Look at the Browns’ greats in the Hall of Fame, and you see a team that has
supplied far more than its share to the National Football league: Otto Graham,
Dante Lavelli and Marion Motley right on up through Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, and finally
Ozzie Newsome and Joe Delamielleure. They’re all in our family.
Wait… Joe Delamielleure, the great Buffalo Bills guard? Shouldn’t he really
be in the Bills’ family? What gives?
Canton and Cooperstown differ on one big point. Cooperstown insists that a
player be inducted not only as an individual, but as part of a team.
Normally that’s no problem: Cal Ripken was an Oriole. Duh.
But sometimes it is a little problem: Dave Winfield was a Padre, then a
Yankee, then played for about 27 teams over the past few years of his career. So
whose hat does he don for photo ops? Well, he was largely regarded as having
made his mark with the Yankees. And who would be caught dead wearing an old
brown and yellow Padres cap? The Yankees it is.
And then sometimes it’s a major problem. Roger Clemens could have made the
Hall had he retired when he left the Red Sox. But the Rocket was so furious at
the Red Sox front office for unloading him that he has already served notice
that there will be an ugly mess.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame takes a far different tact. They claim “an
enshrinee is not asked to ‘declare,’ nor does the Hall of Fame ‘choose’ a team
under which a new member is enshrined.” In fact the Hall gives credit to any
and every team where the enshrinee played. Perhaps this is done so as to not
completely embarrass any one team.
Take the Denver Broncos. They had many great teams as Browns fans know all
too well: five Super Bowls including two wins. John Elway will join them soon
enough. But who is he joining?
Tony Dorsett. He played his last year there. And Willie Brown. He
languished with the bad old Broncos for three years in the ‘60’s before going on
to a great career with the Raiders. That’s it for the Broncos.
Look at the Browns list, and what you see is testimony to Paul Brown’s
greatness for picking and developing talent… and also a reminder of Brown’s
uncanny knack for not knowing what he had and giving it away.
Like Doug Atkins. At 6’ 8”, he was a holy terror at defensive end… but for
the Bears. Paul Brown drafted him and had him for two years, but thought he was
a bit too white trash for the clean cut, professional image he demanded for his
players. It was also two years and goodbye to a bunch of Browns who later
starred in Super Bowl I: Len Dawson, Willie Davis and Henry Jordan. Think
those guys could have filled a niche?
The surprises abound. You didn’t know that Tommy McDonald, the Eagles’ fleet
receiver who was the last player to go without a face mask, played with both the
Falcons and the Browns. George Blanda not only played for the Bears, but he
played with them for nine years! Johnny Unitas did a sad little closing stint
with the Chargers while Joe Willie Namath did the same with the Rams. And 20
years from now, we’ll recall Emmitt Smith carrying on that unfortunate closing
act tradition with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Hall of Fame doesn’t want to appear to be going too far overboard in this
spreading of the wealth. It emphasizes that inductees “who made the major part
of their primary contribution for any one club are listed in BOLD CAPS…” “Those
who spent only a minor portion of their career with any any club are listed
under that club in lower case.”
For example, under the Washington Redskins, a guy who coached them for all of
one year before succumbing to cancer is listed as…
But the guy who coached the Green Bay Packers to five titles is listed as…
Sounds pretty equitable. But wait, there’s more.
“In cases where a player contributed about equally and in a major way to two
or more clubs- he is listed in BOLD CAPS under both clubs…”
An example cited by the Hall is middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti. True
enough, seven years for the then Boston Patriots and another seven years-- and
a tad more visibility-- with the Miami Dolphins (if you forgot that Buoniconti
played for the Pats, all is forgiven). Another might be Ken Houston, who played
for both the Houston Oilers and Washington Redskins, and Sonny Jurgensen (Eagles
Another example we can identify with is Paul Warfield. He played his first
six and final two years with the Browns. In between was his departure to Miami
in our football equivalent of the Colavito for Kuenn trade. Warfield played
five years for the Dolphins and one year in the WFL before returning home. So
while he played a majority of his career in Cleveland, fans nationwide may
remember Warfield more from his days with the Fins. Five of his eight Pro Bowls
came as a Dolphin, including three consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
For some fans around the country, it wouldn’t be a stretch for them to regard
Warfield as a Brown like Buoniconti as a Patriot. If you don’t believe me,
check out his picture on the Hall of Fame web page. Hint: it’s turquoise.
Still, Warfield is a good example of where two teams really did share in a
But the sharing thing can get out of hand.
Now we have teams calling Hall of Famers one of their own, even when that
player was best known for playing on another team. .
Say hello to Joe Delamielleure and the Cleveland Browns.
Joe D. was best known as a Buffalo Bill, part of the “Electric Company”
offensive line that sprung the Juice (aka OJ Simpson) to the league’s first
2,000 yard season. In his first seven years with the Bills, Joe D. went to five
Pro Bowls and was a five time All-Pro. In his five years with the Browns, he
went to one Pro Bowl and was All-Pro once. He also went back to Buffalo for his
Did Delamielleure contribute “about equally and in a major way” to the Bills
and Browns? He certainly helped protect Brian Sipe and allow him to put up big
Contribute in a major way? Maybe. Contribute about equally? Get serious.
It’s almost like the Indians saying that one of their many Hall of Famers is
The Browns get the same sort of leeway from the Hall of Fame with Bobby
Mitchell was a real change of pace running back to Jim Brown and a fine
receiver who made things happen after the catch (think of Eric Metcalf in Andre
Davis’ body). Still, Mitchell’s numbers with the Browns were hardly the heady
stuff of Hall of Fame resumes. In his four years with Cleveland, he averaged
574 yards rushing and 32 catches for 366 yards receiving a season.
Then came the infamous trade to the Redskins for Ernie Davis. The Skins
converted Mitchell to wide receiver where he had what you might call… a
breakthrough. Over the next two years, Mitchell had 141 catches for an
astounding 2,820 receiving yards. And these were 14 game seasons.
In other words, Mitchell averaged 5 catches for 100 yards a game for two
The rest is history. Fans remember Mitchell for his seven years as the great
Redskins receiver, not his four years of giving Jim Brown a periodic breather.
Did Mitchell contribute to the Browns in a major way? Well, I’d liken him to
Jamel White last year: a solid contributor, but hardly a cornerstone. Did
Bobby Mitchell contribute about equally to the Browns and Redskins? Not in this
But look at those Browns listed in the Hall of Fame, and Mitchell is right
there along with Graham, Gatski, Groza and all the rest. Mitchell is also
listed among those Redskins in the Hall of Fame. One team has a far more
legitimate claim on him than the other.
Other teams are guilty of the same thing. The Bears lead the league in Hall
of Fame inductees with 26 (the Browns list 15). But their roll call includes
In his first nine years as a professional football player, Blanda was with
the Bears. He started about 20 games. And he was virtually invisible
otherwise: over six seasons he threw all of 30 passes, and in four of those
seasons, he threw just two. Yes, George Blanda is one of 25 Bears in the Hall
of Fame, and to earn that right, they had him attempt two passes in four years
Of course Blanda tired of rotting on the Bears bench, jumped to the AFL, and
lit it up with the Houston Oilers for many years before being the backup qb and
game winning kicker for the Raiders. And still, Canton regards Blanda as yet
another Bears Hall of Famer.
It’s analogous to Kelly Holcomb starting for the Browns and reeling off eight
incredible years with a few MVP’s and Super Bowls… a run so incredible that he’d
eventually be inducted into the Hall… And then the Indianapolis Colts claim him
as one of their own. After all, he did play for them all those years. Uh huh.
The Colts also claim Ted Hendricks as a Hall of Famer. Ted played for
Baltimore his first five years and the Raiders his final nine, with a year in
Green Bay in between.
How many fans even remember that the Mad Stork played for anyone but the
I suppose the Browns and other teams are merely taking advantage of the
generous ground rules set forth by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Maybe Canton
needs to rethink their rules. Certainly the Browns have a rich enough history
and more than its fair share of all-time greats that it doesn’t need to pad its
numbers with players who went on to real fame elsewhere, or came to them with
their fame already secured.
Paul Warfield I can see. He was equally great in both Cleveland and Miami.
Bobby Mitchell and Joe Delamielleure? No. Mitchell broke through with the
Redskins while Delamielleure had secured his status by the time he came to
Cleveland. He also did not play nearly as well for the Browns as he did for the
Bills. Mitchell’s rightful place is with Washington. Joe D’s place is with
Buffalo. Cleveland should not lay claim to them, nor should the Hall of Fame
allow teams to pad their list of inductees.
Copyright 2003. Questions? Comments? Post in the
Fan Commentary forum or write Aardvark at