Who gets the nod for the best Browns player to wear number 60?
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 60 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 60: John Wooten.
Who is the greatest player to wear number 60 in Browns’ history? Well, that would be Otto Graham or Bill Willis, wouldn’t it? While neither of those answers is incorrect, and both Graham and Willis are all-time great players, for this countdown, the answer is…John Wooten.
Graham and Willis will both make appearances later in this countdown (spoiler alert), as both wore multiple numbers in their storied careers. The Browns retired the number 14 in honor of Graham, and Willis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as number 30. Today we are going to focus on Wooten.
Wooten was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 1959 NFL draft out of the University of Colorado. The Texas native had a stellar career at Colorado. As a senior, Wooten was named an All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and he was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Having played on the interior offensive line while at Colorado, Wooten was a natural fit to play offensive guard for Paul Brown. He had all the intangibles that Brown coveted in his guards. He was an agile big man with exceptionally quick feet and played with outstanding leverage. Only one problem, the Browns did not have an opening at guard.
The incumbent starters, Jim Ray Smith and Gene Hickerson, had a firm stranglehold on the position. Wooten’s first two seasons in Cleveland were spent on the sidelines waiting for his opportunity. In 1961, Wooten received his first opportunity to prove he could be a starting-caliber guard in the Browns’ offense.
Wooten’s opportunity came at Hickerson’s expense after he suffered a broken leg in the final preseason game. The third-year pro ceased the chance and earned the right to be a mainstay on the Browns’ offensive line for years to come. Wooten split time at right guard with Hickerson, until he was fully healthy, in 1962.
At the end of the 1962 season, after Smith decided to retire and then instead agreed to a trade with the Dallas Cowboys, Wooten was named the starting left guard. Wooten remained the starting left guard for five seasons. In those five seasons, the Browns enjoyed one of the best rushing attacks in league history.
Many Browns fans consider the combination of Hickerson and Wooten to be the best guard tandem in team history. Leading the way for Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly has a way of reflecting well on you. But that is exactly what Wooten helped to do, lead the way. Wooten was named to the Pro Bowl in both 1965 and 1966 for his exceptional play.
Wooten played nine years in Cleveland before going to play for the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins for his final year as a professional. In 2010, Wooten was inducted in the Browns Legends Program.
While the Browns have had different Hall of Famers wear the number 60 in the team’s illustrious history, there is only one legend who wore that number for his entire career as a Cleveland Browns player. That man is John Wooten.