By: Steve King, Contributor to ClevelandBrowns.com
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One of the biggest and most memorable days in Browns history occurred on Jan. 25, 1970.
That was when the Browns traded future Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield to Miami for the Dolphins’ No. 3 overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, which they used two days later to select Purdue quarterback Mike Phipps.
Make no mistake, the Browns did not want to lose Warfield, a product of Warren (Ohio) Harding High School and Ohio State. Since he was drafted in the first round in 1964, Warfield had combined with Gary Collins to give the club arguably the best set of wide receivers in the league. The ability to have two playmakers like that in the passing game complemented a running attack that, first with Jim Brown and then with Leroy Kelly, and then with Ernie Green, was one of the NFL’s best. It gave Cleveland one of the most complete and prolific offenses in the game.
The Browns had scored 415 points, a record for the club in NFL play, in Warfield’s rookie season of 1964, 403 (second-best) in ’66, 394 (fourth) in ’68, and 351 in ’69.
But quarterback Bill Nelsen, whose arrival in 1968 in a trade from Pittsburgh really helped to jump-start an offense that had struggled at the start of that season, had bad knees. So the Browns knew they had to find a replacement – and quickly – if they wanted to make more runs at the Super Bowl, which they had done in both 1968 and ’69 by getting to the NFL Championship Game.
However, it was not going to be easy or painless.
The Browns liked Phipps, and also the fact Purdue had a long history of producing star quarterbacks, such as one-time Brown Len Dawson, a Hall of Famer. They also knew other teams liked him, and that to have a chance to get him, they would need to be at the top part of the draft.
Having Miami’s No. 3 overall pick would afford them that opportunity.
The Dolphins believed they already had their quarterback in young Bob Griese, who had preceded Phipps at Purdue and was heading into his fourth season with the club. But they had to find some receivers for him, and having Warfield figured to do plenty to help on that count.
As such, the Dolphins, under new coach Don Shula, a Painesville (Ohio) Harvey High School and John Carroll University product who had played defensive back for the Browns in 1951, insisted that Warfield be included in any deal.
After hedging and hedging for the longest time— so long, in fact, that the Dolphins finally demanded an answer from him as the draft quickly approached — Browns owner Art Modell finally and grudgingly agreed to make the trade.
Phipps spent an up-and-down seven seasons with the Browns, the highlight coming in 1972 when he stepped in as the starter and invigorated the offense, helping lead them to a 10-4 record, the AFC’s lone wild-card playoff berth and nearly an upset victory over Warfield and the Dolphins in the divisional round.
And then in 1976, just as if it appeared he might be coming into his own, Phipps suffered a separated shoulder in the season opener against coach Lou Holtz’s New York Jets. That was the end of his time in Cleveland, as he was traded to the Chicago Bears the following year.
Just as he had done with the Browns, Warfield starred with the Dolphins, helping lead them to three consecutive Super Bowls, the last two of which they won.
Warfield jumped to the World Football League following the 1974 season but was re-signed by the Browns in 1976 after the league folded. Ironically, he and Phipps were on the Cleveland roster together that season.
This date, Jan. 25, has also been big in Browns history for kickers through the years. Hall of Fame Lou Groza was born on it in 1924, and Jeff Gossett was born on it in 1957.
Groza, the first great kicker in the game’s history, played for Martins Ferry (Ohio) High School and then briefly for Paul Brown at Ohio State before serving in World War II. When the war ended, Brown signed Groza for the new Cleveland franchise he would begin coaching in the All-America Football Conference in 1946.
Groza played for the Browns longer than anyone in history, 21 seasons, retiring for good following the 1967 campaign. He kicked the game-winning field goal as the Browns defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 30-28, to win the NFL title in 1950 in their first year in the league, and booted two field goals in the team’s 27-0 upset victory over the Baltimore Colts to claim the 1964 NFL crown.
Groza also was a standout left tackle for the first 14 years of his career (1946-59).
Born in Charleston, Ill., Gossett punted for the Browns for three full seasons (1983-86) and part of ’87, averaging 40.7 yards per kick.
In addition, he was the holder when Mark Moseley kicked a 22-yard field late in the fourth quarter to tie the 1986 AFC divisional playoff game against the New York Jets, and also when Moseley connected on a 27-yarder early in the second overtime to win it, 23-20.
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