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Groza by the numbers
Dec. 24, 1950
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Browns legend Lou "The Toe" Groza dead at 76
CLEVELAND (AP) -- He was known simply as "The Toe."
But Lou Groza was more than just a kicker to generations of Cleveland Browns fans. To them, he symbolized a bygone era when Cleveland dominated pro football, and when athletes played for the love of the game.
"You could count on him for anything," said Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham, Groza's teammate for 10 years. "He was a heck of a nice guy, we're all going to miss him."
In failing health in recent years with Parkinson's disease, Groza was brought to Southwest General Health Center in Middleburg Heights after collapsing following dinner with his wife, Jackie, at a country club.
Groza, one of the most beloved players in Browns history, played 21 years in Cleveland from 1946-67. He retired as the franchise's career scoring leader -- a distinction he still holds.
In his 21 seasons, Groza signed 21 one-year contracts. The last in 1967 was for $50,000.
Groza was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
"Lou Groza personified the greatness that characterized the Cleveland Browns during its glorious period under the direction of Paul Brown," Browns owner Al Lerner said in a statement. "No one embraced the return of this team to Cleveland with more warmth or commitment than No. 76. Our organization has lost a great ally and a great friend."
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue called Groza "the epitome of Ohio football."
Upon their return to the NFL last season, the new Browns honored Groza by renaming the street in front of their Berea training facility "Lou Groza Boulevard." The facility's address is: 76 Lou Groza Blvd.
Flags were lowered to half-staff on Thursday at the site and the Browns will wear No. 76 on the back left side of each player's helmet for the rest of the season.
Groza was an All-Pro tackle six times and was selected the NFL's Player of the Year in 1954. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Groza finished his NFL career with 1,349 points, with only six of those coming on his only career touchdown -- a tackle-eligible play in 1951.
Using a head-on approach to kicking the football that's rare in today's game, Groza, who also wore No. 46, transformed the art of placekicking and helped make kickers more of an offensive weapon.
College football's top kicker each year is given the Lou Groza Award.
In 1950, Groza kicked a 16-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the NFL championship game to help the Browns beat the Los Angeles Rams and win the title in their first season in the league.
"Pressure didn't bother him at all," Graham said. "We always felt if we got within 40 or 50 yards of the goal post, he could make it, and 95 percent of the time he did."
Groza played in 216 games and nine NFL championship games with the Browns, who won three titles during the 1950s and another in 1964.
After playing briefly at Ohio State, Groza was a starting offensive tackle for the Paul Brown-coached Cleveland teams that dominated the All-American Football Conference during the late 1940s and the NFL in the '50s.
In his MVP season of '54, Groza anchored the left side of the offensive line alongside guard Abe Gibron and center Frank Gatski, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
Groza also made 16 of 24 field-goal attempts and 37 of 38 extra points that year.
A back injury forced him to take off the 1960 season, but Brown convinced him to return the next year, and Groza spent his final seven years as a kicking specialist.
When the Browns won the title in 1964, Groza finished the season with 115 points, making 49 of 50 extra points and 22 field goals.
Groza remained active with the Browns even after his retirement, and up until this season, he attended home games. He kept his home in suburban Berea and was involved in many of the team's alumni activities.
The last of the "original" Browns to retire, Groza had attended the reunion of Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees in July in Canton.
When former owner Art Modell moved the Browns franchise to Baltimore after the 1995 season, Groza was one of the more vocal former players who urged the NFL to bring a team back to Cleveland.
During one of the downtown pep rallies the city held when it was fighting to get its team back, Groza was overcome with emotion and tears rolled down the giant man's cheeks.
"He's held a warm place in my heart all these years. I was very fond of him. He was a great, great man on our football team, and a great person to have as a friend," said Modell, who added that he maintained a "close relationship" with Groza until the Browns left Cleveland, at which point they fell out of contact with each other.
And although he was not in good health, Groza was at training camp this summer to see the Browns prepare for their second year back in the league.
Groza was born on Jan. 25, 1924, in Martins Ferry. His younger brother, Alex, was an All-American center for the NCAA championship Kentucky basketball teams of the late 1940s.
Besides his wife, he is survived by three sons, a daughter, and nine grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were not complete.
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