Cleveland Browns: 9 Biggest Fan Favorites in History
Nobody loves their football team more than Browns fans. Cleveland is a sports town across the board, but first and foremost, it's a football town.
Dawg Pounders have had countless favorite players over the years, but there are a few that have withstood the test of time to stand among the all-time fan favorites.
Everyone has their own personal favorites, but the following nine players are tops among the most beloved players throughout history and among the entire fanbase. Someday we'll hopefully see current favorites like Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis join the ranks of the all-time greats in the eyes of the fans, but for now, current roster members, with the exception of one guy, have yet to join this esteemed group.
There are of course loads of other candidates for this list, so please share your other fan favorites in the comments below!
9. Brian Brennan
Before we discuss the lovable Brian Brennan, let's begin with a couple of honorable mentions who were this close to making the cut:
Brian Sipe, Bob Golic, Webster Slaughter, Earnest Byner, Phil Dawson, Joe Thomas, Gary Collins, Mac Speedie, Dante Lavelli, Leroy Kelly, and Lou Groza. And finally, a shout to two of my personal favorites, Al Bubba Baker and Gerald McNeil.
But on to Brian Brennan, the beloved wide receiver of the late 1980s Browns who won over fans by somehow managing to always come off as an underdog yet at the same time managing to come up with big, big plays.
At 5'9" and 178 lbs., Brennan wasn't exactly the prototypical NFL WR. His small size, unassuming demeanor, and lack of flashy play branded him an underdog. And there's nothing Cleveland loves more than an underdog.
Oh, except for one thing: An underdog who comes up big when it counts. And that describes Brian Brennan perfectly. Brennan was a fantastic possession receiver during his peak, and like his contemporary and fellow fan favorite Bernie Kosar, he just seemed to come up with whatever he needed to in critical situations.
Brennan was never the guy with the most pure football talent, but like Kosar, he was a winner. That's something invaluable, especially to fans, that never shows up on paper.
8. Otto Graham
Aside from perhaps Coach Paul Brown and legend Jim Brown, there is no one who deserves more credit for starting Cleveland off on its love affair with football than its first quarterback: Otto Graham.
It certainly wasn't just being first that landed Graham among the all-time fan favorites though: it was both his ability to win and his willingness to get down and dirty to do so.
Cleveland fans subscribe to the hard-nosed, rough and tough school of football, and they love any player who can take a good beating and come back for more. Graham fit the bill perfectly (evident in the photo above).
But of course, mostly Graham won our hearts by bringing championship glory to Cleveland. Graham was a part of the inaugural Browns in 1946 and went on to lead them to three NFL championships while racking up some pretty gaudy stats in the process.
Graham is, for many of us, one of the greatest players who we never actually had the chance to see play.
7. Josh Cribbs
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
It remains to be seen whether PK/WR Josh Cribbs can hold down this spot on the list of all-time fan favorites in the future, but for now, he ranks pretty high. He's also the only current player who has established enough fan support over a long enough period of time to make the all-time cut.
Cribbs caught our attention with his impressive kick returns, but he won our love with his work ethic, humility, dedication to the team and the city, and overall heart.
Cribbs also came along at the perfect time for that opportunity. Not long after Cribbs exploded onto the scene, Cleveland sports were in a dark place. The Indians were tanking year after year. The Browns as a team were a mess. And He Who Must Not Be Named betrayed the Cleveland fanbase that had been so good to him by taking his talents to South Beach.
Cleveland was in the market for a hero, and Josh Cribbs was just the man for the job. He had the skills to justify it. But more importantly, he had the kind of heart and loyalty that proved to be the antithesis of Public Enemy No. 1, LeBron James. And that's something every Cleveland fan can get behind.
6. Clay Matthews
Quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs get the majority of love from fanbases. Those are the flashy positions that draw attention from the majority of fans.
As a linebacker, you really have to be something special to land among the all-time fan favorites. And Clay Matthews Jr. sure was something special.
It wasn't just the fact that he was exceptionally good at his job that endeared Matthews to the Browns faithful. In fact, that wasn't even the biggest reason for it.
Matthews was, first of all, an exceptional leader on the field and off, a gracious and humble player who made a great hero and role model for Clevelanders, and a guy who simply loved the city and the fans and made sure to let them know how grateful he was for their support.
Like Brennan, Matthews was also a bit of an underdog type. He was undersized for his position. Before he was drafted, scouts expressed concern that his size would keep him from ever producing much in the NFL. Boy, were they wrong. Turned out, it wasn't the size of the Dawg in the fight, it was the size of the fight in the Dawg.
5. Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield
Can't have one without the other! That's right, coming in at No. 5 is a two-for-one deal: the greatest CB tandem ever to grace the field in Cleveland (and maybe anywhere), Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield.
While the numbers don't really show it, anyone who saw Dixon and Minnifield play knows just how valuable they were to this team, the city, and the fans.
Dixon also gave the city of Cleveland one of the greatest gifts it has ever received: he named the Dawg Pound, which is of course, a group of people who are the epitome of what it means to be a die-hard football fan.
Does that give he and his partner in crime, Minnifield, enough street cred with the fans to put them both at No. 5 among all time fan favorites? Woof woof, you bet!
4. Paul Warfield
A detour mid-career to Miami is the only thing that keeps the great receiver Paul Warfield from perhaps ranking higher on this list, and even with that in mind, I still feel as though I've sold him short a bit. I suppose as Browns fans we are lucky to have the problem of having too many favorites to pick from.
Warfield, the greatest wide receiver in Browns history and among the NFL's best of all time as well, never failed to impress on the field. In one of the worst trades in Browns history, we lost Warfield to Miami for the underwhelming Mike Phipps.
Warfield would return to the Browns for his final two seasons with a Super Bowl ring from another town, a sad reminder of what could have been in store for the Browns had they hung onto him. Unfortunately many of Warfield's best years were with the Dolphins, but there were plenty of good ones in the orange and brown as well.
Beyond just his skill set, Warfield is also a particular favorite among fans because he's a local guy, born in Warren, Ohio and a product of Ohio State University.
3. Ozzie Newsome
Hall of Famer and phenomenally talented tight end Ozzie Newsome is among the most popular players with the fan base throughout time.
The Wizard of Oz was a whiz indeed, proving to Clevelanders and to anyone who had to play against him that the best receivers are not always wideouts. While he was playing, Newsome was the greatest tight end in history, and still today ranks among the very best ever to play in the NFL.
He is the team's all-time receiving yardage leader with 7,980 yards. He also had 47 career touchdowns and fumbled just three times in his whole career.
Of late, Newsome's reputation around Cleveland has taken a bit of a beating due to his association with Art Modell and the Ravens. The sense of betrayal is of course, largely justified. It's unfortunate but true. Still, those of us who at least try to remember him as Ozzie the football player rather than Ozzie the purple rat-bird front office figure can still count him as among the top of the top when it comes to Cleveland fan favorites.
2. Jim Brown
Though like Ozzie Newsome, RB Jim Brown's reputation in Cleveland has taken a beating recently due to a messy fall out with the Browns, his great play and what he meant to the city of Cleveland as an iconic sports figure still puts him at No. 2 on the all-time fan favorite list.
Brown, who is probably the greatest running back of all-time and who many argue is even the greatest player of all time, was never the most jovial, gracious, or friendly guy. But what he did on the field was the kind of pure magic that could make a believer out of just about anyone.
Brown single-handedly revolutionized the game and his position, making him a legend for reasons beyond his impressive numbers and his championship wins alone. Brown is truly one of those once-in-a-lifetime players whose impact on his team, his city, and the game itself will mean that he will forever withstand the test of time and be among the first in Browns' fans hearts now and in 100 years.
1. Bernie Kosar
San Francisco has Joe Montana. Miami has Dan Marino. Cleveland has Bernie Kosar.
To anyone outside Cleveland, that might sound like the beginning to some terrible "three quarterbacks walk into a bar..." joke, but to Browns fans, it makes perfect sense.
Bernie was, is, and probably always will be our favorite son. As well he should be. Was he the most talented player ever to wear the orange and brown? Not even close. Did he ever win a championship? I think you all know the answer to that one. But is he, with very good reason, the most beloved player in Browns history? Absolutely.
Part of the appeal? Kosar was just so, well, Cleveland. He didn't look like much, but he had heart, he worked hard, and he always seemed to find a way to do what needed to be done, even if it looked darn ugly happening.
And oh, was it ever ugly. There are countless hilarious analogies made for what Kosar looked like scrambling, my personal favorite being "scrambles with the grace and speed of a giraffe on Quaaludes." (that's courtesy of Miami News columnist Jenny Kellner).
But that was part of what was so endearing about Bernie. He was just as awkward and unpolished as the rest of us, yet he proved over and over again that he could be a winner at the highest level of football. That is, above all else, the makings of a true hero. Kosar was a guy we could all both relate to and look up to.
The above video, which plays a long-forgotten (and my personal childhood favorite) song about our beloved Bernie, is a good example of who Kosar is to Cleveland.
He showed that having the most talent isn't always the only thing that gets the job done. Bernie's stats don't even come close to ever demonstrating his ability to win and why he means so much to Cleveland.
Bernie Kosar gave us hope, joy, and validation that the Cleveland attitude of hard work and dedication sometimes really pays off. Bernie was our hero, but he was also one of us.