Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 81

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - DECEMBER 19 Running back Larry Brown #43 of the Washington Redskins is stopped by defensive end Jack Gregory #81 and linebacker John Garlington #50 of the Cleveland Browns during an NFL game at RFK Stadium on December 19, 1971 in Washington, D.C. The Browns defeated the Redskins 20-13. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)

The Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 81

The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 81 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 81: Jack Gregory.

Earl Jackson Gregory was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the ninth round of the 1966 NFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Gregory was an Honorable Mention All-American at tight end for the Moccasins. He is the son of Jack Gregory Sr. who also played professional football, coincidentally enough, in Cleveland as a member of the 1941 Rams.

In addition to being drafted by the Browns, Gregory was also drafted by the American Football League’s Buffalo Bills. He was drafted by both teams as a junior in college, but Gregory chose to return to his home state of Mississippi and play for Delta State in 1966 instead of turning professional.

Gregory set a school record for receiving yards by a tight end with 557 that year. He also got to play ironman football during his one season at Delta State where he thrived at defensive end.

Gregory, or ‘Big Jack’ as his teammates referred to him, was listed at 6-foot-5 and 250lbs. Even though he played tight end when the Browns drafted him as a junior, it was as a defensive end where he would make his living as a professional.

It took Gregory some time to acclimate playing the position at the professional ranks, but he was able to start three games as a rookie. He then doubled that number in his second season starting six games at defensive end for the Browns.

But it was in his third season when Gregory began to flourish as a game wrecking force as a professional. Gregory took over as the full-time starter at right defensive end and didn’t relinquish it for the remainder of his time in Cleveland. In his first season as a starter, he earned a Pro Bowl nomination.

In 1970, Gregory was a sack machine. ‘Big Jack’ was unofficially credited with 14 sacks that season, which would tie him with Reggie Camp for the highest single-season total in team history, unfortunately for Gregory, the stat for sacks wouldn’t become official until 1982. His most notable sack from that season came against the New York Jets and Joe Namath in the first-ever Monday Night Football game.

Gregory started 42 straight games at right defensive end for the Browns before being traded to the New York Giants following the 1971 season for the Giants 1973 first-round pick. ‘Big Jack’ went on to play seven seasons for the Giants where he had a stellar career.

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Gregory would return to play for the Browns for one season in 1979 before retiring. In a career that spanned 13 seasons, ‘Big Jack’ was unofficially credited with 103 sacks. Gregory was later inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.