Rich's Rant: Shortchanging a Great

You may like Rich Passan and his Rants. You may, well, not like them. There's little doubt, though, that our occasionally cranky columnist knows his Browns history. There's some recent evidence that perhaps few fans could benefit Rich's continuing lecture series. This one could be titled "How to Avoid Dissing a Hall of Famer".

Time for a history lesson.

This one is aimed at that increasingly growing segment of Browns fans who have no clue that the team  (a) existed before 1970 and (b) has been in business since 1946 (with, of course, the exception of those three forgettable years in the late 1990s).

And if they do know that's the case, they need a refresher course.

So for those of you who remember the names Otto Graham, Lou Groza, Dante Lavelli, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Mac Speedie, et al, and know their significance in Browns history, feel free to read along and reminisce.

If you don't remember, listen up.

In order to know where you're going, you have to know where you've been. That applies to fans, as well as players.

There has unfortunately been somewhat of a disconnect with the ancient history of the Cleveland Browns. It was demonstrated in a recent poll on the club's Web site.

In response to the question "Who's your favorite all-time Cleveland Brown who played at Michigan?" running back Leroy Hoard won, trailed by current wide receiver Braylon Edwards, safety Thom Darden, center Steve Everitt and defensive end Len Ford.

Hoard was, at best, a mediocre running back who had trouble holding on to the ball. Edwards, too young and inexperienced to be even considered in this poll, is a question mark at this time. He might turn out to be a stud, but he didn't even play a full rookie season due to injuries.

Darden was arguably the best safety ever to wear Seal Brown and Orange. And Everitt, a nice guy and a hell of a painter, played with the Browns for only three seasons before moving on to Baltimore. He's best remembered as the guy who played for the Ravens with a Browns T-short underneath his uniform, endearing him to many fans.

Ford, the best defensive end in the club's history (there's no room for argument on that one), received less than three percent of the more than 6,000 votes. One of the best players in the team's history polled fewer than three percent.

That's embarrassing.

Lenny Ford is a Hall of Famer, folks. He's one of 15 Browns in the Hall of Fame. And yet he brings up the rear in a fans poll.

Why? Disconnect.

Some people, notably those under the age of 40 who call themselves fans, could not care less about the past.

Most Browns fans today either don't want to know about the days when Browns football was called "The Greatest Show in Football" or they just don't care.

Who cares about the past? It's gone. Let's move on.

No. It's never gone. It is to be remembered. It must be remembered.

Especially players like Leonard G. Ford Jr.

Read now about the man who received less than three percent of the vote.

Ford, who played at Morgan State and Michigan, was a two-way end for the Los Angeles Dons of the old All-America Football Conference, the league the Browns dominated in its four-year existence from 1946 to 1949.

He used his 6-4, 245-pound body and huge hands to become a force on offense and his quickness and strength to play just even better on defense.

He caught the eye of Browns coach Paul Brown and when the AAFC folded following the 1949 season, Brown quickly picked him up from a special draft pool.

Brown did not need Ford on offense with Lavelli and Speedie at the ends. But he realized the big guy could be a difference maker on defense and turned him loose against opposing quarterbacks.

Ford's uncanny ability to rush the quarterback, which made him virtually impossible to stop, was the catalyst in Brown changing the way the game was played defensively. His ability to create havoc in the opposing team's backfield enabled Brown to alter his defensive front.

The coach took the middle guard in the 5-2 alignment, stood him up a yard or two behind the line of scrimmage, giving birth to the middle linebacker and the 4-3 defense. The move was made to place Ford closer to the quarterback and in position to do what he did so well: Get up close and very personal with opposing passers.

We can't quote statistics on how many sacks or pressures Ford had. We'll never know because those stats didn't come into existence until the 1970s.

But there are those who played with him and against him who will tell you that Ford made life miserable for opposing offenses; that his relentless style of play wore down the opposition. He was a game-changer.

The Washington, D.C. native received the respect from his peers, who rewarded him with four Pro Bowl appearances, and from the media, who selected him to the All-NFL first team four times and the second team on three other occasions.

Ford was a tough dude, too.

In his first season with the Browns in 1950, a well-placed elbow by Chicago Cardinals fullback Pat Harder broke both of Ford's cheekbones, fractured his nose and knocked out several teeth in the eighth game of the season.

It was thought he was gone for the season. But after plastic surgery and rehab, he was fitted with a special facemask to protect the injuries and returned to play in the championship-game victory against the Los Angeles Rams.

With Ford and Willis heading the defense, the Browns allowed the fewest points in the National Football league in six of his seven seasons with the team.

Ford, who played for the Browns through 1957, retired in 1958 after playing a year in Green Bay.

He died of a heart attack in March of 1972. Four years later, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

That's who Lenny Ford was.

Now don't forget it.

Next time a similar poll comes up and one of the nominees is an old-timer, do a little homework and check him out. You might be shortchanging a Hall of Famer.

Class dismissed.

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