By: Steve King, Contributor to ClevelandBrowns.com
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It was one of the saddest offseasons in Browns history, if not in the history of the entire NFL.
In a span of only six months, three Browns players lost their lives.
On Jan. 18, 1963, Tom Bloom, a running back from Purdue who was the last of the team’s two sixth-round picks in that year’s NFL Draft, was killed in a car accident in the western portion of Ohio.
Four months later, on May 18, running back Ernie Davis died of leukemia. The first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy while at Syracuse in 1961, he was the No. 1 overall draft choice in 1962 by the Washington Redskins and then acquired by the Browns in a blockbuster trade involving Pro Football Hall of Fame running back/wide receiver Bobby Mitchell.
And just 17 days after that, on June 4, safety Don Fleming was electrocuted in a construction accident in Florida. A native of tiny Shadyside, Ohio, he had been with the Browns since 1960 and was a rising young player in the league.
Bloom is the one about whom even longtime Browns fans know the least. Born July 19, 1941, the resident of Weirton, W. Va., was just 21 when he and two of his Purdue teammates were involved in an accident on Interstate 71 near Vandalia, Ohio, about 15 miles north of Dayton, late on Jan. 18. The Ohio Highway Patrol blamed excessive speed for the accident, which, while killing Bloom, only slightly injured the two other players.
A three-year (1960-62) letterman at Purdue, Bloom was selected the Boilermakers’ most valuable player as a senior after logging more minutes of playing time than anyone else on the team. The Browns planned on trying him at defensive back, where Bernie Parrish (left cornerback), Jim Shofner (right cornerback), Ross Fichtner (left safety) and Bobby Franklin and Fleming (right safety) had been the starters in 1962.
Bloom never even made it to Cleveland to meet his new team, and Davis never played a down with the Browns.
Bloom’s death came just two days after Blanton Collier had been named coach of the Browns. He replaced Hall of Famer Paul Brown, the man for whom the Browns are named, who was fired Jan. 9.
But there have been other events in Browns history on Jan. 18 that have been positive, such as:
*In 1956, the conclusion of the 1956 NFL Draft was held, with the Browns getting three big-time players – Colorado wide receiver Frank Clarke in the fifth round, Stanford defensive tackle Paul Wiggin (sixth round) and Grambling defensive end Willie Davis (15th round).
Clarke played sparingly over three seasons with the Browns, but went on to the expansion Dallas Cowboys in 1960 and played eight stellar years.
A Cleveland Browns Legend, Wiggin starred at defensive end for the club for 11 years and made the Pro Bowl twice. He was part of the 1964 NFL championship team.
Davis spent two years with the Browns, sharing both end spots in 1958 with Wiggin and Bill Quinlan, and then sharing offensive left tackle with Lou Groza in ’59. He went to the Green Bay Packers in 1960 and was a standout at end for a decade, being elected to the HOF in 1981.
*In 1970, Bill Nelsen, who had quarterbacked the Browns to the NFL Championship Game in both 1968 and ’69, went to his first Pro Bowl and starred. He completed 12-of-21 passes for a touchdown in the East’s 16-13 loss to the West at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
*In 1943, Dale Lindsey was born in Bedford, Ind. A seventh-round choice of the Browns in the 1965 NFL Draft out of Western Kentucky, he played both middle and outside linebacker for eight seasons before finishing his career with the New Orleans Saints in 1973.
Only regular-season performances contribute to players’ official NFL statistics, and in that regard, Lindsey had eight interceptions in his Cleveland career. But none of those was his most important interception.
That came in the 1968 Eastern Conference Championship Game at Cleveland, when, in the early moments of the second half, he picked off a pass by Dallas’ Don Meredith and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown, breaking a 10-10 tie and helping catapult the Browns to a 31-20 win that ended a four-game losing streak to the Cowboys dating back to 1966.
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