William Green is already light years ahead of the Browns' very first draft pick. At least Green had heard of the Cleveland Browns when he was drafted. Ken Carpenter was Cleveland's historic first pick shortly after the Browns joined the National Football League from the old All-America Football Conference in 1950. His selection certainly was not ballyhooed by the media the way each and every draft-day thought is dissected today. Carpenter didn't even know he was picked.
"I got a letter in the mail one day from the Cleveland Browns," he said recently from his retirement home in Seaside, Ore., along the Pacific Ocean. "I didn't even know who the Cleveland Browns were. The letter said something like 'Congratulations, you have been selected to try out for our team.' It was signed by Paul Brown. I was pretty proud and excited by that, but didn't have any idea what to expect."
The Browns did. Unknown to Carpenter, who was a star halfback on both sides of the ball at Oregon State, glowing reports had been sent to pro teams about him.
"From what I understand, the coach at Oregon, not my coach, but the coach of our arch rivals, recommended me," Carpenter said. "I played in the East-West Shrine Game that year and one of those coaches, I don't remember his name now, came up to me and said pro teams were interested in me and asked if would I like to play pro ball. I had not really given it much thought, but said, yes, I'd give it a chance."
Carpenter still holds Oregon State's career "all-purpose" yardage record of 3,903 yards for rushing, receiving, punt and kickoff returns. Though never an All-America selection, he was an all-league pick in 1949, when he helped the Beavers to a 7-3 record and scored two touchdowns in a 47-27 win over Hawaii in the Pineapple Bowl. That was in the All-Coast League, predecessor to the Pacific Eight and now known as the Pac-10. His best game came earlier that season when he rushed for 184 yards and two TDs on 18 carries against Washington State.
He was inducted into the Oregon State Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
"I rode across the country with Jim Martin (who played throughout the 1950s with many teams, including Detroit and Baltimore) and didn't know what to expect at all," Carpenter said. "I saw one guy that I had played against in college and noticed how much he had grown. He had grown so much he couldn't fit through the door. He was huge. I said to myself, 'Boy, these pro ballplayers are like superhuman or something.'
"I wasn't scared or in awe or anything. I just liked to play football and was glad to get a tryout. I made friends with Dante Lavelli and Gunner Gatski, he was a good old guy from the south. They took me under their wing in practice. Dub Jones was my roommate in boot camp, I mean training camp. I was really impressed with everything he did. He was real talented."
Though most of his career was spent carrying the football, Carpenter yearned to be a defensive star.
"I had been a two-way player for four years at Oregon State and Cleveland actually drafted me to play defense," he said. "But Warren Lahr was the starter on my side in the defensive backfield and so I kind of backed him up on defense and played some halfback on offense. I liked defense more. You got to hit somebody rather than get hit."
He remembers his first training camp well and said that coach Brown never varied from that stringent routine.
"Paul Brown was quite the taskmaster, but he would let you go out and have a few beers after practice," Carpenter said. "He understood you needed to unwind. And boy, some of the guys loved to unwind. Brown didn't mind that.
"I remember at the end of training camp, Brown lined up all the rookies and said to go down to the team office and pick up our letters to see whether or not we made the team. I went down and got mine and it said congratulations, you are now a member of the Cleveland Browns. Some of the other guys were not as lucky. Some were crying. That was sad."
The longest play of his career was a 61-yard run during his rookie year. Another big play was a 54-yard punt return for a TD in 1952, when he was selected to play in the Pro Bowl. In addition to the one return for a score, he also had scored 11 touchdowns rushing and five receiving for the Browns in four years with the team -- during which the club went to the NFL Championship Game every season.
"I remember my first game at Cleveland Stadium," Carpenter said. "The thing that hit me was there were so many people. I come from a little logging camp town in Oregon. We didn't even have television or anything like that. It was quite a change for me. I had a very enjoyable time in Cleveland and made a lot of long-lasting friends.
"Lavelli will live forever. He was always a clean-cut kid who didn't do anything wrong.
"Otto Graham was great to me, too. After Cleveland, I went up to Canada and played there for six years, then coached some minor-league football. Otto took me to Washington as an assistant coach when he was head coach of the Redskins in the 1960s.
"What a leader he was. I'll tell you, when he went back to pass, you better believe everybody blocked for him. Paul Brown made sure of that, but we all did, too, because we all respected Otto so much."
After his career in football, Carpenter worked for a correctional facility in Indiana before retiring to his dream home on a remote Pacific Ocean seashore, about 20 miles from where he grew up.
"I was lucky to get a chance to be a pro football player," he said. "I played a lot of baseball and football growing up. I liked to pitch and I was pretty good, too. It just so happened that I got a tryout to play football at Oregon State and so I played football. It wasn't like it is now. You played for fun. You played hard, you worked hard, but it wasn't anything close to all the stuff that goes on now.
"I still follow the game very much. I watch as many games as I can and am still a Browns fan. I will always be a Browns fan, it will never leave me. I had the time of my life there."