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Remembering Greg Pruitt and the tearaway jersey

Cleveland running back shone in the 1970s and along the way made the unique jersey a weapon against opposing defenses.

Chiefs vs. Browns Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns hit a dark period in the 1970s as the dynasty years slowly faded away and were replaced by a stretch of failed draft picks, fired coaches and losing records.

One bright spot during those bleak times came from running back Greg Pruitt, who the Browns selected in the second round of the 1973 NFL Draft after a stellar career at Oklahoma. (Pruitt made up for Cleveland missing on both of their first-round selections that year in wide receiver Steve Holden and guard Pete Adams.)

In a nine-year career with the Browns, Pruitt would earn four Pro Bowl selections, rush for more than 1,000 yards three times, and establish himself as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield - his 323 career receptions are fifth on the franchise’s all-time list - and an electric returner who averaged 26.3 yards on kickoffs returns and 11.8 yards on punt returns.

One of the lasting images of Pruitt’s time with the Browns is of him breaking away from a would-be tackler thanks, in part, to the cotton tearaway jerseys that were popular at the time in the NFL and college football.

In this clip from NFL Film, Pruitt shares the good (breaking away from a tackler) and the bad (having to hit the sidelines for a new jersey throughout the game) of the tearaway jersey era (his part starts at the 1:30 mark):

The NFL eventually outlawed players wearing tearaway jerseys in 1979, which Pruitt talked about in a 2021 interview with our own Barry Shuck:

That actually started in college. When I got to the Browns, I wasn’t the only one wearing a tearaway jersey but most people don’t know that. Cleo Miller wore one in the same backfield. I am sure that in some owner’s meeting, they came up with that jersey rule to justify the trip. I was happy they made that rule to be honest. The only way they were effective is you couldn’t wear anything under them. When it got cold here it was colder in that jersey with nothing underneath.

The other thing was it was a distraction depending on down and distance, defenders would walk up to me and tear my jersey with me not even being in the play. And that should have been an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and it wasn’t. Now I have to leave the field and put another jersey on. I have about four of them at my house. One of them I played in and it is ripped and in a case on my wall.

Pruitt was one of the lone bright spots on some bad Cleveland teams in the mid-1970s and he will be remembered by Browns fans not only for his on-field play but also for the sight of him running through opposing defenses in his tearaway jersey.