Levine: Let's Go Back to the Future

Like most of us, the Cleveland Browns run through Les Levine's life from childhood until now. Unlike most of us, Les got a chance to see Browns greats (like Ray Renfro, pictured) up close over the years, which has created some great memories. Here are some of Les' favorite Browns memories...

Nothing going on in Berea---let's go back to the future.

You could probably drive a truck through the halls of the Browns complex in Berea these days, and not hit a thing.   Almost everybody is on vacation, and Romeo Crennel's daughter picked a good time of the year to get married.  There is nothing new to report, so I thought I'd go back in time to remind myself of the good times that I have had in following this team, more as a fan, than as a member of the media.

My first memory of the Browns goes all the way back to League Park, where the Browns practiced in the early 50's.  My father served in the Army in World War II, but before being sent overseas, he was stationed at Fort Hays (not named after Woody) in Columbus with Morrie Kono, who became the Browns equipment manager when the war ended. 

For several years, my two brothers and I got to watch the Browns practice and then go into the locker room.  I remember seeing Hall of Famer Len Ford and thinking that nobody could be that big.  We would leave the locker room with an official ‘Duke' football (signed by Commissioner Bert Bell), along with autographs and t-shirts.  We weren't smart enough to realize the autographs of the several Hall of Famers in that room would be worth quite a bit some day.

My guess is that, since 1955, I haven't missed more than ten Browns games in person or on TV.  The majority of those missed games were due to traveling to do Kent State or Cleveland State basketball games.  My Uncle Sam (Levine), was known as Mr. Bowling in Cleveland in those early days.  He was the publisher of the Kegler, and created the first TV and radio bowling shows in the country, known as ‘Strikes & Spares'.  For some reason, that qualified him to receive either four press passes or tickets to each Browns home game, and we didn't mind using them, even if the availability of tickets didn't become known until the morning of the game (somehow we always counted on it).  In those days the press box consisted of several booths with curtains, and the Levines had their own private loge on the 45 yard line, before loges were invented.

There was no rhyme nor reason as to how I picked my favorite players.  Some were stars, some were not.  

In the 50's my favorite player was end (that's what they called them in those days) Ray ‘The Rabbit' Renfro out of North Texas State.  His real first name was Weldon, but I don't think anybody knew that.  Imagine my surprise when I was ‘trick or treating' in South Euclid, and Renfro answered the door.  He lived two streets away, and I didn't know.  There were several times that I remember playing catch with a friend (with the ‘Duke'), hoping against hope that ‘The Rabbit' would just happen to come out and run some post patterns with us.

In the 60's it was easy.  I loved watching Jim Brown play.  I heard stuff about him off the field, but I didn't care.  I could never get enough of his battles against Sam Huff and the New York Giants.  There was something special about watching those games on TV from Yankee Stadium. 

But my favorite Jim Brown play came in a game in the Cotton Bowl against the expansion Dallas Cowboys in the early 60's.  Contrary to popular opinion in Texas, the Cowboys weren't that popular in those days of the diminutive QB Eddie LeBaron.  The first four times the Browns played in Dallas, the attendance was lower than 30,000, although they drew over 76,000 in 1965.  I'm sure my memory is blurred over time, but Brown had a three-yard touchdown run, when he reversed his field twice, and all eleven defensive players had at least one shot at him.  When the play was over, Brown, who never let the opponent know he was hurt or tired, just sat down against the wall for several minutes.

I can't tell you why exactly, but Jerry Sherk was my favorite player of the 70's, as I started to figure out that defense was a fairly important part of the game.  And that was solidified by my choice in the 80's, ‘The Assassin' Eddie Johnson.  I got to know Eddie pretty well later on, as he and I did the radio/TV games of the Arena Football League Cleveland Thunderbolts.  In my 35 years in the business, I don't think I have ever laughed as hard as I did with Eddie.  My son, Jeremy, will tell you that one of the greatest and funniest weekends of his life was when he joined me and Eddie in Arizona.  The side trip to the Grand Canyon with Eddie was unbelievable.

The best part is that my son has great memories of this once-great franchise, too.  Unfortunately, most of them can be summarized with a negative word---‘Drive';  ‘Fumble', etc.  But, while I remember Ray Renfro and Jim Brown from my youth, he has vivid memories of ‘The Drive' game, knowing that the field goal was wide left.  I remember the 1964 Championship like it was yesterday, easily recalling the starting lineups, along with field goal holder Bobby Franklin, who then lost his job to Ralph ‘Catfish' Smith in1965. 

It would be nice if my 31-year old son could have a championship to remember and tell his kids about it.

‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen in northeastern Ohio M-F from 6-7pm with replays at 11pm on Adelphia Channel 15.  Contact Les via his website at www.leslevine.com

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