Lou Groza is of one of the all-time greats in football history, Lou “The Toe” Groza. After starring in high school in Martins Ferry, Ohio, and playing a season at Ohio State University, Lou was drafted in the United States Army for service in World War II, where he was stationed in the Philippines and Okinawa. While he was in the Army, Lou received a letter from Paul Brown, his coach at Ohio State. Brown had just been named the head coach of the new Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference, and he wanted Lou to be a member of the first Browns’ team. Upon being discharged in early 1946, Lou went to Cleveland, a place he would never leave.
Lou ended up playing 21 magnificent seasons for the Browns. He began his career as both an offensive tackle and a kicker. In 1954, Lou was named the NFL’s Player of the Year. After a back injury forced him to sit out the entire 1960 season, Lou came back solely as the kicker, a role that he maintained until he retired. This was the first time in NFL history that a player had appeared on a roster exclusively as a kicker.
Lou’s greatest moment as a football player occurred on Christmas Eve, 1950. The Browns, in their first season in the NFL, were down 28-27 to the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950 NFL Championship Game. With 28 seconds remaining, the Browns turned to Lou to kick a 16-yard field goal. With the championship hanging in the balance, Lou nailed the kick and Cleveland won 30-28.
When he retired in 1967, Lou left a legacy that is still unmatched in NFL history. The 1,608 career points he scored is still a Browns’ franchise record, and he ranks third all-time in league history. Lou was a nine-time All-Pro and won an amazing eight championships, four in the AAFC (1946-1949) and four in the NFL (1950, 1954-1955, 1964). That puts Lou in an elite group of athletes that includes Bill Russell, Joe DiMaggio, and Maurice Richard as the greatest winners in professional team sports history. The Browns retired his number, 76, in 1968, and in 1974, the name of Lou Groza was etched into football immortality when he was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The influence Lou Groza had on the Cleveland Browns franchise is still evident today, and it is not confined to the myriad of team records that he still holds. When the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, they honored Lou with one final tribute – their training facility in Berea, Ohio, is located on 76 Lou Groza Boulevard.
It only seems appropriate that when every current and future Cleveland Browns player goes into work, he will have to drive down a road named for the heart and soul of the franchise. As teammate Doug Dieken said upon Lou’s death in 2000, “I don’t know if he is the greatest Cleveland Brown, but he is THE Cleveland Brown.”