Who is the best player to wear number 64 in the history of the Cleveland Browns?
The Countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 64 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 64: Jim Ray Smith.
Jim Ray Smith was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 1954 NFL draft as a future designation out of Baylor University. Unlike most future designations, Smith was only a sophomore at Baylor when the Browns selected him. However, after college Smith went to the Army for nearly two years.
While in the Army, Smith took a 30-day leave to attend Browns’ training camp. After making the team, but spraining his ankle, Smith returned to the Army with the understanding that the Browns may call him up during the season. With six games remaining in the 1956 season, Cleveland did just that.
Smith returned to the team and played defensive end with the idea that he could possibly be the eventual replacement for the Hall of Fame-bound Len Ford.
It was in his second season that Smith found his true calling in the NFL. The Browns converted Smith over to the offensive line, and he became one of Paul Brown’s famed ‘messenger guards’. During the 1957 season, he rotated at right guard with Herschel Forester.
Brown loved what he saw out of Smith, and in 1958 Smith became the permanent left guard. The rest of the league agreed with coach Brown, and Smith was selected for the Pro Bowl and named second-team All-Pro.
During the next three seasons, Smith was arguably the best guard in all of professional football. In each of these three seasons, Smith was named first-team All-Pro as well as being selected to the Pro Bowl. He had reached the top of his profession.
From 1959 until 1962, the Browns had three legendary guards with Smith, Gene Hickerson, and John Wooten all on the same roster. It was a golden age for the position in Cleveland.
However, after the 1961 season, Smith decided to retire and start a real estate business in the Dallas, Texas area. His Browns’ teammate and fellow offensive lineman, right tackle Mike McCormack, talked Smith into coming back to play in 1962. Smith returned and once again played at a Pro Bowl level, only to retire a second time at the end of the season.
Citing his real estate business in Dallas and not wanting to move his kids out of school there for his reasons for retirement, he was convinced by owner Art Modell to reach out to the Dallas Cowboys to see if they wanted to trade for his services. Dallas indeed did just that, and they traded veteran offensive tackle Monte Clark for Smith.
Smith retired for a third and final time after the 1964 season. In 2005, Smith was inducted into the Browns Legends Program. Jim Ray Smith is the best player to ever wear number 64 for the Cleveland Browns.
Honorable Mention: Joe DeLamielleure.