Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 42
The best No. 42 for the Cleveland Browns was a first-ballot Hall of Famer
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 42 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 42: Paul Warfield.
Paul Warfield was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 11th overall pick of the first round in the 1964 NFL draft out of The Ohio State University. Warfield was a highly decorated halfback while at OSU who was named first-team All-Big 10 twice as well as being named an All-American by Time Magazine in 1963.
Despite Warfield playing halfback in college, the Browns had other plans for the dynamic playmaker. Warfield was brought into Cleveland to play the end position (wide receiver) opposite of Gary Collins. The positional shift proved to be a stroke of genius by head coach Paul Brown.
Warfield was a natural at tracking the ball down the field and he provided a speed threat on the outside that help open the run game up. During his rookie year, which culminated with the Browns winning the NFL Championship, Warfield hauled in a career-high 52 passes. Warfield led the 1964 Browns in both receiving yards with 920 and touchdown receptions with nine. To cap off his memorable rookie season, Warfield was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Warfield’s sophomore season was derailed when the receiver shattered his collarbone during a College All-Star game, and he missed the entire regular season. He returned from the injury in time to play in the 1965 Championship game, where he registered three receptions for 30 yards in a loss to the Packers.
In 1966, Warfield caught 36 receptions for 741 yards. This would mark the first season that Warfield would average over 20 yards per catch, a streak that would last a staggering seven seasons. His 1967 campaign was almost a mirror image of the previous season, as Warfield pulled in 32 passes for 702 yards and eight touchdowns.
Warfield’s 1968 season would prove to be his best in a Browns uniform. The speedy receiver caught 50 footballs for 1,067 yards and he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 12. Warfield was once again named to the Pro Bowl for his tremendous efforts.
At this point in his career, Warfield was generally considered the most dangerous pass catcher in the NFL. His ability to get behind a defense changed the way that defenses approached playing the Browns, but Warfield was still able to make game-changing plays despite the added attention. In 1969, Warfield pulled in 42 receptions for 886 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Browns owner, Art Modell, looked to cash in on Warfield’s prowess and traded the receiver to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for the 3rd overall draft pick in the 1970 NFL draft. The Browns selected quarterback, Mike Phipps, with the draft pick they received for Warfield. The trade is widely regarded as the worst in the history of the franchise.
Phipps went on to throw twice as many interceptions as he did touchdowns during his time in Cleveland, while Warfield went on to dominate the NFL. During his five seasons in Miami, Warfield went to five straight Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro twice, and won back to back Super Bowls.
Warfield, who was born in Warren, Ohio, returned to play for the Browns in 1976 after playing in the World Football League for one season. Just seeing number 42 back in the orange and brown brought back memories of the Browns’ glory days. While he was not the same player that he was before he shipped to Miami, Warfield still had the ability to hit on the big play from time to time. In 1976, Warfield caught 38 passes for 613 yards and six touchdowns. He would go on to play one more season for the Browns before calling it a career.
Despite spending five years of his prime wearing a different uniform, Warfield still ranks in the top five in three Browns’ All-Time receiving categories. Warfield’s 52 receiving touchdowns land him at second in team history, as does his 19.2 yards per reception, and his 5,210 receiving yards are the fourth most in Browns’ history.
While he was never a volume receiver, his impact was greater than almost every receiver of his era. Just by stepping on the field, Warfield posed a threat that defenses would have to adjust for. Warfield’s contributions to the game of professional football include the double team and zone defenses. It also must be noted that everywhere Warfield played in his career the running game would thrive.
In 1983, Warfield was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was also named to the 1970s All-Decade Team. Warfield was honored by both NFL teams he played for by being inducted to both the Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor and the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll. He is the only receiver in the Hall of Fame to average over 20 yards per catch.
Paul Warfield is by far and away the greatest player to ever wear number 42 for the Cleveland Browns.