Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dante Lavelli

Browns great Dante Lavelli died on Tuesday at the age of 85. A big part of the Brown’s football dynasty of the 1950’s, he was before my time. He was a part of the reason that Cleveland, first and foremost, is a Brown’s town and the fans here are some of the most loyal in the country despite decades of futility. Somehow, in our collective subconscious, we still see ourselves as that great city with those great teams, even though that era ended over 40 years ago. I guess our grandfathers told our fathers who told us that the Browns are a great team, a great franchise that is just going through a rough patch. We will, because we did before, and deserve to again be a force in professional football.

There aren’t many players left from those long ago teams that ruled the AAFL and were a force after the AAFL and NFL merged in 1946. There have been some things written about Lavelli in Cleveland, but I don’t think there has been much said on a national stage. I guess it would be hard for the passing of one of football’s all time greats to muscle in on ESPN’s coverage of Brady’s knee, Romo’s leadership, McGwire’s steroids, and the possibility of Stephon Marbury playing in Greece.

So, I take it upon myself to inform the privileged few who read this ridiculous blog, of the Great Dante Lavelli, who along with Otto Graham, Mac Speedie, Marion Motley, Lou Groza, and (of course) Paul Brown changed the course of the NFL and the way it was played. I’m not a sports writer. Others have written about Lavelli much better than I can. What I can do, however, is provide a list of factoids, accomplishments, and other interesting things that you may not have known about this great man.

The best thing you could do would be to skip my post and read this and this.

Lavelli was born in Hudson Ohio in 1923. The reason he ended up on the Browns was that he played at Ohio State for Paul Brown in 1941. He only played in 3 games before being injured.
  • He fought with the US Army in the Battle of the Bulge
  • He returned to Ohio State after his service and was chosen Ohio State Campus King. His Queen was Jean Peters.
    • Paul Brown said that Lavelli’s hands had a “liquid softness” and he had a reputation for catching every thing near him. His nickname was “gluefingers”. Basically, he was Bizarro Braylon, or the Anti-Edwards.
    • He was the starting right end for the Brown’s from their first season in 1946 until he retired in 1956. The Browns won 7 championships in those 11 seasons. All 4 AAFL championships and 3 more NFL championships after the NFL absorbed 3 teams starting in 1950. If only they had called the damn thing the Super Bowl back then, maybe we wouldn’t have such an inferiority complex now.
    • Lavelli figured prominently in the Brown’s winning 3 games in 1 week in 1948, still the only team to ever do so (of course I doubt many other teams have ever played 3 games in a week).

    • When the Brown’s beat the Rams to win the Championship in their first year in the NFL, Lavelli caught 11 passes for 128 yards.
    • Lavelli was induced into the Hall of Fame in 1975
    • Lavelli was one of the players who helped unionize in 1956 and the union’s first meeting took place in his house in Rocky River, a Cleveland suburb. The union’s goals were meal money on trips, minimum pay, a pension plan, and of course vigorous defense of and the filing of many grievances on the behalf of Pacman Jones and TO.
    • Lavelli shot his age in golf in his 70s. (Plaxico Burress shot his leg in a nightclub)

    • Lavelli is second in club history (to Ozzie Newsome) in receptions and receiving yards. He’s second in TD catches to Gary Collins.
    • Lavelli was NOT a fan of Art Modell.

    If you’ve finished this, maybe you know a little bit more about a great player who is worth knowing a little more about.

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