Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 22
Who is the best No. 22 ever for the Cleveland Browns
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 22 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 22: Frank Gatski.
The jersey number 22 is a strong one in the history of the Browns. Many outstanding players like Clarence Scott, Felix Wright, and Ken Konz have donned the jersey number. However, it is the very first player in team history to wear number 22 that tops this list, Frank ‘Gunner’ Gatski.
Gatski was born in the coal-mining town of Farmington, West Virginia. He would go on to play football at Marshall University where he would earn the nickname ‘Gunner’. While at Marshall, Gatski signed up with Army Reserves in 1942. The following season, Marshall would cancel its football program due to World War II and Gatski’s Army Reserve unit was activated. Gatski was stationed in Europe from 1942 until 1945 during WWII.
After his service time had concluded, Gatski returned stateside but Marshall had yet to reactivate their football program. Gatski enrolled at Auburn University and played a few games before an eligibility issue arose from his time at Marshall. After graduating, Gatski returned to West Virginia and worked in the coal mines until he received an invitation to attend the inaugural Browns training camp in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Gatski stuck his thumb out and hitchhiked all the way to Bowling Green for the tryout. Although he did not win the starting center job, coach Paul Brown offered him a contract and played Gatski at linebacker. That was Gatski’s role during his first two seasons in Cleveland, linebacker and backup center. But by 1948 Gatski had taken over as the full-time starting center, a position he would not relinquish for nine seasons.
During Gatski’s nine seasons as the Browns center, the team would play in the championship game in every season but one. Of those eight championship appearances, aided by the blocking of Gatski, the Browns would win five championships. Gatski was named an All-NFL selection at center four times and he was voted to the 1956 Pro Bowl, his last season in Cleveland.
A consummate professional, Gatski never missed a game, and more impressively never even missed a single practice during his 12-year career. Gatski collected nicknames due to the tough nature that he embodied from growing up in a coal mining community. Known to some teammates as ‘Iron man’, ‘Rock of Gibraltar’, and ‘Joe Palooka’, Gatski was admired by every teammate that he ever played with.
Gatski is the only player in the history of Marshall University to have his number retired and has a bridge just outside of the Thundering Herd’s campus named after him. Gatski was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Until 2016, Gatski was the only player to play at Auburn University to also be immortalized in Canton. He was also inducted to the Polish Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. Gatski was inducted to the Browns Ring of Honor and their Legends Program in 2001.
‘Gunner’ Gatski is an all-time Browns legend and he is the best player to ever wear number 22 in franchise history.
Honorable mention: Clarence Scott, Felix Wright, and Ken Konz.