The best No. 46 on the Cleveland Browns had his career tragically cut short
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 46 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 46: Don Fleming.
Don Fleming was born in Bellaire, Ohio in 1937. After an outstanding athletic career at Shadyside High School, Fleming took his talents to Gainesville, Florida to play for the Gators. While at the University of Florida, Fleming excelled on the football field and the baseball diamond.
Fleming was named a team captain for the Gators in 1958 and went on to earn first-team All-SEC that same season. He was selected by the Chicago Cardinals in the 28th round of the 1959 NFL draft, but Fleming chose not to play for the Cardinals and instead opted to play college baseball. Fleming was later inducted into the University of Florida Athletics Hall of Fame as a Gator Great as well as the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.
Browns’ head coach, Paul Brown traded the Cardinals for the rights to Fleming. Although Fleming was a talented receiver in college, Brown decided to transition him over to the defensive side of the ball to play safety. The move put Fleming next to his old college teammate Bernie Parrish.
Fleming took to his new position quickly and was able to start 10 games at left safety his rookie season. He was able to apply the skills that he developed as a receiver and use them at safety. Fleming finished his rookie season with five interceptions which ranked fourth on the team.
He followed up his stellar rookie season by starting 13 games at safety in 1961. Fleming generated five turnovers by recovering two fumbles and intercepting three passes. His three interceptions ranked third on the team in 1961.
In 1962 Fleming moved over to play right safety as Parrish was transitioned to left cornerback. The Browns promoted Ross Fichtner to the starting lineup at left safety next to Fleming. Although Fleming’s numbers declined slightly, his overall play improved, and he was named first-team All-Pro by the Sporting News.
The following offseason, while working as a foreman on a construction site close to Orlando, Florida, Fleming was electrocuted. Fleming was pronounced dead after attempts to revive him failed. The fatal accident occurred just weeks after Ernie Davis succumbed to leukemia. The Browns retired both of the deceased players’ numbers immediately.
Although Fleming’s career was tragically cut short, he is the best player to wear number 46 for the Cleveland Browns.
Honorable Mention: Lou ‘The Toe’ Groza