Recently the NFL announced their all-star teams, called the Pro Bowl. The AFC North Division was well represented: Baltimore – 5; Cincinnati – 3, Cleveland – 5 and Pittsburgh – 2.
The Browns are represented by DE Myles Garrett (his third), LG Joel Bitonio (4th), RB Nick Chubb (2nd), RG Wyatt Teller (1st) and CB Denzel Ward (2nd).
This is not just Bitonio’s fourth Pro Bowl nod, but his fourth in a row.
Offensive linemen chosen for the prestigious game is not something new – in fact, it is a staple with the Cleveland Browns to have steady, rock-solid dancing elephants up front.
Just how often does this unit represent Cleveland? Here at DawgsByNature.com, we reached out to an NFL historian to find out the facts.
Andy Piascik is a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association, a group dedicated to finding out what has happened in the history of professional football and then chronicle their findings. This group also publishes a bi-monthly magazine entitled The Coffin Corner which are historical articles about the pro game.
Piascik is also an award-winning author having published three books: “Gridiron Gauntlet – The Story of the Men who Integrated Pro Football in their Own Words”; “The Best Show in Football – The 1946-1955 Cleveland Browns – Pro Football’s Greatest Dynasty”; and “In Motion.”
These books are available on several websites including ThriftBooks and Amazon:
DBN sat down with the accomplished author and historian to chat about the latest Browns offensive linemen to gain Pro Bowl accolades, plus former greats who set the standard.
Editor’s note: all years mentioned in this article refer to the season, not the year the Pro Bowl game was actually played
DBN: What are your thoughts about Bitonio and Teller making this year’s Pro Bowl?
Piascik: Bitonio’s selection is the fourth of his career while Teller was named for the first time. It’s the first time in six years that two Browns’ offensive linemen were named to the Pro Bowl in the same season and the fourth time since the Browns resumed play in 1999. Tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack were both selected in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
DBN: Is it unusual for one NFL club to have two players selected from the same group?
Piascik: The Browns have had many great tackles, guards and centers in their history and once upon a time, it was common for the team to have multiple offensive linemen selected since the advent of the Pro Bowl in 1950. So good was the Cleveland line in some seasons that three Browns’ offensive linemen were selected an impressive five times.
DBN: What players from the Browns have gone to the Pro Bowl the most?
Piascik: Not surprisingly, tackle Joe Thomas, the greatest offensive lineman in team history, leads the way with ten Pro Bowls selections (that is also the most for any Brown at any position). Tackle Lou Groza is a close second with nine followed by guard Gene Hickerson (6), tackle Dick Schafrath (6), tackle Mike McCormack (5), guard Jim Ray Smith (5) and guard Abe Gibron (4).
DBN: With Bits and Teller going from this year’s offensive line, is that the most for Cleveland in the same year?
Piascik: Gibron, Groza and center Art Hunter were named to play in the 1959 Pro Bowl, the first time three Cleveland linemen were selected in the same season. It happened again in 1961 when McCormack, Smith and center John Morrow were picked. The trio of Hickerson, Schafrath and guard John Wooten were all selected in two consecutive years, 1965 and 1966. The last of the five occasions was in 1980 when guard Joe DeLamielleure, center Tom DeLeone and tackle Doug Dieken were picked.
DBN: Don’t the Browns have some sort of streak at one point where a guy from the O-Line was taken?
Piascik: Equally impressive as the five occasions when three Brown line mates were picked is the tremendous 21-year run the team had from 1950 through 1970 when at least one offensive linemen was picked every year. In 17 of those years, at least two were selected.
DBN: What offensive lineman from the Browns should have gotten this honor more times than he was selected?
Piascik: The Pro Bowl is not without its flaws. One oddity is that Frank Gatski, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the best NFL center of the 1950s, was named to only one. Gatski was a first team all-pro in a number of seasons during the Pro Bowl era and his absence from the Pro Bowl in some of them is puzzling. Similarly, tackle Jack Conklin was not selected last season even though he was named as a first teamer on all the major all-pro teams.
DBN: And Gatski was the only one?
Piascik: In addition to Gatski, four other players on the list above are in the Hall of Fame: Groza, Hickerson, McCormack and DeLamielleure (who was elected based on many outstanding seasons with the Buffalo Bills). Thomas is a near certainty to join them in his first year of eligibility in 2023.
DBN: In your research and knowing the Browns the way you do, give one name of who you would say was Cleveland’s first top-tier offensive lineman?
Piascik: Mention should be made of tackle Lou Rymkus, Cleveland’s first great offensive linemen. Rymkus had a number of outstanding seasons when the team played in the All-America Football Conference and before the advent of the Pro Bowl.
DBN: What is your assessment of Teller and Bitonio?
Piascik: Bitonio and Teller carry on one of the great traditions of the Browns. Bitonio just turned 30 and Teller 27 so both are positioned to play in more Pro Bowls in the future.
DBN: Any other current member of this unit that catches your eye?
Piascik: If Conklin (also 27) is able to recover from this season’s injuries and return to his 2020 form, there may again be three Cleveland offensive linemen in the Pro Bowl sometime soon.
20 Browns’ linemen who have been named to at least one Pro Bowl
Eight guards, six tackles and six centers are featured
(List compiled by Andy Piascik)
- Joe Thomas (T): 10 (2007-16)
- Lou Groza (T): 9 (1950-55, 57-59
- Gene Hickerson (G): 6 (1965-70)
- Dick Schafrath (T): 6 (1963-68)
- Mike McCormack (T): 5 (1956-57, 60-62)
- Jim Ray Smith (G): 5 (1958-62)
- Abe Gibron (G): 4 (1952-55)
- Joel Bitonio (G): 4 (2018-21)
- Alex Mack (C): 3 (2010, 2013, 2015)
- Tom DeLeone (C): 2 (1979-80)
- John Morrow (C): 2 (1961, 1963)
- Cody Risien (T): 2 (1986-87)
- John Wooten (G): 2 (1965-66)
- Joe DeLamielleure (G): 1 (1980)
- Doug Dieken (T): 1 (1980)
- Frank Gatski (C): 1 (1956)
- Fred Hoaglin (C): 1 (1969)
- Weldon Humble (G): 1 (1950)
- Art Hunter (C): 1 (1959)
- Wyatt Teller (G): 1 (2021)