You'd have to go back decades to find the last time that an Ohio State alum made a significant impact for the Browns, a streak that Cleveland hopes to bring to an end with Tuesday's signing of free agent safety Donte Whitner. An alum of Cleveland Glenville who played at Ohio State from 2003-05, Whitner becomes the 42nd former Buckeye to join the Browns dating back to the franchise's inception in 1946.
The Paul Brown Era
The first of five consecutive league championship squads in Cleveland, the 1946 Browns featured seven Ohio State alums on their roster in their debut season. Guard George Cheroke, center Jim Daniell and fullback Gene Fekete played just one season each in Cleveland, while tackle-kicker Lou Groza, guard-linebacker Bill Willis, wide receiver Dante Lavelli and guard Lin Houston all endured the length of the Browns' five-year dynasty.
Groza had the most storied career with Cleveland, spending 21 seasons with the franchise including stints from 1946-59 and 1961-67. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Groza was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974 and his No. 76 jersey has since been retired by the Browns.
Willis also enjoyed a Hall of Fame career with the Browns, one that lasted from 1946-53. An All-Pro selection in each of his eight seasons in Cleveland, Willis was an undersized defensive lineman whose quick and powerful play heavily influenced the development of the modern linebacker position.
Joining Groza and Willis in Canton was Lavelli, whose standout career with the Browns lasted 11 seasons from 1946-56. The Hudson, Ohio native recorded 386 receptions over the span of his career, accumulating 6,488 yards and 62 receiving touchdowns.
Houston spent eight seasons with the Browns, developing a reputation as one of the franchise's top blockers. His relationship with Coach Brown dated back to his high school days playing under him at Massillon Washington High School, before he followed him to Ohio State, where he enjoyed an All-American career.
The 1947 season saw the Browns add three former Buckeyes to their roster, including linebacker-fullback Tony Adamle, running back Spiro Dellerba and guard Bob Gaudio. Adamle saw the most success of the three, making two Pro Bowls in his five-year career, while Dellerba lasted just one season in Cleveland and Gaudio spent four years pushing Houston for playing time at guard.
Defensive back Tommy James joined the Browns in 1948, as did running backs Dean Sensanbaugher and Ollie Cline. While the latter two played just one season with the Browns, James spent eight years in Cleveland, earning a trip to the 1953 Pro Bowl.
The 1949 season saw the Browns add another notable Buckeye in the form of Heisman Trophy winner Les Horvath. The former Ohio State star only spent one season in Cleveland, primarily playing on the defensive side of the ball, before opting to pursue a career in dentistry.
The Browns wouldn't add another former Buckeye to their roster until 1954, when running back Fred "Curly" Morrison was traded to Cleveland by the Chicago Bears. The Columbus, Ohio native spent three seasons with the Browns, accumulating 1,009 yards of total offense in 1955 en route to a Pro Bowl selection.
The Browns won the NFL championship in 1954, as well as in 1955, which saw Cleveland add former Ohio State fullback Pete Perini for his lone season with the squad.
One of two former Buckeyes on the Browns roster in 1957, John Borton became the first Cleveland quarterback to hail from Ohio State. The Massillon, Ohio native completed three of his six pass attempts in his only season with the Browns.
The Browns took Ohio State offensive tackle Dick Schafrath in the second round (23rd overall) of the 1959 draft and the Canton, Ohio native went on to enjoy 13 seasons with his home state squad. Schafrath was named a Pro Bowler six times during his career and retired as a four-time first-team All-Pro selection.
The brother of former Browns guard Lin Houston, Ohio State defensive end Jim Houston was selected by Cleveland with the eighth overall pick in the 1960 draft. The younger Houston spent 13 seasons with Browns, converting to linebacker where he was four-time Pro Bowl selection.
A fourth round selection by the Browns in the same year, former Buckeyes defensive end Jim Marshall played just one season in Cleveland before being traded to the Minnesota Vikings where he spent 19 of his 20 seasons in the NFL.
Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Howard "Hopalong" Cassady played in five games for the Browns in 1962, which was the same year that former Buckeyes linebacker Sam Tidmore began his two-year stint with the team. A 7–6–1 campaign led to owner Art Modell firing Paul Brown, replacing Cleveland's first head coach with longtime assistant Blanton Collier.
Cleveland's Last Championship
The Browns selected Paul Warfield with the 11th overall pick in the 1964 draft and the former Buckeye paid immediate dividends for Cleveland, catching 52 balls for 920 yards and nine touchdowns en route to an NFL championship. The 1983 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee spent six seasons with the Browns before being traded to the Miami Dolphins, but Warfield returned to Cleveland to cap his career with two seasons with the Browns from 1976-77.
Cleveland took Bo Scott in the third round (32nd overall) of the 1965 draft, but the former Buckeye didn't join the Browns until the 1969 season. In six years with the team, Scott rushed for a total of 2,124 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The Kardiac Kids
Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1970, defensive end Nick Roman became the first Ohio State alum to play for both of Ohio's NFL clubs when he joined the Browns in 1972. Roman spent three seasons in Cleveland before retiring following the 1974 season.
Former Ohio State guard Chuck Hutchinson joined the Browns in 1973 by way of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Canton native spent three seasons in Cleveland before retiring after the 1975 campaign.
The next former Ohio State player of significance to join the Browns came in 1974, when they acquired center Tom DeLeone from the Bengals. DeLeone spent 11 seasons in Cleveland, earning a pair of Pro Bowl selections.
The I-71 Connection Weakens
Ohio State great Tom Cousineau joined the Browns in 1982, spending four seasons in Cleveland before wrapping up his career with two years with the San Francisco 49ers. The Browns wouldn't add another Buckeye to their roster until 1986, when safety Ray Ellis and linebacker Anthony Griggs continued their 41-year stretch of possessing an OSU alum.
After Ellis played two seasons in Cleveland and Griggs played three, that streak finally came to an end when 1989 marked the first season that the Browns were without a Buckeye on their roster.
Cleveland went three seasons without an OSU alum on its roster before acquiring wide receiver Jamie Holland and quarterback Mike Tomczak in 1992. Each would only spend one season in Cleveland, but linebacker Pepper Johnson became the next former Buckeye to join the Browns, recording 282 tackles for the team from 1993-95.
Former Buckeyes punter and quarterback Tom Tupa came to Cleveland in 1994 and was in 1995 by first round pick Craig Powell. The first round selection and linebacker would only spend one season with the Browns, however, as the franchise relocated and became the Baltimore Ravens in 1996.
A Restored Franchise
The Browns returned to the league in 1999, adopting their old history and identity. The inaugural "new" Browns opened without any Buckeyes on their roster, although Chris Spielman was slated to play with the team before he suffered a career-ending injury in the 1999 preseason.
The first Ohio State alum to join the restored Browns came in 2001, when tight end Rickey Dudley recorded nine receptions for 115 yards in his lone season in Cleveland. Former Buckeye Darnell Sanders replaced Dudley at the Browns' tight end position in 2002, catching 15 balls for 118 yards and two touchdowns in his two years in Cleveland.
The Browns were without an Ohio State player on their roster in 2004 before Upper Arlington native Simon Fraser made the squad as an undrafted free agent in 2005. In three seasons with Cleveland, the former Buckeyes defensive end recorded 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Signing a lucrative free agent contract in 2006, 2001 Rimington Trophy winner LeCharles Bentley figured to be the first prominent OSU alum to join the new Browns, but a knee injury in his first preseason in Cleveland prematurely ended the center's career. The next former Buckeye to join the Browns came in 2009, when the team spent a second round pick on Brian Robiskie.
The former OSU wideout hardly made an impact in his 2.5 seasons in Cleveland, recording 39 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns cut Robiskie in the midst of the 2011 season and he's since spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons.
The Browns wouldn't acquire another former Buckeye until 2013, when they signed rookie offensive tackle Reid Fragel from the Bengals' practice squad. Despite being a member of Cleveland's official roster, Fragel is still yet to appear in his first game for the Browns.
That brings us to Whitner, a Pro Bowl selection in each of the past two seasons who signed a four-year, $28 million contract with the Browns on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether he'll make more of an impact for the team than any Buckeye has since the mid-1980s, but there's no denying that he's joining a very storied connection between the cities of Columbus and Cleveland.