By Roger Gordon
When Clarence Scott received a phone call from Art Modell and was told he had been chosen by the Browns as the 14th overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft, he was ecstatic. Sure, he was thrilled to have been chosen at all, even more so to have been taken that high. But Scott was on cloud nine because the Browns were his favorite team. He grew up not in Cleveland, nor in Northeast Ohio … nor in Ohio! He was born and raised in Decatur, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb.
“I was a Cleveland Browns fan from the time I was a boy,” said Scott, a defensive back for Cleveland from 1971–83. “There were no Atlanta Falcons, no Miami Dolphins, no New Orleans Saints, no Carolina Panthers, no Jacksonville Jaguars at the time, so on Sundays we got on television NFL games involving the Browns, Baltimore Colts, Washington Redskins and New York Giants. The Browns were my favorite team because Jim Brown was my favorite player. I wanted to be a Cleveland Brown from sixth grade on.”
Scott recalled leaving church early one afternoon in late December 1964 when he was 15 years old.
“I can remember whispering to my mother, ‘I’ve got to get out of here and go home and watch the Cleveland Browns play the Baltimore Colts in the NFL Championship Game. It starts at one o’clock.’ And that’s what I did.”
That day, Scott enjoyed himself tremendously. His favorite team put on an iconic performance as it shocked the heavily-favored visitors from Baltimore 27–0, still the last major professional sports title for a Cleveland team.
Some six years later Scott was almost speechless when Modell, the late ex-Browns’ owner, phoned him at his dorm on the Kansas State University campus.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “I was just elated.”
Although the Falcons had just finished their fifth season by the time of the ’71 Draft, Scott did not feel any real connection with his hometown entry in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t have had a problem with being drafted by the Falcons,” he said, “but the Browns were my first choice.”
Scott’s long road to Browns Town began when he was born on April 9, 1949. He gained an interest in athletics when he was very young. He played football, baseball and basketball with the other neighborhood boys in backyards, on playgrounds and in schoolyards.
“Football was always my favorite,” he said.
Organized sports in Decatur did not begin until the eighth grade, which was also the start of high school there. Scott, though, did not begin playing organized sports until he was a sophomore.
“At the beginning of my sixth-grade year,” he explained, “the kids who wanted to join the band for training to be in the marching band in high school would go down to the band room at the high school and meet the band director and hear a message from him. And I did that because I was the kind of guy who would play in the band. When I came home from the meeting, I told my mother I was going to be in the band and that we needed to order a trumpet for me. Then one of my buddies who knew how much I liked football and knew how good I was at it told me, ‘Well, if you’re gonna be in the band, it’s gonna be a problem for you playing football because the band and the football team perform at the same time.’
“I hadn’t thought about that. It hadn’t crossed my mind. I was only in the sixth grade, and you couldn’t play football until high school in the eighth grade. But I knew, even as a sixth grader, that football was my priority. So I came home and told my mother to forget about that trumpet. And she’d tell you that she never heard me talk about a trumpet again. Once that buddy of mine told me I wouldn’t be able to play football because it operates at the same time the band operates, that closed the door. My dream of being the next Louie Armstrong … that door was closed.”
Get more out of your subscription in the OBR forums!
The TAP Room
Ask the Insiders
The Fast Lane
Why did Scott, who had two younger sisters, wait until the 10th grade to try out for the football team when he could have tried out in the eighth grade?
“I didn’t know if I was ready or if I was big enough,” he said. “By my sophomore year I just knew it was time.”
Scott, whose father was a truck driver and whose mother’s family owned a beauty salon, attended Trinity High School, one of two high schools in Decatur at the time.
“It was during the segregation era,” he said. “Trinity was the all-black school. Decatur High was the all-white school. My family moved to Atlanta before my ninth-grade year, but because of urban renewal I was allowed to stay at Trinity. We were just across the Decatur line, so it was only about three or four miles away from where we lived before anyway.”
As a sophomore, Scott did not start but received considerable playing time at wide receiver and cornerback. He started at the same two positions his last two years. He was All-State at receiver as a junior in helping the Bulldogs to a 13–0 record and the black-school Class A (small schools) state championship.
“Our quarterback that year was Jack Pitts, a senior who went on to Michigan State but got injured his freshman year,” said Scott, who also was the starting shooting guard on the basketball team as a junior and senior. “Because of Jack, colleges that had never been to Decatur started showing up.”
As a side note, Trinity and Decatur merged prior to the 1967–68 school year, and two years ago the athletic director, a Trinity graduate, decided it was time to present the 1965 Trinity team with title rings. Yes, Scott and his teammates had to wait 48 years – 48 years! – to receive state championship rings. Trinity was such a poor school in the mid–1960s that it simply could not afford them.
“We got jackets but not rings back then,” Scott said.
A year prior to receiving his championship ring, Scott was inducted into the Decatur High School Athletics Hall of Fame.
As a senior, Scott again was All-State at receiver. Scholarship offers descended on him that year – for basketball, too, but from small local colleges. Besides Kansas State, other schools offering him full rides for football included Wake Forest, Northwestern and Michigan State. It came down to Kansas State and Michigan State.
“My high school coach wanted me to go to Kansas State,” he said. “He told me, ‘If you go there you’ll open up another door for guys behind you.’ Then the Kansas State coaches told me, ‘If you come to Kansas State, we’ve got a quarterback here named Lynn Dickey (who was in the same recruiting class as Scott and who went on to enjoy a solid 13-year NFL career with the Oilers and Packers). He’s 6–4 and 200 pounds, he’s got a strong arm who’s breaking all the records in Kansas high school football and he’s gonna be throwin’ you the ball.’ So I said, ‘Okay, great.’”
Thus Scott wound up in Manhattan, Kansas. When he arrived there in the summer of 1967, however, he was penciled in at left cornerback.
“I never played one single down at receiver in four years at Kansas State,” he said. “I started at cornerback all four years.”
Scott never complained, though.
“I got my scholarship and I was going to get to go to school,” he said. “I was happy!”
While Scott was honing his craft on the Wildcats’ freshman team, the big boys won just one game. In fact, Kansas State had posted just a 1–28–1 combined record during that season and the previous two.
“We won four games my sophomore year, five games my junior year and six games my senior year. We turned the program around,” said Scott. “In fact, my sophomore year we beat Nebraska at Lincoln! That was unheard of!”
The 12–0 victory was Kansas State’s first win over the Cornhuskers in nine years. The next season, in 1969, Scott and his teammates defeated Oklahoma, another perennial Big Eight power, K-State’s first victory over the Sooners since 1934! KSU beat Oklahoma again in 1970, a year in which its 6–5 record was the program’s first winning season in 16 years! Also that season, Scott, who totaled a dozen interceptions in his college career, became the first Kansas State All-American in two decades! His 40-yard dash time of 4.5 was not overly impressive, but his football “smarts” impressed the Browns enough to take him as high as they did in the ’71 Draft.
“I just knew how to play football. I had the instincts to play,” he said.
Browns fans, however, were more than a little disappointed that in the Draft their team passed on Ohio State’s Jack Tatum in favor of Scott, who was more than a few credits shy of graduating but returned to Kansas State to earn his degree in social science during his first two off-seasons with the Browns.
“Cleveland fans didn’t know who I was,” Scott said. “The Browns needed a cornerback, though. Tatum was a safety. Erich Barnes was in his last year, and I replaced him. So when I ran out onto the field before our only preseason home game, the fans booed. I wasn’t upset about it either. I understood. Tatum was from Ohio State, and I was from Kansas State.”
Two weeks later in the season opener at home against Houston, Scott put a stop to the booing by intercepting two passes that helped the Browns to a 31–0 victory. The 6-foot, 190-pound Scott was the team’s starting left cornerback from that very first game. He was not spectacular as a rookie, but he was solid enough that Modell approached him in the locker room of Municipal Stadium the day after Christmas that season following a 20–3 playoff loss to Baltimore.
“He said, ‘You’re going to be here a long time,’ and I said, ‘Thank you, sir, I appreciate that.’ And I was there a long time.”
Scott, who played sparingly on the special teams early in his career, was spectacular in his second year. It was the only season that he was shut out in terms of interceptions, but he still made the UPI All-AFC Second Team. He dislocated his right thumb in the season opener that year but missed not a single game, including a heartbreaking 20–14 defeat to the undefeated, soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion Miami Dolphins in a divisional playoff at the Orange Bowl.
“They popped it back into place and it was never a problem again,” he said.
Although the Browns missed the playoffs in 1973, Scott played so well that he earned All-AFC First-Team acclaim by UPI and a Pro Bowl berth. His team-leading five interceptions were a career high. That year, he made a memorable play on a Monday night in mid-October at home against the Dolphins.
“Mercury Morris broke free for a long run and I caught him before he got to the end zone,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I was faster than Mercury Morris, but I made football plays and did whatever it took to do that.”
Another defensive gem by Scott occurred on Thanksgiving weekend in 1980 when he intercepted a Ken Stabler pass deep in Browns territory late in the game that sealed a 17–14 upset of Houston in a battle for the AFC Central Division lead at the Astrodome. The win incited a near-riot, as an estimated 15,000 fans – who caused thousands of dollars worth of damage – greeted the victors at Hopkins Airport upon the team’s near-midnight arrival that evening. Although that Kardiac Kids’ two-year run ended in heartbreak with the Red Right 88 loss to the Oakland Raiders about a month later, Scott will never forget the ride.
“They made songs about us. It was great. It was a beautiful run,” he said.
Scott was switched to strong safety in 1981 and led the Browns with four interceptions despite a disappointing season that saw the team tumble to a 5–11 last-place finish. He called it quits after the 1983 season in which the Browns finished 9–7 and barely missed the playoffs. He totaled 39 interceptions in his career, third most in team history, two of which resulted in pick sixes – a 45-yarder against the Colts in 1973 and a 49-yarder against the Oilers in 1977. Scott’s lone postseason theft came against the Los Angeles Raiders on Jan. 8, 1983. He also returned a blocked punt 55 yards for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in 1972.
Scott opened a travel agency in Atlanta that he ran for six years before partnering in a cleaning company for almost two decades. For the last six years, he has been an independent contractor for an energy company. He and his wife of 16 years, Eleanor, live in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain. Scott has three grown children from a previous marriage, one son and two daughters, and three grandchildren. As for hobbies, Clarence and Eleanor like to travel, and Clarence enjoys working out and playing basketball.
“Half court, though,” he confessed.
Although Scott has understandably developed a fondness over the years for the Falcons, his hometown team, the Browns are still number one in his heart.
“I was there when they beat the Falcons last season,” he said. “The only time I don’t root for the Falcons is when they play the Browns.”
Scott, who on Sept. 5 will be inducted into the K-State Football Ring of Honor, returns to Cleveland on occasion and even attends Browns home games on some visits.
“In fact, for one game Thom Darden and I were honorary co-captains,” he said proudly.
Like Browns fans themselves, Scott, a 2012 Browns Legends inductee, can only hope that good days lie ahead.
“You’ve just got to have the right people in the right places who know what to do and how to do it,” he said. “Once they get that in place, it’ll happen.”
Scott said his entire life has been a dream come true.
“My heart’s desire was to be a Cleveland Brown,” he said. “What were the chances of me being drafted by the Browns? Even being available? Or even that they’d want me? Everything that’s happened to me has been because God has said, ‘This is what you want and I’m willing to give it to you,’ and I have no complaints. The only thing I ever wanted to do was to be a football player … and to be a football player for the Browns. And I did that. So that, in and of itself, has provided me with just a wonderful life. My connection and contact with the Browns and their fans, and everything about them both, have been a big part of it.
“I’m glad to have lived the life of a Cleveland Brown.”