Ohio has long been a huge state when it comes to top-tier sporting franchises. There are two Football Teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, and then there’s the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Guardians in Major League Baseball. There are the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA, the Columbus Blue Jackets in the NHL and two MLS teams, the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati. For a state with such a rich sporting heritage, you’d figure they birth a high caliber of athlete along with the franchises, right?
Well, that’s what we’re here to discover today. We’re going to be taking a look at the best Ohio-born NFL players of all time. We aren’t necessarily looking for players who have specifically had long and successful stints with Ohio-based teams, just Ohio born players in general, so let’s not drag our feet and get straight into it, starting with a list of the top 5 players from Ohio before breaking it down one by one.
- Paul Warfield
- Lou Groza
- Bill Willis
- Jim Parker
- Orlando Pace
Starting at number 5 we have Orlando Pace. Pace was a first-round draft pick for the St Louis Rams in 1997. He played 12 seasons in St. Louis before moving for one season in Chicago with the Bears. In his career Pace was selected for the pro bowl seven times as well as being a key member of the Super Bowl XXXIV-winning Rams team. Not a bad starting point!
At number 4 we have put Jim Parker. Parker was a first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Colts in 1957. Racking up 11 seasons with the Colts, Parker went on to win the NFL Championship in 1958 and 1959. Parker was selected for the Pro Bowl a total of eight times in his career and was eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973 alongside Joe Schmidt and Raymond Berry.
Coming in at number 3, we have Bill Willis. Willis was picked up by the Cleveland Browns straight from Ohio State. He went on to play 8 seasons for the Browns and was a key member of all four of the Browns All American Football Conference Championship teams. He went on to win the NFL Championship in 1950 and would eventually go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, with Bart Starr, Gale Sayers, Forrest Gregg and Frank Gifford.
Speaking of Bill Willis’ and his Championship win with the Cleveland Browns, now is as good a time as any to take a look at some upcoming fixtures for the Ohio based teams in the NFL, starting with the Cleveland Browns! This week the 6-8 Browns take on the 5-9 New Orleans Saints at the FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns edge this one as -150 favourites, returning $8.33 from $5. While the Saints are coming in at +130 underdogs, which would see you get a return of $11.50 from the same $5 stake.
Next up, the other Ohio-based team, the 10-4 Cincinnati Bengals who travel to New England to take on the 7-7 Patriots this week. If you’re looking to take advantage of the pre-launch betting offers from Ohio sportsbooks for the NFL, your best odds on this one will have the Bengals as favorites, which is to be expected. At -180 a $5 stake will see a $7.77 return. The Patriots, however, who could make home-field advantage count, are +160 underdogs, returning $13.00 from $5.
While we’re here it’s worth taking a look at the current frontrunners in the race for the Super Bowl. The Ohio-based Bengals are still in the running at +800, returning $45 from $5. Just ahead of the Bengals in 4th place are the San Francisco 49ers at +700, returning $40 from $5. Then the Kansas City chiefs at +500, returning $30 from $5. Just behind the favorites are the Philadelphia Eagles at +400 returning $25 from 5 and the favorites are still the Buffalo Bills at +350, returning $22.50 from $5.
Lou Groza was a finalist kicker for the NFL all-time team but just missed out in the end. Source: USA Today
Back to our list! At number 2 we have Lou Groza. Much like Bill Willis, Groza was also a part of all four of the All American Football Conference Championship-winning teams for the Cleveland Browns during his 21 seasons with the franchise (1946-1959 & 1961-1967). While he was also a part of the 1950 NFL Championship-winning side, Groza also won Championships with the Browns in 1954, 1955 and 1964. He was a nine time selection in the Pro Bowl and was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974 alongside Tony Canadeo, Bill George and Dick Lane.
Finally, we’re at number 1 and this was a tough choice because Lou Groza could have absolutely held this spot. But for our number 1 pick we have Paul Warfield. Warfield was a first round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns in the 1964 draft. He played 6 seasons with the Browns (1964-69 & 1976-77) as well as playing 5 seasons in Miami for the Dolphins (1970-74). Warfield was a member of the Browns 1964 NFL Championship winning team as well as picking up two Super Bowl rings in 1972 and 1973. Warfield was an eight time pro bowl selection and went on to be inducted into the NFL hall of fame in 1983, he was inducted alongside Bobby Bell, Sid Gillman, Sonny Jurgensen and Bobby Mitchell.
3 time NFL Champion, wide receiver Paul Warfield was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983. Source: akronlife
So, Ohioans, what do you think of the list? Is this the right order? Are there any big names you think should be on this list? I feel like the general consensus is that it is a pretty accurate list. You could argue Dick LeBeau belongs in the list after his 14 impressive seasons with the Detroit Lions. Or perhaps Eddie George, while people think he kind of peaked and fizzled out a little quickly, his season in 2000 was pretty incredible.
How many of these people on the list do we think come close to the top 10 NFL players of all time? I think that top 10 is almost cemented as it is right now and it’s unlikely even the likes of Paul Warfield achieved enough in their NFL career even to scrape the surface of that top 10 list, when you’ve got most people putting someone like Dick Butkus at number 10 who was absolutely swimming in accolades including being an NFL Hall of Famer. So likely, the answer would be no. While this may not be the case forever, knocking somebody like Tom Brady off the #1 spot would be an incredible mountain to climb for any pro!