Cleveland’s less-than-spectacular history with the NFL Draft

By Marc Katz

This draft thing the NFL held recently.

Plenty of beer and popcorn, a comfortable seat at an indoor stadium without a ride through snow and cold to get home.

Oh, and nobody loses because it’s only some self-appointed analyst handing out grades, not wins and losses.

What you do in April may be good TV, but it doesn’t always translate to September.

It’s sort of like government.

I mean, just look at the history of this thing. Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft choice, and Joe Montana went in the third round.

Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell…ah, how many quarterbacks who didn’t do well do you want me to name?

In sports, like any other profession, finding franchise employees is difficult.

That’s why there’s so much uncertainty about Baker Mayfield, the next “great” quarterback of the Browns, a franchise that has been through this before.

I give you Brandon Weeden in 2012.

Then there’s Johnny Manziel in 2014.

I promised myself I was not going to bring up Brady Quinn (2007) or Tim Couch (1999).

I lied.

Unfortunately, this has been going on almost since the Browns became part of the draft in 1950, so we’re talking multiple ownerships, general managers and coaches.

One of the finest coaches and decision-makers of all time was Paul Brown, who in 1952 chose Harry Agganis of Boston University as the 12th pick in the first round.

Not only did Agganis snub the Browns and sign with baseball’s Boston Red Sox, within three years, Agganis, only 26, died of a pulmonary embolism in 1955.

But that’s not the guy I want to tell you about.

In 1954, with sensational quarterback Otto Graham (10 years a pro, 10 championship games, seven championships) a year away from retirement, the Browns were part of a four-team lottery to pick No. 1 in the draft. The league used a hat for this, and folded notebook paper.

The Browns won the draft, and took Stanford All-American Bobby Garrett.

Yes, I know. Maybe Paul Brown’s son, Mike, just entering college, was helping him with that draft.

Much later, Mike Brown presided over Cincinnati Bengals’ drafts that secured David Klingler (1992) and Akili Smith (1999) in the first round.

I’m not sure if I’m more surprised Garrett was the No. 1 pick or that Paul Brown was part of the brain trust that picked him.

Obviously I never saw Garrett play (oh, yeah, I could have, but limited television and televised games prevented it), so it’s hard to separate the actual history from revisionist history here.

However, Garrett was considered the nation’s best passer at a time before Mel Kiper made it more important for a team to draft well than play well. Garrett also kicked, punted and played safety as all the best players of that day multi-tasked.

In 2012, 1957 Stanford grad and former Browns defensive end told Stanford Magazine, “What (Andrew) Luck is to Stanford now, Garrett was then. When he had the ball with even a little bit of time and you were down, you knew you could score.”

What you apparently didn’t know at that time was everything else.

The messy details were that Garrett was in Air Force ROTC, necessitating he spend two years in the service. Brown engineered a trade with Green Bay to send Garrett there in favor of Babe Parilli, who was also in the service and would not be available until 1956.

Parilli had little success trying to replace Graham and was traded back to Green Bay— for Garrett, in 1957.

Now Paul Brown was faced with something he apparently didn’t know. Garrett stuttered, which sometimes became pronounced when he called plays in the huddle.

Brown was said to treat Garrett poorly over this handicap and others, although observers noted Garrett didn’t seem to have a stuttering problem when he was playing for Stanford.

Regardless, Garrett hatched a plan. He would accompany the Browns to their week-four pre-season game to Los Angeles, where he told Brown he wasn’t going to be with the team on the way back. He was staying in California to work in his father’s real estate business and later worked for Sears Roebuck.

The Browns traded in 1962 for Frank Ryan of the Rams, who drafted and signed Roman Gabriel as what we would now call their “franchise” quarterback.

Ryan led the Browns to their last NFL championship, in 1964, and lost to Green Bay in the 1965 championship game.

Gabriel did not become a franchise quarterback.

Garrett died of a heart attack in 1987.

The Browns next drafted a quarterback in the first round in 1970. It was Mike Phipps.

Another long story.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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