The best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 76
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 76 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 76: Lou Groza.
When it comes down to legendary jersey numbers in Cleveland Browns history, it doesn’t get much more vaunted than 76. Only two players have ever donned the number for the Browns, and both of those players are immortalized in the Hall of Fame in Canton. So, who gets the nod, and why is the only correct answer, Lou Groza?
Marion Motley is truly one of the greats in NFL history. He was the first to wear 76 and wore it for six of his nine seasons as a charter member of the Browns. However, Groza’s accomplishments along with the length of his tenure as a member of the Browns give him the edge. Would you like a tie-breaker? Google Cleveland Browns headquarters, the address is 76 Lou Groza Boulevard. 76 belongs to Groza.
Groza was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio. He along with his four brothers all excelled in athletics. Groza was the captain of a state championship basketball team and lettered in baseball and football. After graduating high school, he accepted a scholarship to play football under head coach Paul Brown at the Ohio State University.
However, after his freshman year, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a surgical technician in the Pacific theater of World War II. While stationed in the South Pacific, Groza received a package from Paul Brown. The package contained footballs and a contract to play for the newly formed Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference. Groza signed the contract and agreed to join the Browns once the war was over and his time of service had concluded.
After the war, Groza reported to the Browns first-ever training camp. Groza along with future Hall of Famers: Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli, Mac Speedie, Bill Willis, Frank Gatski, and Motley gave the Browns a nucleus that would prove to be unrivaled during their time in the AAFC. Groza, who was used primarily as a placekicker during his first two seasons, gave the Browns a weapon that nobody in professional football could wield; a kicker that was effective from 40 yards out and beyond.
In 1948 Groza began playing offensive tackle in addition to his placekicking duties. He remained the Browns starting left tackle for 12 seasons. His ability to be a highly proficient left tackle was often overshadowed by his kicking prowess. Groza, who was nicknamed ‘The Toe’ by The Cleveland Press sportswriter Robert Yonkers, to this day is synonymous with kicking.
After winning the AAFC title all four years of the league’s existence, the Browns, along with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts were absorbed into the NFL after the conclusion of the 1949 AAFC season. The Browns along with their former AAFC comrades were looked at as inferior by the established NFL teams. That sentiment didn’t last long as the Browns stormed the NFL and won the league’s championship on a last-minute Groza field goal in 1950.
The Browns continued their winning ways behind the arm of Graham, the legs of Motley, and the toe and blocking of Groza over their next five seasons; winning two more NFL championships. Following Graham’s retirement after the 1955 championship, the Browns experienced their first down year but rebounded to play in the Championship game in 1957. Groza continued to kick record amounts of field goals and play left tackle until retiring after the 1959 season. ‘The Toe’ called it a career and started an insurance company at the age of 36.
That retirement lasted one season. At the insistence of the Browns’ new owner Art Modell, Groza was talked into returning to the Browns to be the placekicker in 1961. He remained the Browns placekicker for seven more seasons and added another NFL championship to his resume during his second stint with the Browns.
By the time Groza officially retired in 1967, after playing 21 seasons, he held several NFL records including being the NFL’s All-Time Scoring Leader with 1,349 points, and that point total does not include the 259 points he scored in the AAFC. Groza was named first-team all-pro four times and was named to nine pro bowls. ‘The Toe’ was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. Groza was named to the 1950’s All-Decade team as well as the NFL’s 50th-anniversary team.
The Browns retired Groza’s number 76 and placed him in their ring of honor as well as their legends program. The Lou Groza award is given to the nation’s top collegiate placekicker and he also has a youth football program named after him in Berea, Ohio.
Lou ‘The Toe’ Groza is indisputably the best Cleveland Browns player to wear number 76.