The Cleveland Browns have a rich and illustrious history. With only 86 days until the Browns season opener, we look at the best Browns player to ever wear number 86.
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 86 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 86 — Dante Lavelli.
Dante Lavelli was an original member of the 1946 Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference. The Hall of Fame wide receiver, which was called ‘end’ during his career, wore more than one number during his playing time but was inducted to the Hall as number 86 so that lands him at number one in our countdown.
Lavelli, like many that played during his era, did not have a conventional path to play professional football. Lavelli was a high-school standout running back from Hudson, Ohio. After deciding he did not want to wait on playing time at Notre Dame, he decided to go to the Ohio State University after the hiring of Paul Brown, a Massillon Washington High School coaching legend.
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Lavelli was converted from running back to an ‘end’ as a freshman at OSU and was able to earn a starting spot as a sophomore. He suffered a broken leg at the end of his first game in action and was out for the rest of the 1942 season. After his sophomore season, Lavelli was drafted by the United States Army during World War II.
After the war was won and his service time had concluded, Lavelli returned home and wanted to return to football. His college coach, Paul Brown, was now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns and offered Lavelli the opportunity to try out for the team.
Lavelli took the opportunity and never looked back. He won a starting spot straight out of training camp alongside fellow future Hall of Fame ‘end’, Mac Speedie. Lavelli led the AAFC in receptions (40) and yards (843) as a rookie. To cap off his rookie year, Lavelli caught the game-winning touchdown in the inaugural AAFC Championship game.
The AAFC only ever knew one champion. In the four years of the league’s lifespan, the Browns were crowned champions every season. When the league dissolved after the 1949 season, Lavelli had been named either first or second-team All-AAFC in every season of the league’s existence.
The Browns and Lavelli’s dominance continued when the team entered the NFL in 1950. The team appeared in six straight NFL Championship games, with the Browns winning three of them including the first year the team competed in the league. Lavelli, as usual, was a key member of the team’s success during the era.
Lavelli retired after the 1956 season. Despite playing in an era where throwing the football was nowhere near as common as it is today, Lavelli remains in the top five in both touchdown receptions (33) and average yards per catch (16) in Browns’ history. His ability to catch a football earned him more than one nickname, as Lavelli was called both ‘Glue Fingers’ and ‘Mr. Clutch’ during his playing career.
His accolades landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lavelli was a three-time NFL Champion, four-time AAFC Champion, three-time NFL Pro Bowl selection, first-team All-Pro (1953), and he was named to the NFL 1940’s All-Decade Team.
Number 86 is a number of historical significance for the Browns. Lavelli isn’t the only number 86 worthy of making our countdown. The Browns have had three players in their franchise history, that depending on what era you were a fan, you would associate with the number 86.