The best NFL player from Cleveland when combining ability and significance.
Cleveland is up next in this 4-part series of the greatest athletes from each of the four AFC North cities. If you need the rules again, click here. Thanks to Uncle Drew for your assist on Cleveland’s #1 athlete. One item of note: the NFL in the 1970s was filled with contributors from Cleveland (five Hall-of-Famers, including three on the all-decade team). Enjoy.
10.Bobby Rahal (Auto Racing) – 3 Indy Car World Series championships, which seems pretty dominant. He could be higher but I know little about the sport.
9. Stephen Curry (NBA) – MVP, NBA championship, NCAA scoring champion (2009), 2 NCAA records for 3-pointers (freshman and season). Yes its early in his career, but folks are already anointing Steph the best shooter in NBA history, and he only seems to be getting better.
8. Paul Warfield (NFL) – 1 NFL championship, 2 Super Bowls, NFL 1970s all-decade team. He is still 4th all-time on NFL’s yards per catch list, and played on the Browns’ last championship team.
7. Dan Dierdorf (NFL) – 3 consecutive NFL lineman of the year awards, 1970s NFL all-decade team. Before people disliked him as an NFL commentator (now retired, and calls University of Michigan games on the radio), he was one of the best offensive linemen in the business, and arguably the best right tackle in his era. He did not give up a single sack in 1976 and 1977.
6. Len Dawson (AFL, NFL) – League MVP, 3 championships including 1 Super Bowl, NFL Man of The Year, record for most seasons leading the league in completion percentage (for what that’s worth). Tough to figure out where he and others in this group of NFLers (5 through 8) should be ranked.
5. Larry Csonka (NFL) – 1973 “Super Athlete of the Year”, Super Bowl MVP, 2 Super Bowls. His numbers may have suffered due to the tandem nature of the Dolphins running game, but his legend didn’t as he constantly dragged would-be tacklers down the field, and broke his nose a dozen times.
4. Jack Lambert (NFL) – NFL defensive rookie of the year, 1976 NFL defensive player of the year, 1983 NEA defensive player of the year, 4 time Super Bowl champion, 1970s and 1980s NFL all-decade team. Despite playing for the city’s arch rivals, Browns fans can claim this NFL great as one of their own.
3. Marion Motley (AAFC, NFL) – 2 time leading rusher, 5 time AAFC and NFL champion, 75th anniversary all-time team, football’s all-time yards per carry leader (5.7). Marion grew up right on the edge of the Browns’ 50 mile barrier in Canton, but we will let that slide. Speaking of barriers, he helped bust through football’s color barrier a year before Jackie Robinson did it for baseball. Sadly, he couldn’t do the same when he tried to become a coach. His records above are for his running ability, but he was known as a deadly pass blocker, and also played linebacker. His career didn’t start until he was 26 years old due to his war commitments, and ended early due to knee issues, but he is still considered one of the all-time greats.
2. LeBron James (NBA) – 4 time MVP, 2 finals, 2 finals MVPs, 20th on NBA’s scoring list (at age 30). James will go down as one of NBA’s best all-time players if he retired today. Fortunately for Cleveland, he will be around for at least the rest of this decade. Under his current pace, in 5 years, he will be the 3rd all-time scorer, 7th all-time in assists, top 10 in steals, and a few years away from cracking the top 25 in rebounds.
1. Jesse Owens (Track and Field) – 4 Olympic gold metals, set 2 Olympic individual records and 1 relay world record, won 4 NCAA individual gold medals before the Olympics (a record that still stands today), and set 3 world records and tied another in what is called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport” while at Ohio State. Leading up to the Olympics, Jesse competed in 42 events, and won all 42. Add these accomplishments to the politics surrounding the Olympics in Hitler’s Berlin, Germany, and you have yourself the greatest athlete and clutch athlete from Cleveland, or arguably anywhere else.