Who is the best Cleveland Browns player to wear number 61?
The Countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 61 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 61: Mike Baab.
Mike Baab was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 1982 NFL draft out of the University of Texas. While at Texas, Baab was the team captain and earned All-Southwest Conference honors as well as being named an All-American honorable mention his senior year. In 2008, Baab was named to the University of Texas Hall of Honor.
Baab was drafted in a unique year in NFL history. Due to a lengthy player strike to start the 1982 season, the regular season ended up being reduced to only nine games. The Browns were already set at the center position, with returning veteran Tom DeLeone manning the position, and did not draft Baab to be an immediate starter. The shortened season was definitely a disadvantage to players that needed time to develop.
In 1983, Baab took over the starting center duties from DeLeone after beating the veteran out in training camp. The Browns put Baab in the best situation possible to allow him to have a successful transition into the starting role. The Browns’ offensive line was fortified on both sides of Baab, with Robert Jackson and Doug Dieken on his left, and Joe DeLameilleure and Cody Riesen on his right.
After a winning season in 1983, the Browns had a rough campaign the following year. After a head coaching change midway through the 1984 season, the Browns finished on a strong note and the offense was beginning to change its identity.
The 1985 season marked the beginning of a new era for the Browns. They drafted their new quarterback of the future in the supplemental draft, Bernie Kosar, and the team’s philosophy had shifted. The aerial attack of the Kardiac Kids was in the rearview mirror and the Browns of 1985 were a running team.
The veteran-laden offensive line combined with second-year running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack proved to be a tremendously successful combination. The well-coordinated run game started with Baab being able to make the calls at the line of scrimmage. Baab’s ability to direct traffic up front helped pave the way for Byner and Mack to both eclipse 1,000 yards rushing in 1985.
The next two seasons brought much of the same success for Baab and the offensive line as well as the team. After the transition to Kosar as the starting quarterback took hold, the team was able to blend their run-first mentality with their young quarterback’s ability to beat the blitz in obvious passing situations into a winning formula. Both 1986 and 1987 ended with the Browns making it all the way to their conference championship.
Towards the end of the 1988 training camp, after starting 62-consecutive games at center, Baab was traded to the New England Patriots. The move to start Gregg Rakoczy and trade Baab away did not sit well in the Browns’ locker room. The chemistry the offensive line had established took a step backward in 1988, and the offense suffered because of it.
However, his career in Cleveland was not over it was only briefly paused. Baab would return to Cleveland in 1990 and resume his old position of being the starting center. Baab played two more seasons in Cleveland before going to Kansas City in free agency in his final NFL season.
Baab was a pivotal piece of the Browns offensive success of the mid-1980s and is the best player to wear number 61 in the team’s history.