The Owl: History Repeats (Hopefully)

It has been said that ignoring history dooms us to repeat it. Perhaps "doom" is the wrong word. The Owl has found a point in Browns history that might resemble the present for one new Browns player... and hopefully does...

This column is about the inexact science of drafting college football players and why no one should write off Jerome Harrison just because the Browns didn't get around to drafting the running back from Washington State until the fifth round.

Baby boomers - and sons and daughters of baby boomers - be honest. Did you know prior to 1964 that a college named Morgan State even existed?

Morgan State is the alma mater of the Browns' greatest running back since Jim Brown - Leroy Kelly. The Browns didn't get around to taking him until the eighth round in 1964. It was the same year they drafted Paul Warfield in the first round. They also drafted Billy Truax, Don Shackleford, Richard Klein and Sammy Odoms before taking Kelly.

Unlike the present day NFL, if a drafted player was no good he got cut. Truax, Shackleford, Klein and Odoms never played in a regular season game for the Browns.

The draft in 1964 was nothing like it is today. ESPN did not exist, and there was virtually no national coverage of what is now second only to the Super Bowl as a spectacle for the National Football League.

Kelly didn't even realize he had been drafted until 24 hours later when a friend told him he had seen Kelly's name in the newspaper while reading a list of players that had been selected.

"I knew the Browns were interested, but I didn't know it until I was going to my room the next day and my friend told me about it," Kelly said from his home in Willingboro N.J., a Philadelphia suburb. "I thought he was kidding, because I wasn't drafted by the American Football League in their draft two weeks earlier.

"Then the Browns' head scout, Paul Bixler, got in touch with me. He and my coach Earl Banks and I got together for dinner and discussed the whole situation."

Kelly found four other running backs in Hiram when he arrived for his first training camp – Jim Brown, Ernie Green, Charlie Scales and Kenny Webb. Coach Blanton Collier would keep four and Green, Brown and Scales had jobs secured. In the end, Webb made it easy because he balked at the money the Browns offered, so he was cut.

"Jim kind of sat back and assessed the rookies," Kelly said. "If he knew you could possibly help the team, he started talking to you. He assessed that early in camp.

"One night he came to Walter Roberts and me and asked if we wanted to go for a ride with him. He took us to an ice cream stand in a little city outside of Hiram. We did some talking, so we knew he thought we were capable of making the team."

No one knew in 1964 that Brown would play only two more seasons. Kelly carried only six times for 12 yards as a rookie, but he was lethal as a punt and kick returner. He averaged 19 yards on nine punt returns and 24.3 yards a kick return while sharing duties with Roberts, better known as "The Flea."

Kelly did not see a lot of action offensively in the 1964 championship game against the Colts. Obviously with the final score 27-0 Browns, the Colts kicked off only once. Roberts returned the ball 21 yards. Roberts' 13-yard return was the only punt return of game for the Browns.

Brown, however, praised Kelly for his kick and punt coverage in the championship game. Linebacker Jim Houston said the Browns would not have played for the title without Kelly as a punt returner.

"We had an exceptional performance by all the players in the championship game," Houston said. "We took it within ourselves to do the job. But, in order to get us there, the team concept, forget about it, because there was one guy, as far as I'm concerned, that put us there, and that was Leroy Kelly.

"I only say that because football is field position. Every time Leroy caught the ball he was 110 miles an hour. He always put us in field position. That's what made our success in 1964."

Harrison will not return punts or kicks for the Browns in 2006. Those jobs belong to Dennis Northcutt and Joshua Cribbs respectively.

But Harrison is entering the NFL with something to prove, just as Kelly did, and he is starting behind a proven runner (Reuben Droughns) just as Kelly did.

For Browns fans, this would be a great time for history to repeat itself. After that slow start of 12 yards rushing on six carries as a rookie, Kelly rushed for 7,262 yards in the next nine seasons on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


The OBR Top Stories