Lavelli passes away at 85

01/20/2009

Dante Lavelli, who ranked among the finest receivers in pro football in the immediate Post-World War II era, has died at the age of 85. Lavelli was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of Dante’s passing today,” stated the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s President/Executive Director Steve Perry. “He was not only a good friend to all of us at the Pro Football Hall of Fame but also to the many legions of Cleveland Browns fans across the country.

“Dante remained loyal to his roots in northeast Ohio as he spent his life living in the Cleveland area. His devotion to the Browns remained strong through all these years,” continued Perry. 

Lavelli, who grew up in Hudson, Ohio just outside Cleveland, became known for his sure-handed catching ability that earned him the nickname “Gluefingers.” He hauled in 386 receptions and 62 touchdowns during his 11-season career with the Cleveland Browns from 1946-1956. His service in the U.S. Infantry derailed a collegiate football career at Ohio State that saw him play only three games for the Buckeyes. Upon discharge from the military after his service in World War II, he was offered a pro contract and so he gave up his remaining college eligibility to sign on with the upstart Cleveland Browns of the new All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946.  

Lavelli was the favorite target of Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham. The duo wreaked havoc for opposing defenses for many seasons. Dante led the league in receiving as rookie when he averaged a robust 21.1 yards per catch (40 receptions for 843 yards) and scored 8 touchdowns. He also scored the winning touchdown in that season’s championship game, the first of four titles the Browns won during the four-year existence of the AAFC. In 1947, he amassed a career-high 49 receptions and 9 touchdowns.

“Lavelli has the strongest hands I’ve ever seen. When he goes up for a pass and a defender goes up with him, you can be sure Dante will have the ball when they come down. Nobody can ever take the ball away from him once he gets his hands on it.” – Paul Brown
Lavelli and his teammates made history in 1948 as the team finished with a perfect 15-0 record that included a 49-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the title game.  Following the 1949 season, Lavelli and the Browns joined the NFL and his individual as well as the team’s success continued without interruption. The Browns shocked the football world by defeating the defending NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles in the regular season opener that year. Lavelli contributed to the cause with two touchdown receptions. The season was capped with a 30-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the championship game. Again, Lavelli was a major part of the Browns attack as he caught a then-record 11 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns (37 and 39 yards).  Known for stellar performances in big games, Lavelli totaled 24 catches in six NFL title games during his career.

Lavelli was named All-AAFC twice and All-NFL twice and the Browns won three NFL titles (1950, 1954 and 1955) to go with the four championships in the AAFC during his tenure with the team. He also was named the starter in three of the first five Pro Bowl games ever played. However, his name was conspicuously missing from the NFL Record Book since his statistics from the AAFC are not included with those from the NFL. His combined AAFC-NFL reception total would have placed him third all-time, behind just fellow Hall of Fame ends Don Hutson and Tom Fears, at the time of his retirement following the 1956 season. He did own several AAFC records including his four-touchdown day against the Los Angeles Dons on October 14, 1949.

Lavelli often gave credit for his success to the legendary coach Paul Brown. In his closing remarks of his enshrinement speech delivered on the front steps of the Hall of Fame on August 2, 1975, Lavelli reflected, “Paul Brown is the man who made this day possible for me. I would like to say publicly that the one and only Paul Brown was the one responsible for my athletic success.”

More from Profootballhof.com
 Dante Lavelli’s Hall of Fame bio>>>
 Photo Gallery: Dante Lavelli, Class of 1975
 Cleveland Browns team history
 AAFC standings, 1946-49 
 

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