Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 31
Who is the best player to wear No. 31 for the Cleveland Browns?
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 31 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 31: Frank Minnifield.
Minnifield’s football journey began in Lexington, Kentucky. Minnifield was a standout two-way player at Henry Clay High School, playing safety and tailback. After high school, Minnifield wished to play at the collegiate level but was deemed too small to do so. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 140 lbs., a scholarship was not going to be in the cards.
Minnifield decided to head west on I-64 and become a walk-on at the University of Louisville. After building himself up to 180 lbs. and earning a scholarship, Minnifield earned a spot as a defensive back and kickoff returner. In his junior year, Minnifield would lead the NCAA in kickoff returns with just over 30 yards per attempt.
After college, Minnifield decided to play in the new upstart league, the USFL. Minnifield spent two seasons playing cornerback in the USFL, one for the Chicago Blitz and another for the Arizona Wranglers. After the 1984 USFL season concluded, with Arizona losing the championship game, Minnifield expressed his intent to enter the NFL. The Wranglers attempted to block the move, and Minnifield successfully sued for his right to do so.
Once free from the USFL, Minnifield signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent in 1984. Minnifield was paired with fellow starting corner, Hanford Dixon, and the two immediately formed a bond that would transform the identity of the defense, and eventually the crowd itself. Fans grew to love Minnifield’s playing style, his in the face, bump and run approach to cornerback felt like it embodied the city of Cleveland.
Minnifield’s blanketing approach landed him on four-straight Pro Bowl teams, from 1986 through 1989. He was also named a first-team all-pro in 1987. Minnifield became so proficient at locking down opposing wide receivers and preventing separation that some quarterbacks would not even target him.
From 1984 to 1989, the Browns employed the top cornerback tandem in the NFL. The devastating duo of Minnifield and Dixon, who are credited with naming the bleacher section at Cleveland Municipal Stadium the Dawg Pound, will forever be connected in the hearts and minds of the Browns fanbase.
Minnifield’s career in Cleveland would last nine seasons. During that span, Minnifield would start 113 games and intercept 20 passes. His numbers do his greatness a disservice, as any fan who watched Minnifield would tell you, his coverage was so good that he was not tested often. When he was tested it was often the quarterback and wide receiver that failed.
Minnifield’s excellent play was acknowledged when he was named to the 1980s All-Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Minnifield was also inducted into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004 as well as the Browns Legends Program in 2005.
Frank Minnifield was an outstanding cornerback and he is the best player to ever wear number 31 for the Cleveland Browns.