Who is the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear No 78?
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 78 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 78: Carl Hairston.
Carl Hairston, or ‘Big Daddy’ as he was affectionately known by his teammates, enjoyed a 15-year career playing on the defensive line in the NFL. Of those fifteen seasons, six of them were spent being the veteran leader of the Cleveland Browns defensive line.
Hairston came to Cleveland in 1984 after eight successful seasons as a leading force on the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line. When Hairston arrived in Cleveland at the age of 32, he was already the oldest defender on the team. He was also coming into a defensive unit where the line was all returning from the previous season.
His first year as a Brown was an anomaly in Hairston’s career, as he was not the starter, and he was asked to sit behind right defensive end, Keith Baldwin. Although Hairston did not start any games in 1984, his production was almost identical to Baldwin’s even though he did not receive the same amount of repetitions. Hairston’s biggest contribution to the Browns in 1984 was his leadership and his voice in the locker room.
The following season in 1985, Hairston returned to his natural position of being a day one starter. That season was also the first season that Marty Schottenheimer was the full-time head coach. Schottenheimer was a staunch believer of the 3-4 defense, and that was the defensive alignment that Hairston had spent almost the entirety of his career anchoring from the right defensive end. Hairston’s experience and leadership made him a natural fit in Schottenheimer’s new regime.
Hairston’s play proved his new head coach correct. Both the Browns’ defensive ends, Hairston and Reggie Camp played well in 1985. Hairston registered seven sacks and Camp was able to add an additional eight and a half sacks.
Although what was more impressive was the defensive end duo’s ability to free up the Browns’ outside linebackers, Clay Matthews and Chip Banks, and allow them to wreak havoc as game wrecking pass rushers. Those four players accounted for 32.5 sacks during the 1985 season. The Browns had found the recipe that would carry the Browns defense for the next three seasons under Schottenheimer.
Hairston went on to lead the Browns in sacks in both 1986 (nine) and 1987 (eight) seasons. However, in 1988, even though the season culminated in a wild card playoff berth, the Schottenheimer era came to a close. The Browns 3-4 defensive scheme left town with the head coach.
In 1989 the Browns switched to a 4-3 defense and Hairston was asked to switch to defensive tackle, a position he had not played since his rookie season 14 years prior. Hairston moved to left defensive tackle and did what he had done for his entire stint with the Browns, he produced, and he was the leading voice of the defensive line. Hairston, playing alongside Michael Dean Perry, set the tone for the Browns defensive line and made the switch to a 4-3 defense a seamless one.
That season Hairston vowed not to comb or cut his hair until the Browns reached 45 sacks as a defense. True to form, Hairston stuck to his word and sure enough, the Browns ended the season with 45 sacks, a team record at the time.
Hairston left the Browns after the 1989 season and played one additional season for the Arizona Cardinals before retiring. He finished his career with 47.5 sacks, 37.5 of those came as a Brown, but it should be noted that ‘Big Daddy’ played six seasons before sacks were considered an actual statistic.
Carl ‘Big Daddy’ Hairston was a big man with a big personality and is the best player to ever wear 78 for the Cleveland Browns.