The name of former Browns wide receiver Gary Collins came up Monday night at the Akron Browns Backers annual banquet at the Tangiers Restaurant. During a Q & A session, Vince Costello, the group’s Alumnus of the Year, was asked why Gary Collins is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Costello, of course, has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame, but the question was absolutely legitimate.
Collins, a wide receiver with the Browns from 1962-71, made all-pro twice and was picked for the Pro Bowl in two other years. Keep in mind that he also was the punter for six seasons and in 1965 led the league in punting with a 46.7 yard average. He was named the outstanding player in the 1964 NFL championship game when he caught three touchdown passes from Frank Ryan in the 27-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts.
Collins and Paul Warfield, who already is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, gave the Browns the best pass-catching tandem in the league at that time.
At the same time, Browns left tackle Dick Schafrath (1960-71) made all-pro twice and played in six pro bowls. Earlier this spring I met with a man who wants to start a campaign to nominate Schafrath for the Hall of Fame and there is some justification for such an effort.
With Collins and Schafrath, the Browns won one NFL championship and played in the league championship game three other times. It should be acknowledged that those Browns also featured such Hall of Famers as Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Gene Hickerson and Warfield. The Browns were a juggernaut in the 1960s.
In the 1970s Jerry Sherk had a spectacular decade as a Browns defensive tackle (1970-81). Sherk’s cat-like quickness was honed as a NCAA champion heavyweight wrestler at Oklahoma State. Jerry made all-pro in 1976 and was chosen for four straight Pro Bowls from 1974 to 1977. Jerry was still at the top of his game when he picked up a staff infection on the germ-ridden turf of Buffalo’s Rich Stadium and almost lost his leg. After a lengthy recuperation he never played again.
I have another favorite who deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s Bob Gain, the defensive tackle (1952, 1954-63) who made five pro bowls. He broke his leg in the 1964 pre-season and never played again. Several years ago I mentioned this to the spokesman for the Hall of Fame and he said, “Bob Gain falls in the category of the very good, but not great.”
But there were extenuating circumstances. Bob Gain missed the entire 1953 season and parts of the next season for an entirely different reason — the Korean War. Bob was a ROTC second lieutenant in the Air Force when he graduated from Kentucky, where he played for the legendary Bear Bryant. He was called to active duty for two years. The Air Force gave him weekend passes to play with the Browns during the 1952 campaign, but he was stationed in Korea during the ’53 campaign. All of this was not unusual at that time, when almost everybody had to serve two years in the armed forces.
Well, Bob Gain did his two years when he should have been earning his stripes in the NFL.
One other thing. Knowing that I would be with Vince Costello at the Akron banquet, a man remarked that if Costello had played middle linebacker for the New York Giants instead of the Browns, he would have been in the Hall of Fame and Sam Huff would not. I’ll buy that.
There is a sad reality to all of this. Because of events of the last 20 years, the Browns have fallen off the national football radar screen. Their glory days belong to antiquity. Outside of northeastern Ohio, hardly anyone remembers when the Browns were good.
That’s all for now. Happy Memorial Day. Sunday I’ll be planted in front of the TV for the Indianapolis 500 and Sunday evening from 6-8 I’ll sign books at the Irish American Club in Olmsted Township with Michael Heaton, the Irish poet John O’Brien and George Condon’s daughter Susan Condon Love.