Countdown to 2020: Best Cleveland Browns player to wear No. 20
Who is the best player to wear No. 20 for the Cleveland Browns?
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 20 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 20: Ross Fichtner.
Ross Fichtner was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the third round of the 1960 NFL draft out of Purdue University. During his time as a Boilermaker, Fichtner succeeded Len Dawson as Purdue’s starting quarterback. However, playing quarterback was not the role that coach Paul Brown wanted Fichtner to fill for the Browns.
Instead, he was drafted by the Browns to play defensive back because of his athletic attributes. In 1960, the Browns had four rookies competing for the starting safety spots. In the end, Don Fleming and Rich Mostardo were named the starters at safety and Fichtner and Bobby Franklin was tabbed as the backups. Considering that Fichtner was able to be a contributor after making a major positional shift from quarterback to defensive back was quite remarkable.
Fichtner was able to make three starts at safety during his first two seasons while the former quarterback found his footing. However, in 1962 he became a full-time starter at safety next to Fleming. He responded to the increased playing time by leading the Browns with seven interceptions.
Tragedy struck the Browns before the 1963 season, as Fleming died as a result of an electrocution accident at a worksite he was the foreman of. The Browns honored Fleming by immediately retiring his jersey. But, as it must, the game moves on and the Browns moved Fichtner over to Fleming’s spot at right safety.
Fichtner overcame adversity on a level most can not comprehend in 1964. In the fourth game of the season, he suffered one of the scariest concussions in team history. After taking a knee to the helmet against the Dallas Cowboys, Fichtner laid unconscious for twenty minutes while his teammates were gathered in prayer. The gruesome hit could have been career-altering if not ending. However, Fichtner refused to let the injury beat him.
The Cleveland defensive back was able to make a return to the field with two weeks left in the regular season. What people did not know was Fichtner was playing with double vision. According to Fichtner, whenever he would run his left eye would come off its axis causing the safety to see two of everything. He didn’t let his ailment set him back and held his position down for the remainder of the regular season and, most importantly, the 1964 championship game shutout of the Baltimore Colts. To this day Fichtner wears his championship ring in place of his wedding ring.
Fichtner would go on to play three more seasons as a member of the Browns. He remained at the top of his game through his final season in Cleveland. Over the course of his final three seasons, he notched 16 interceptions and scored two touchdowns off interception returns.
He would go on to play for the New Orleans Saints for four games before retiring following the 1968 season. Fichtner’s name can be found near the top of all of the Browns’ all-time interception records. Fichtner is sixth in team history with 27 interceptions, second in interception return yards with 581, first in interception return average with 21.5, and third with three interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Ross Fichtner is the best player to ever wear the number 20 for the Cleveland Browns.