Just as our heroes are celebrated in life, here is a snapshot of several former Cleveland Browns who parted this earth in 2019.
RB George Atkinson, III
Career: Oakland Raiders 2014-2015, Browns 2016, Raiders 2017*, Kansas City Chiefs 2017*, New York Jets 2018*
* - practice squad (PS)
Atkinson was the son of the former Raiders safety legend with the same name. He was mostly a backup with Notre Dame and went undrafted in 2014 then signed with his father’s former team. After being cut, he was signed to the PS and then the active roster mainly on special teams. Later, he was cut twice and signed to the PS twice before being released. Cleveland claimed him to which he played special teams all 16 games in 2016 and also returned kickoffs. After the Browns cut him, he signed on with three more PS rosters. Atkinson had mental health issues which became complicated after his twin brother committed suicide in 2018.
HB Howard “Hopalong” Cassady
Location: Tampa, Florida
Career: Detroit Lions 1956-1961, Browns/Philadelphia Eagles 1962, Lions 1963
A Columbus, Ohio native, Hopalong won the Heisman Trophy in 1955 and the AP Male Athlete-of-the-Year playing for Ohio State. His number 40 is retired at Ohio State. The Lions selected him with the third pick in the first-round. With Detroit he played halfback and flanker. He gained 413 yards rushing as a rookie, but by his sophomore campaign he was far-outdistancing his rushing stats with receiving yards with great hands and a timely jump. The Lions defeated Cleveland 59-14 in the 1957 NFL Championship Game to which Hopalong caught a touchdown pass. He split the 1962 season between the Browns and Eagles before playing for the Lions his final season. Hopalong was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979. Later, he became a scout for the New York Yankees baseball club and coached the Columbus Clippers farm team.
FB Emerson Cole
Location: Toledo, Ohio
Career: Browns 1950-1952, 1952 Chicago Bears
The University of Toledo was Cole’s college team and held the school’s single season rushing record up until 2013. The Browns drafted him in the 12th round as a player who could come into a game and give All-Pro Marion Motley a blow. In his rookie year with Cleveland, the Browns won the NFL Championship Game in their first season in the NFL. Motley became injured during Cole’s second year, saw increased playing time and scored his only career touchdown. Cole and head coach Paul Brown were constantly butting heads, so in 1952 after seven games, Brown cut him. He landed on the Bears for one game and then retired. He was inducted into the Toledo Hall of Fame in 1984.
DT Don Colo
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Career: Baltimore Colts 1950, New York Yanks 1951, Dallas Texans 1952, Browns 1953-1958
Colo had a distinquished college campaign at Brown University before being drafted by the Colts in the third-round of the 1950 draft. He started all 12 games for Baltimore, who merged into the NFL that year from the AAFC. The Colts defense was the worst in the league and allowed their opponents to score more than 50 points in four different games, the only NFL club to ever do so. While with the Texans, the defense played volleyball for most of every practice using the crossbar of the field goal posts. The Texans folded mid-season and became a road team the remainder of their schedule. Colo found a home in Cleveland and started 68 out of 72 games. He had 14 career fumble recoveries.
LB Vince Costello
Location: Overland Park, Kansas
Career: Browns 1957-1966, Giants 1967-1968
If you followed the Browns in the 1950s-1960s, you know Costello. Played college at Ohio, he came to Cleveland in the same draft class as FB Jim Brown and QB Milt Plum in 1957 although he was undrafted. A native of Dellroy, Ohio, he appeared in 130 games for the Browns for a 10-year span and was a critical part of the 1964 NFL Championship squad which stymied the high-flying Colts offense. After football, he was the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals under Paul Brown along with two other clubs. Costello was inducted into the Browns Legends Program in 2011.
DE Jack Gregory
Location: Amory, Mississippi
Career: Browns 1967-1971, Giants 1972-1978, Browns 1979
A ninth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in the very first common draft between the National Football League and the American Football League, Gregory played six seasons with the Browns. He was a very durable player and by his third year he was the starting right defensive end. That 1969 season he made the Pro Bowl. Gregory, known as “Big Jack,” was traded to the Giants for a first-round pick in the 1973 draft. In a time when sacks where not an official record, it has been noted that Gregory had 15 sacks for the Giants in 1975 alone. He made the Pro Bowl again in 1972. Gregory was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
HB Sherman Howard
Location: Richton Park, Illinois
Career: New York Yankees (NFL) 1949, New York Yanks 1950-1951, Browns 1952-1953
Howard’s career, like the Browns, began in the NFL rival league the AAFC after a standout college stint at Nevada. He only appeared in six games with the Yankees, but with the Yanks he became more of a receiver than a rushing threat and scored 15 touchdowns in two seasons. Coach Brown acquired the talented halfback’s rights and instantly put him in as a pass catching back usually in the flats. A highly-rated back, good runner and with dependable hands, Coach Brown used Howard to compliment FB Marion Motley and HB Ken Carpenter. At the time of his death, Howard was the oldest Cleveland Brown.
LB Walt Michaels
Location: Plains, Pennsylvania
Career: Green Bay Packers 1951, Browns 1952-1961, Jets 1963
Michaels is mostly remembered as the head coach of the Jets from 1977 to 1982 in which they appeared in the AFC Championship Game in the strike year. He was originally drafted by the Browns in the seventh-round of the 1951 draft by the Browns and immediately traded to the Packers and played mainly on special teams. He was then traded back to Cleveland in 1952 for three players and handled the weakside for a decade. During this time the Browns won the NFL title in 1954 and 1955 and played in three other championship games. Michaels was selected to five Pro Bowls while with Cleveland. In 1977 he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
QB Bill Nelsen
Location: Orlando, Florida
Career: Pittsburgh Steelers 1963-1967, Browns 1968-1972
Nelsen had the ability to play hurt and with pain. He suffered numerous knee injuries throughout his career which limited his playing time. A 10th round pick out of USC, he was mostly injured while with Pittsburgh who then traded him to Cleveland along with DB Jim Bradshaw for QB Dick Shiner, CB Frank Parker plus a draft pick. Nelsen backed up Frank Ryan for three seasons but remained healthy. In 1968, Nelsen became the starter and the Browns made the playoffs after winning nine of 11 starts. The following season, the Browns went 10-3-1 and Nelsen made the Pro Bowl. He tossed five touchdowns against the previously unbeaten Dallas Cowboys. In 1972, QB Mike Phipps won the starting position while Nelsen had his fifth knee surgery and retired. He then was an assistant coach for four NFL clubs.
CB Bernie Parrish
Location: Springfield, Illinois
Career: Browns 1959-1966, Houston Oilers 1966
An All-American in baseball at Florida, Parrish was taken by the Browns in the ninth-round of the 1959 NFL draft. He played baseball in the minors for one season before settling on the Browns. Parrish was an important defender in the 1964 Championship season for Cleveland. In his seven seasons, he had 29 interceptions. For 1966, head coach Blanton Collier required Parrish to share playing time with Erich Barnes who had been obtained in a trade with the Giants. He asked for his release and then was signed by the Oilers for a single season. While with the Browns Parrish was the NFLPA vice president. After his retirement, he published a book entitled They Call It a Game which alleged the NFL fixed games. In 2007, he was part of the lawsuit against Players, Inc. for player image and licensing rights for retired players which eventually was awarded a $28.1 judgment. Parrish was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends hall in 2017.
DB/K Bert Rechichar
Location: Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania
Career: Browns 1952, Colts 1953-1959, Steelers 1960, Titans of New York 1961
Taken with the 10th pick in the 1952 NFL draft by the Browns, Rechichar only played one season before being traded in a 10 players for five players deal with Baltimore. In 1953, Rechichar kicked a 56-yard field goal for the Colts (his first attempt as a pro) which stood as the longest for 17 years; and was a key part of the 1958 and 1959 NFL Championship teams. Rechichar was known for trash talking during games in a time period when there were only 12 teams with 33-man rosters. He was a physical safety and made the Pro Bowl from 1955-1957.