became the first African-American GM in the NFL. He resisted two overtures to return to Cleveland as Browns president and built two Super Bowl championship teams in Baltimore.
9. Bernie Kosar
At a critical time, he lifted the spirits of Cleveland sports fans by declaring he wanted to play for the Browns when he could have gone elsewhere. He manipulated the NFL draft system by graduating early from the University of Miami and proceeded to inject the franchise with energy and leadership that led to five consecutive playoff appearances in the 1980s. He remains one of the most popular figures in franchise history.
8. Lou Groza
The only player to appear in all eight of the Browns’ league championships – four in the AAFC and four in the NFL. The offensive tackle-turned-placekicker was a long-time ambassador of the organization upon retirement. The team’s headquarters is located at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.
7. Blanton Collier
Paul Brown’s top assistant coach is one of the few to successfully follow in the footsteps of a legendary coach. By leading the Browns to the 1964 NFL championship, he saved Art Modell from getting run out of town for firing Paul Brown.
6. Bill Belichick
Art Modell’s last coach before he moved the team to Baltimore, Belichick drew the venomous wrath of fans by firing Bernie Kosar in the middle of the 1993 season and then vindicated himself by coaching a playoff victory over mentor Bill Parcells in 1994 behind a record-setting defense. Fired by Modell before moving to Baltimore, Belichick went on to create one of the NFL’s dynasties in New England.
5. Bill Willis and Marion Motley
They re-integrated African-Americans into professional football in 1946 a year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. They were stalwarts on Paul Brown’s dynasty teams and both were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. Otto Graham
His .848 win percentage (104-17-4) as Browns quarterback in four seasons in the AAFC and six in the NFL will never be topped. He appeared in the league championship game every year of his career. It was a different era, of course. But winning games always was and always will be the No. 1 task of the quarterback. Tom Brady matched Graham's seven league championships -- but couldn't surpass him.
3. Jim Brown
He is recognized as the greatest NFL running back and arguably the league’s greatest player overall. He claimed eight NFL rushing titles in nine seasons and then walked away to pursue a career in acting. He is your father’s or grandfather’s favorite player, despite assisting in Paul Brown’s demise and having several incidents of domestic violence.
2. Art Modell
After buying the Browns in 1961 at the age of 36, the advertising executive from New York proceeded to fire Paul Brown, pressured Jim Brown into early retirement, traded Paul Warfield, fired Bill Belichick and eventually moved the team to Baltimore to avoid personal bankruptcy. Through it all, he rose as an NFL kingpin and one of the most prominent Cleveland figures ever in sports, politics and civic involvement.
1. Paul Brown
Nobody ever will take this spot from him. He created it all. Everything about the Cleveland Browns begins with him. They’re named after him. No other major professional sports team is named after a person.
(Also considered: Doug Dieken, Earnest Byner, John Dorsey, Nick Chubb, Baker Mayfield, Butch Davis, Gary Collins.)