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Jesse Lamovsky

This is one installment in a team effort by The Cleveland Fan, highlighting the top local sports figures by jersey number. Please weigh in with your thoughts on the Boards. And as David Letterman would say, “For entertainment purposes only; please, no wagering.”


The tattered history of the “new” Cleveland Browns has seen few players that have reminded fans of the old days, when the franchise was respected around the league and the orange-and-brown uniform meant something other than two automatic wins a year for the Steelers and the usurpers from Baltimore. Most of the post-1999 Browns have been fly-by-night types, guys just passing through town on the way to bigger and better things (or smaller and worse things, as in the case of most of them.)

Josh Cribbs is an exception. The special-teams maven is one of a very few new Browns that would have looked right at home emerging from the dugout to the roars of 80,000-plus at old Municipal Stadium. In some of the bleakest seasons in the history of the franchise Cribbs was the one man opponents had to account for, the one Cleveland Brown who really distinguished himself as a playmaker.

Cribbs made his career and his reputation the way E.F. Hutton made money (at least according to John Houseman): he earned it. Although he led Washington’s powerful Dunbar High to three consecutive D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association championships- the first school to pull off that feat in three decades- only one school offered him both a scholarship and a chance to play immediately at quarterback. That school was Kent State which, coming off a twelve-year stretch in which it went 16-115-1, could afford to take a chance on a raw athlete.

Cribbs rewarded Kent’s faith with an extraordinary four-year career. In 2001 he became the first true freshman in NCAA Division I history to pass and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season and led the Golden Flashes to a 6-5 record, their first winning mark in fourteen years. As of the beginning of the 2012 season Cribbs was one of only seven players in FBS history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 5,000 yards in a career. The MAC was rife with outstanding quarterbacks in the early 2000’s- most notably Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Frye- yet Josh Cribbs may have been the most dynamic of the lot. In 2010 Cribbs had his jersey number 9 retired by KSU, joining Jim Corrigal, Jack Lambert and Eric Wilkerson in that exclusive club.

Yet all of those gaudy numbers weren’t enough to get Cribbs’s name called in the 2005 NFL Draft. Although his hometown Redskins made him an offer to come to their camp and try out as a quarterback, Cribbs agreed to go to stay in Northeast Ohio and try his hand as a kickoff return man. Needless to say, he made the final roster. In the sixth game of his career against Detroit at CBS, Cribbs notched his first career kickoff return for a touchdown. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the next eight seasons Josh Cribbs established himself as the best all-around special-teams player the league has seen since Steve Tasker. His eight kick-return touchdowns are tied for the NFL record, and he has added three more scores on punt returns. He’s the only man to log two kick-return scores of more than 100 yards in the same game. In his prime Cribbs was also the best gunner in the NFL, stopping kick returns cold in addition to making them. The prototypical return ace is a shifty, speedy water bug- think Gerald “the Ice Cube” McNeil or Eric Metcalf. Cribbs broke the mold. At 6’1” and a power-packed 215 pounds he was just as adept at breaking tackles as he is at avoiding them, and as a gunner he was a sure tackler capable of delivering a jolt.

In 2007 Cribbs put together one of the greatest years ever for a return specialist. He led the NFL in all-purpose yards (2,312), kick-return yards (1,809), combined kickoff and punt-return yards (2,214, second all-time) and average yards per kick return (30.7) and returned three kickoffs and punts for touchdowns. His most extraordinary effort came that year in Pittsburgh when he fielded a bouncing kickoff at the goal line, made a half-dozen Steelers miss and tight-roped the sideline before breaking free for a breathtaking 100-yard touchdown.

(In an era when the Browns-Steelers rivalry has become a one-sided farce, Cribbs consistently was the one man in Brown & Orange who took the fight to the Black & Yellow. Three of his eight kickoff-return touchdowns have come against the Steelers, and his 8-carry, 87-yard rushing performance was crucial in the win late in 2009 that snapped a twelve-game losing streak against the boys from Western PA.)

Like Eric Metcalf before him, Cribbs has long struggled to find a niche in the Browns offense. Fans have forever complained that he has been utilized either wrongly or not enough. Nevertheless he has flashed brilliance as an all-around offensive threat, scoring nine receiving and rushing touchdowns and averaging a healthy 5.9 yards per carry. Joe Thomas said that Cribbs would be “an extremely successful running back in the NFL” if given the opportunity.

(Nobody asked me, but I always thought he would make a better tailback than receiver. But like Bill Belichick lining up Metcalf in a pro set and running him between the tackles, Cleveland kept trying to hammer the square peg of Josh Cribbs into the round hole of NFL receiver, and the position never quite took.)    

Cribbs’s brilliance has largely been served in losing causes. Cleveland’s overall record during his eight-year career is 43-85. The Browns have had one winning season and have never made the playoffs during his career. Josh Cribbs is has spent twelve seasons playing college and professional football without logging a single snap in either a college bowl game or an NFL playoff game. The man hasn’t won anything since he was a senior in high school. How many standout players have experienced as much team futility as Josh Cribbs? Not many, I’d imagine.

Today, with yet another new regime ensconced in Berea, Cribbs’s career in Cleveland is at a crossroads. He’ll be thirty when the 2013 season starts and he’s clearly lost a step.  He hasn’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2009 (granted, the rule changes regarding kickoffs haven’t helped) and last year his fumble-to-touchdown ratio was 6-to-0. It would be tough to blame the new regime for wanting to cut ties with Cribbs, especially since he’s a man that is not afraid to take his grievances to the press.

Then again, it would be tough to blame Cribbs for wanting to cut ties himself. He has put in his time in Cleveland, that’s for sure. He has been an outstanding player on the field and a visible, engaging personality in both the city of Cleveland and at Kent State University, from which he graduated in 2010. You can’t ask for much more than what Cribbs has done in Orange & Brown. In an era of Browns football thick with counterfeits, he’s been the genuine article all the way.  

Adam Burke

0kekalainenIt was only a matter of time before President of Hockey Operations John Davidson put his stamp on the Blue Jackets in a big way. He did that on Tuesday night, as the team announced the firing of General Manager Scott Howson. The replacement GM is Jarmo Kekalainen and he will now be given time to make his assessments before one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. With what looks to be another season without a playoff berth, the Jackets need a major overhaul and Davidson will work closely with Kelakainen to oversee that process.

Under Howson, the Blue Jackets made their lone playoff appearance in franchise history, but the results in the other seasons were poor. Howson was hired during the summer of 2007 and will be remembered for taking some chances and the Rick Nash fiasco. The chances Howson took were reasonable gambles, signing James Wisniewski, trading for Jeff Carter, trading for RJ Umberger, and signing Steve Mason to a contract extension. The Jackets were 173-190-59 during Howson’s reign.


Adam Burke

This is one installment in a team effort by The Cleveland Fan, highlighting the top local sports figures by jersey number. Please weigh in with your thoughts on the Boards. And as David Letterman would say, “For entertainment purposes only; please, no wagering.”

0alomarjr“You have to play with pride -- for the game and for yourself. You have to go out and give a major-league effort. If you're 0-for-3 but make a major-league effort, you can go home and say, 'I gave it what I had.’” – Sandy Alomar

Catchers tend to hold a special place in the hearts of baseball fans. Catchers have to play without fear. More often than not, they appear to be the heart and soul of the team, assuming a leadership role, both by example and by words. The catcher position is one that takes enormous dedication, both to one’s teammates and one’s own body. One could argue that catchers are the most important players on the team because they have to be involved in every facet of the game and every pitch when the team is on defense. Santos Alomar Jr. was one of the best in Cleveland Indians history.

Sandy Alomar Jr. was not the face of the Indians of the 1990s, but he may very well have been the team’s heart. One of the most perceptive and aware players to play for the Indians, Alomar had the tough task of handling a pitching staff full of mediocrity through the steroid era and doing so with bad knees. Alomar never had enough plate appearances in a season to qualify for the hitting leaderboards, so it’s hard to say what he could have become as a hitter had it not been for the consistent injury problems.


Al Ciammiachella

Otto 14

This is one installment in a team effort by The Cleveland Fan, highlighting the top local sports figures by jersey number. Please weigh in with your thoughts on the Boards. And as David Letterman would say, “For entertainment purposes only; please, no wagering.”

The #14 is one of the more storied digits in Cleveland Sports history. Both the Browns and the Indians have retired the number, the only number that shares that unique distinction. Unfortunately for Indians great Larry Doby, #14 adorned the jersey of one of the all-time greatest players in NFL history, Otto Graham. Doby actually deserves his own article, so I’m not going to rehash his remarkable career highlights here. Graham actually wore #60 for much of his career, but when the NFL standardized numbers in the manner we know today, Graham gave 60 to his good friend Bill Willis and took the only number in the teens that wasn’t already spoken for, #14.


Dan Wismar

This is one installment in a team effort by The Cleveland Fan, highlighting the top local sports figures by jersey number. Please weigh in with your thoughts on the Boards. And as David Letterman would say, “For entertainment purposes only; please, no wagering.”

FrankRyan2There are really just two serious candidates for top honors at #13 in our series...with all due respect to Felix Fermin. As it turns out, Fermin is due more respect than he is often afforded, having brought to Cleveland in trade one of the greatest shortstops in major league history, and one of the most popular Cleveland Indians of all time, Omar Vizquel. Still not enough to get Felix the Cat serious consideration in his own right.

On the other hand, there are dozens of reasons to decide on Vizquel as our choice at #13, not least the 11 Gold Gloves and the 2,877 hits, in a career that spanned four decades in the majors. He played his best years in our town, and he did it with flair, and a winning smile, and sometimes even with his bare hand. He made spectacular plays routinely, leaving us certain we had never seen anyone do it better. And yeah...I saw Ozzie Smith.

Vizquel3Vizquel’s greatness and his eventual Hall of Fame worthiness seem inarguable to those of us who watched him play every day, yet he still has his detractors. Consider though, that there are just two other players in major league history with more than 10 Gold Gloves and more than 2,850 career hits. Not two shortstops.Two  Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays.  Defense rests.   

Omar played in two World Series under the Wahoo cap, and paired up with Robbie Alomar (our choice for #12) to form perhaps the best double-play combination of all time. He played more games at shortstop than anyone else, and became the oldest player to ever man the position. And besides, he’s got his own website. But there’s one big thing he didn’t do that his chief competitor at #13 did manage to pull off. And that was to win a world championship for the city of Cleveland.


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