TOWNSHIP – Maybe “The Greatest Gathering In Football” wasn’t the time or place.
Or maybe it was the perfect place to talk about the Cleveland Browns’ comeback as a force.
âFunny you ask,â said Joe DeLamielleure. “A lot of these guys are talking about it. Franco Harris, Elvin Betheaâ¦ guys who played against good Browns teamsâ¦ a lot of people. These guys say it looks like the Browns are going to be pretty good.”
“These guys” were “the biggest gathering.” They are, like Joe D, members of the Professional Football Hall of Fame returning to town to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NFL in Canton. In fact, it is the 101st. They couldn’t come last year because of COVID-19.
âWith the offensive line that the Browns have built up,â said Joe D, who is part of the 1980 Browns Kardiac Kids muscle, âthey have a great base. I love what they’ve done with the whole team. .
“If the Browns stay healthy they are the team to beat.”
Joe D, who played for Buffalo before being traded to Cleveland, repeated something he told us at the beginning of this year:
“Browns and Bills in the AFC Championship game.”
A record number of Hall of Fame members are in town for Dedication Week. Most of them donned their golden jackets in the scorching morning sun for a “team photo” on the front steps of the museum.
Hall of Fame Anthony Munoz, who played during the Joe D era, cares more about a rise for his former team, the Bengals, than the rise of the Browns. But he was part of the “biggest gathering” that couldn’t help but notice Cleveland.
âI love what Coach Stefanski did,â said Munoz, left tackle for two Cincinnati teams that reached the Super Bowl. âThe Browns are very talented. They are coming off a good year.
“We need this division to get back to what it was when all four teams were very competitive.”
Before beating Pittsburgh in January, the Browns hadn’t won a playoff game since 1994. Charles woodson, who joined “the biggest gathering” as a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2021, remembers the year vividly.
Woodson’s team, Fremont Ross, lost to Massillon in the playoffs in ’94.
âIt was my last game in high school,â Woodson said as the massive group of Hall of Fame members walked away from the photoshoot. âMassillon was good, but we almost got them.
“I look around and realize that was a long time ago. Being in Canton with all these legendsâ¦ it’s amazing to be here right now.”
Woodson, 45, is one of the young people in the rally. As recently as 2015, he was in Cleveland to intercept Josh McCown in a 27-20 Raiders win.
Hall of fame Dave robinson is old school rallying. He played for Vince Lombardi’s Packers in Super Bowls I and II. Before that, he helped the Packers beat the Browns in the 1965 NFL Championship game, shortly before the Super Bowl became a thing.
âThe Browns showed last year that it is possible,â said Robinson, who has called Akron since the late 1970s. âThey have to keep in mind that you have to be prepared for bad breaks. good job with that and grab some luck and you’ll end up in a Super Bowl. “
Woodson said posing on the front steps looked like “a team photo.” It was the only gathering in history of NFL faces on such a large scale.
Everyone in the photo had been invited to a morning address on ‘the state of the hall’ from Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker, whose opinion on the condition of the hall, basically, was ânever betterâ.
A 79-year-old former Cowboys quarterback was dropped off a few minutes late. He was hailed as he made his way to the front door.
“Mr. Staubach, would you sign this please?” ”
“Sorry, he has to get in right now.”
“I am a sailor.”
Roger Staubach, an old man in the Navy, made eye contact and signed. He then entered the room.
When everyone’s out, class of 2021 Peyton manning simply melted into the crowd.
Orlando Pace, a former Ohio State No.1 pick, looked like he could still cringe. Pace, 45, stood next to Willie Roaf in the top row.
Gil Brandt, 89, a Staubach-era Cowboys staff guru, was among several who arrived in wheelchairs and sat in the front row.
The majority of the faces did not look like their NFL trading cards. Crowds of onlookers outside the barricades and journalists close to the photo kept wondering if they knew who such a person was.
Men in golden jackets do not wear badges.
DeLamielleure, 70, still trains like he has a game next week. He pretty much looks like his old self.
He was touched to be in such a team photo, moved by the recognition of the “state of the room” of all the Gold Jackets who have died in the past two years.
The gathering was by no means purely sentimental. It was “the greatest gathering” of football players, not a Dead Poets Society tea party.
âElvin Bethea was a crazy man,â DeLamielleure said of a former division rival. “Ask Doug Dieken (former Browns tackle) what it was like to block him.”
Someone said to Joe D, “Tell Bethea there’s someone who thinks you could arm wrestle him again.”
DeLamielleure replied, “I would rip off her arm and give her a bloody stump.”
He spoke about the interior of the room at the Ray Nitschke lunch. His girlfriend Bethea was laughing next to him.
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