When the Cleveland Browns took the field for their very first game on September 6, 1946, Lou Groza converted three field goals and five extra points during a 44-0 victory over the Miami Seahawks.
With the exception of the 1960 season, when Groza took a one-year retirement, it wasn’t until September 15, 1968, that the Browns had to worry about the placekicking position.
That season, with Groza truly retired, the Browns turned to Don Cockroft, who sat behind Groza for a season after being selected in the third round of the 1967 NFL Draft.
Cockroft would hold down the job for the next 13 seasons — starting his career as a teammate to Leroy Kelly, Paul Warfield and Gary Collins, and ending it with Brian Sipe, Greg Pruitt and Ozzie Newsome - while also serving as the team’s punter for nine seasons, making him the choice as the best player to wear uniform No. 12 in franchise history.
While he never made a Pro Bowl, Cockroft kicked for the Browns in playoff games in three decades, led the NFL in extra points made in 1969, and field goal percentage three times — in 1968, 1972 and 1974.
He is third on the franchise’s all-time list for career field goals attempted and field goals made, trailing just Groza and Phil Dawson; first in career punting yards; and third in career points scored.
Cockroft was also part of some of the most memorable games in Browns history, as he:
- made five extra points and a field goal in a 1969 playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys, the last time the Browns won a road playoff game;
- converted four extra points and a field goal against the New York Jets in 1970 the first Monday Night Football game;
- had a punt blocked for a touchdown in Cleveland’s six-point loss to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the 1972 playoffs;
- hit the game-winning field goal in the first overtime game in franchise history, a win over the New England Patriots in 1977;
- missed two field goals in frozen conditions against the Oakland Raiders in a playoff game following the 1980 season.
The Browns may not have been able to recapture their glory days during Cockroft’s tenure, but his play makes him a deserving selection as the best player to wear No. 12 in franchise history.
Honorable mention: wide receiver Josh Gordon, who had the most unbelievable season in 2013 when he led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards despite playing just 14 games; quarterback Don Strock, who came to the rescue in 1988 when the Browns were out of quarterbacks and led the Browns into the playoffs; and quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who was the quarterback in 1994 when the Browns last won a playoff game.
Who is the best player to wear No. 12 in Browns history?
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