Today, the theme is goodbyes. After an initial glut of
defenders from the glory years of the 1950s, we have several players on this
list who came to Cleveland in the early 1990s, and left only when the franchise
slunk off to Baltimore after the 1995. Oh, what a dreadful time. Because of
circumstances, they never got a chance to shine and work their way into our
hearts. Instead, the grotesque stain left by Bill Belichick’s ham-fisted
coaching and Art Modell’s guilt will forever taint their careers in Brownstown.
We end with a trio of offensive linemen. Let’s begin …
GAIN (DT, 1952, 1954-1964): The Akron native and 1950 Outland Trophy
winner from the University of Kentucky played his entire NFL career in
Cleveland, making the Pro Bowl five times (1957-1958, 1961-1962) for his work
along the defensive line. Took his first and only NFL interception back for a
22-yard score in 1960. A plugger and force at defensive tackle. Broke his leg
against the Cowboys in the fourth game of the 1964 season, and was lost for the
season, so he missed the NFL title game against Baltimore. Drafted in 1951 by
the Packers, he couldn’t reach a deal with the team, so he played one season for
the Ottawa Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, where he helped the team
win the league title. The Packers traded their rights to the Browns the
following season. Gain spent 1953 as a U.S. Air Force officer in Korea and Japan
before coming back to the Browns in 1954.
PAUL (DB, 1954-1958): Old No. 20 was a fixture at cornerback for his
five seasons in Cleveland, during which he never intercepted less than three
passes a year and made the Pro Bowl three times. Led the team with seven thefts
in 1956, including one for a touchdown. Also scored on a 48-yard return in 1948.
His 190 return yards on interceptions still ranks as fourth-best in team history
for a single season.
WIGGIN (DE, 1957-1967): Stanford is known for producing scholars, not
football players, but the Browns took Wiggin as the second of its two
sixth-round picks in 1956. The move paid off. He went on to start at defensive
end for Cleveland until 1967. He earned Pro Bowl nods in 1965 and 1967. Grabbed
his first interception in 1960, taking it back 20 yards for a touchdown. His 146
consecutive games stood for a time as a team record. Still holds No. 2 spot in
team history for fumbles recovered (18). Was the team’s player of the year in
1966. Now director of pro scouting for the Vikings.
FELIX WRIGHT (S, 1985-1990): Most likely the last player the Browns
will ever sign that played at Drake University. A smart defensive back, Wright
led the team and the NFL in interceptions with nine in 1989, helping an aging
Browns defense to one last playoff grasp at glory. Repeatedly led the team in
picks because of his nose for the ball and heady play. Remembered for a gruesome
hit and turned Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe on his head and flipping the ball
in the air, where in was intercepted (and, naturally, incorrectly called
incomplete). Played from 1982 to 1985 for the Canadian Football League’s
Hamilton Tiger Cats. Nabbed 15 interceptions while in the CFL, taking two back
LEROY HOARD (RB, 1990-1995): He was kinda big, kinda loping and we all
kinda rolled our eyes after he was drafted in the second-round from Michigan as
Cleveland’s top pick in the 1990 draft. He never broke the 1,000-yard milestone
in his career, but he was a solid workhorse. He emerged as a pass-catcher out of
the backfield in his sophomore season with the Browns, snaring 48 grabs for 567
yards and nine touchdowns. His finest season came in 1994, when he ran for 890
yards -- his closest flirtation with 1,000 yards -- on 209 attempts. He scored
five times on the ground, but also found paydirt four times on 45 receptions for
445 yards. After arriving in Minnesota in 1997, he went on to score 23 rushing
touchdowns over the next three seasons, including nine in 1998 and 10 in 1999.
ANTHONY PLEASANT (DE 1990-1995): Six teams in 14 seasons, ol’ Tony keeps
on plugging away. A third-round selection from Tennessee State, Pleasant quickly
established himself as a solid defensive end, playing well against both the rush
and pass. He went on to register 33.5 sacks in his six seasons with the Browns,
including 11 in 1993. Nicely, he saved three of those for a game against the
Steelers. Had a career-high 81 tackles in 1994, helping the Browns to their
first post-season berth since 1989. Teamed with Rob Burnett to form a bookend
pair of defenders – a set the Browns could certainly use today. Played with the
Ravens, Falcons, Jets and 49ers before signing a deal with the devil … er,
Belichick in New England two years ago.
MICHAEL JACKSON (WR, 1991-1995): Jackson or Dyson? Dyson or Jackson? May
forever be remembered for the one-game name change. A sixth-round pick from
Southern Miss, Jackson started just seven games that season and hauled in just
17 passes for 268 -- including a 65-yard score -- and two touchdowns. A lanky
speedster, he went on to finish with 170 career passes with the team and made a
nice tandem with Derrick Alexander. He blossomed in 1996, the team’s first year
in Baltimore, when he caught 76 passes for 1,201 yards and 14 scores.
WOOTEN (G, 1954-1967): A rock at left guard after being drafted in the
fifth round out of Colorado. Paved the way, along with left tackle Dick
Schafrath, for Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. Part of perhaps the best line the team
has ever -- or will ever -- field. Never played on a losing team in Cleveland,
and was an integral part of the 1964 NFL Championship team. Named to the Pro
Bowl in 1965 and 1966. Ended his career in 1968 with the Washington Redskins.
RAY SMITH (G, 1956-1962): Hard to argue with a five-time Pro Bowler.
Known for his quickness, Smith was called “one of our greatest guards” by Paul
Brown. Not faint praise from a man not known for heaping kindness on his
players. Drafted as a junior out of Baylor in the sixth round. Wanted to be
closer to his business and family in Texas, so he retired in 1961, but was
convinced to come back for another season – and he promptly made the Pro Bowl
again. After retiring again, the Browns convinced him to come back yet again so
they could trade him to Dallas, where he’d be closer to home. In return, they
got tackle Monte Clark, another outstanding lineman. Played two more seasons,
but knee surgeries ended his career.
JONES (T, 1988-1995): At times, it seemed like T-Bone was the only
player that knew how to, or even had an inkling how to, block. A 290-lbs
undrafted free agent out of the University of Western Carolina, Jones was a
fixture at left tackle, although he played other positions on the line when
pressed into duty. Not spectacular while in Cleveland, but he was steady and
reliable -- two attributes rare among Browns linemen in those years. Spent 1996
with the Ravens before landing a job with the Broncos, where he finally got a
Super Bowl ring (two, actually). Named to the 1998 Pro Bowl as a reserve.
Re-signed briefly with the Browns in 2001, but it didn’t pan out.