Who was the best to ever wear No. 54 for the Cleveland Browns?
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 54 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 54: Tom DeLeone.
Tom DeLeone was originally selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round of the 1972 NFL draft out of The Ohio State University. While at Ohio State, DeLeone was an All-Big 10 selection at center and was also named second-team All-American as a senior. In 2002, DeLeone was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.
After two seasons of sitting on the bench in Cincinnati, DeLeone, who was born in Kent, Ohio, bounced around a couple of teams in one offseason before finding himself coming back home to northern Ohio and playing for the Browns. His first season in Cleveland in 1974 was not much different than his two previous seasons in Cincinnati. DeLeone found himself on the sidelines watching the action as opposed to being right in the middle of the action. That all changed in 1975.
In DeLeone’s fourth season as a professional, he became the starting center for the Cleveland Browns, a position that he would hold onto for eight seasons. In 1976 Brian Sipe became the starting quarterback, and the nucleus for what would become the Kardiac Kids started falling into place. With players like Reggie Rucker, Greg Pruitt, and Dave Logan coming into their own the future was bright in Cleveland.
By 1979 it was evident that the Browns were evolving from an entertaining team to watch into becoming a legitimate threat to compete for divisional titles. With the addition of Ozzie Newsome, the offensive skill positions were solid across the board and the offensive line was as formidable as any in the NFL.
DeLeone was the lynchpin of the offensive line and was “the heartbeat of the Kardiac Kids” according to Doug Dieken. In 1979, DeLeone played center at an elite level and was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl appearance.
During the magical year of 1980, the Browns won the AFC Central and the players responsible for the success received the recognition that had eluded them. Sipe was named the NFL MVP and the offensive line that allotted him the time to slice up defenses got their due. DeLeone along with offensive linemen Dieken and Joe DeLamielleure were compensated with a trip to Honolulu to represent the AFC.
DeLeone’s time as a starter came to an end after the 1982 season as the Browns were undergoing a youth movement. His blue-collar, workmanlike attitude that he played the game endeared him to Browns’ fans and in 2011 DeLeone was nominated in the Browns Legends Program.
After his football career had concluded, DeLeone went on to work for multiple government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Treasury, U.S. Customs, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the Department of Homeland Security. In 2016, after a five-year battle with brain cancer, DeLeone passed away at the age of 65.
DeLeone was the embodiment of the Cleveland Browns of the late seventies and early eighties and is the best number 54 in team history.
Honorable Mention: Fred Hoaglin.