Erich Barnes, a defensive back who spent seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns, passed away on Friday at the age of 86.
A fourth-round selection by the Chicago Bears in the 1958 NFL Draft, Barnes spent three seasons in Chicago before being traded to the New York Giants after the 1960 season. He spent four years with the Giants, appearing in three consecutive NFL Championship Games, before being traded to the Browns following the 1964 season.
Barnes played his final seven seasons with the Browns, which included appearances in the NFL Championship Game in 1965, 1968 and 1969.
For his 14-year career, Barnes had 45 career interceptions, eight of which came with the Browns and perhaps none bigger than the one he notched against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1968 Eastern Conference playoff game that stalled a late comeback attempt by the Cowboys.
Barnes returned seven interceptions for touchdowns, including what was then an NFL record for the longest interception return for a touchdown with a 102-yard return against the Dallas Cowboys in 1961.
He was also an early recognizer of the “our guy, their jerk” philosophy that makes up the DNA of a team’s fan base.
The Giants were one of the Browns main rivals in the 1960s, and Barnes’ aggressive style of play was a source of irritation for opposing fans. But that changed once he landed in Cleveland, he once told Sports Illustrated (quote via The New York Times):
“When I was with the Giants and I would come into Cleveland, they used to call me dirty, (but after he was traded to the Browns) the Giants would call me dirty and Cleveland would call me aggressive. It all depends on where you were playing.”
Barnes earned six Pro Bowl nods, including one with the Browns in 1968, and was an All-Pro selection four times. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Barnes’ combination of size and skill often had him matching up with the game’s top wide receivers on a weekly basis.
He retired following the 1971 season after appearing in just two games. He was inducted into Cleveland’s Legends program in 2018.