Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 34
Who is the best player to wear number 34 for the Cleveland Browns?
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 34 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 34: Greg Pruitt.
Greg Pruitt was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 1973 NFL draft out of the University of Oklahoma. To call what Pruitt did during his years at Oklahoma outstanding would be an understatement. Pruitt was a two time All-American who finished in the top three in the Heisman Trophy voting twice. He would later be inducted to the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
Once arriving in Cleveland, Pruitt would need to prove himself all over again. The running back spent his rookie season backing up Leroy Kelly and handling the kickoff and punt return duties. The shifty Pruitt immediately found success as a kick returner and was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl roster in that role. As Kelly’s backup, Pruitt proved to be serviceable gaining just 20 yards less than the future Hall of Famer despite getting 71 fewer carries.
In his second season, he took over as the starting running back and led the Browns in rushing yards with 540. 1974 is also when Pruitt showed how dangerous he could be as a receiver out of the backfield, averaging 13 yards per reception. For the second year in a row, Pruitt was voted to the Pro Bowl for his kickoff return abilities.
1975 marked the beginning of Pruitt coming into his own as a premier feature back in the NFL. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl as a running back in 1976 and 1977. He finished just 40 yards shy of hitting the 1,000 mark for the fourth straight season in 1978.
Pruitt suffered a calf injury in 1979 that sidelined the elusive back for the majority of the 1979 season. While out with his injury, Mike Pruitt (no relation), emerged as the team’s primary rushing weapon and the older Pruitt would be forced to alter his game going forward.
In his final two seasons as a member of the Browns, Pruitt reinvented himself as a receiving threat out of the backfield. In many ways, Pruitt’s adjustment to his new role was exactly what the pass-happy Kardiac Kids needed. Pruitt recorded 50 catches for 444 yards and five touchdowns in 1980, and then upped his production in 1981 with 65 receptions for 636 yards and scored four receiving touchdowns.
Pruitt was traded to the Los Angeles Raiders in exchange for an 11th round pick prior to the 1982 season. While in Los Angeles Pruitt was part of a Super Bowl-winning team in 1983 and was voted to the Pro Bowl as a return specialist in that same season. After the 1984 season, Pruitt retired from professional football and moved back to Cleveland where he lives to this day.
Pruitt’s 5,496 rushing yards ranks him at fourth in franchise history. Pruitt was among the first group of non-Hall of Fame players to be inducted to the Browns Legends Program in 2001, and he was also inducted to the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
Greg Pruitt will always be beloved for his time in Cleveland and he is the best player to wear number 34 for the Browns.
Honorable mentions: Kevin Mack and Mike Howell.