It was the fate of Paul Warfield , widely acclaimed as one of history's premier wide receivers, to play in the National Football League with ball-control oriented teams who looked on the forward pass more as a threat to make the ground game effective than as a heavy-duty offensive weapon.
As a result, during his 13 seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, the super-smooth Warfield did not amass the big reception totals usually associated with pro football's elite pass catchers. His career total of 427 receptions fell more than 200 short of the three leaders in that category – Charley Taylor, Don Maynard and Raymond Berry – at time of his retirement.
Nevertheless, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors met in January of 1983 to name a new class, Warfield was the only one of five new members to be tapped in his first year of eligibility. Obviously, the selectors were thinking much more of the graceful athlete prancing downfield, putting a move on, leaping in the air, gently grasping the football and then streaking downfield than they were of mere statistics.
On July 30 of that year, Warfield joined by Bobby Bell, Sid Gillman, Bobby Mitchell and Sonny Jurgensen at impressive induction ceremonies on the front steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the Class of 1983 was formally enshrined into the Hall.
To be sure, Warfield had impressive statistics but they were the quality, rather than the quantity, kind. The speed burner with the magic moves accounted for 8565 yards and 85 touchdowns on his 427 catches. His average of 20.1 yards per reception is one of the highest average gains in NFL history for a receiver. His average of one touchdown for every five receptions is also among the best ever achieved in football annals.
But take into account that during Miami's perfect 1972 season , the Dolphins rushed a whopping 613 times in regular season play while passing on only 259 occasions. Although he was considered to be a key element in the Dolphin offense as he led the team in receiving, he caught only 29 passes and scored only three touchdowns. It thus becomes evident there is much more to the Warfield story than just numbers.
Another important element in Warfield's professional experience was his fragmented career that saw him join the Cleveland Browns in 1964 as a No. 1 draft pick, move to the just-emerging Miami Dolphins in a blockbuster trade in 1970, desert the Dolphins and the NFL for the ill-fated World Football League in 1975 and then return to the Browns for two final two campaigns in 1976 and 1977. The stable athletic environment that prevailed for Paul in both high school and college simply vanished a few years after he turned pro.
Paul won letters in football, basketball, baseball and track at Warren Harding High School in Warren, Ohio, where he was born on November 28, 1942. He excelled in track in the 100-yard dash, the 180-yard low hurdles and the broad jump. He was good enough in baseball to be offered a major league contract but he opted instead for an education at Ohio State, where he could sharpen both his gridiron and track skills.
A two-time track letterman at Ohio State, Warfield placed second in the NCAA broad jump with a 26-foot leap as a sophomore. He also participated with an American track team in a dual meet with Russia. In football, he was a two-way halfback for three seasons and the top Buckeye receiver as a senior. He was a two-time all-Big Ten selection and a Time All-America choice in 1963. He was picked to play in the East-West game, the Hula Bowl and the College All-Star game.
Although Buffalo of the American Football League also drafted him No. 1, Warfield, with his strong Ohio leanings and a desire to play in what he felt was, the best competition in 1964, opted for the Browns.
"I doubted whether I was good enough to play pro football when I first reported to the Browns," Warfield recalled. "I had been successful in amateur play but this was the top and the Browns in 1964 had Jim Brown and so many other great players that I was in awe of them. Fortunately, any doubts I had vanished rapidly. Ray Renfro was my special tutor and he made things easy for me."
Just as rapidly, any thoughts the Browns had of making Warfield play defense also evaporated. It was obvious that Paul's swiftness and maneuverability would be much more valuable if he played wide on the left side to complement the quality contributions of Gary Collins on the right side.
Paul enjoyed instant success as a rookie, snagging a career high 52 passes for 920 yards and nine touchdowns. He was a major factor in a championship march that was culminated with a 27-0 upset of the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL Championship Game.
A double fracture of the left collarbone suffered in the College All-Star game kept Paul out of all but one game in 1965 but the 6-0, 188-pounder returned in 1966 to establish himself as one of pro football's gold-carat wide receivers.
Paul was a big fan favorite in Cleveland and a major on-the-field contributor. The Browns were also successful with the 1964 NFL title, five conference championships and a smashing 59-23-2 record during Paul's first six seasons. He was a highly valued super-star.
"Warfield runs the best, most precise, most detailed patterns of anyone I. know," Browns
Coach Blanton Collier once said. "He means everything to our team."
Then early in 1970, the stunning news hit the streets that Paul had been traded to Miami for that club's No. 1 draft pick. The Browns, facing a quarterback crisis in the immediate years ahead, felt they absolutely had to have Purdue signal-caller Mike Phipps and the only way to assure this was to obtain Miami's first-round pick.
All Browns fans were stunned and so was Warfield. "I was disappointed because I believed I had made a positive contribution to the team," he explained. "I wasn't a troublemaker and I felt that wasn't the way to reward an employee who had done a good job. "
Part of Warfield's dismay can be attributed to the Dolphins record up to that point. An AFL expansion team in 1966, Miami still had not had a winning record when Warfield joined the team. But a few days later, Paul’s attitude brightened with the announcement that Don Shula was moving from Baltimore to take over the leadership of the Dolphins.
Almost immediately, the Dolphins started making huge strides. They already had a number of future stars on hand – Bob Griese, Larry Csonka , Jim Kiick, Mercury Morris, to name a few – and, in some eyes, Warfield was the icing on the cake. In 1970, the Dolphins improved dramatically to a 10-4 mark and Paul contributed a career-best 25.1-yard average on 28 receptions. The next year, his totals jumped to 43 catches good for 996 yards, a 23.2-yard average and 11 touchdowns. The Dolphins won their first AFC championship before falling to Dallas in Super Bowl VI.
Then came the incomparable 17-0 perfect season in 1972 and, although Paul wasn't satisfied with the comparative inactivity of the Miami passing game, close observers credited him with playing a major role in the Dolphins' unprecedented success.
"A lot is said about the Miami running game, its ball control offense and its flawless defense," one knowledgeable observer noted. "But the truth is the Dolphins have one of the most dangerous long-strike, big-play offenses in existence. They have the perfect blend. They run enough to set up the touchdown passes. And they pass enough to set up the touchdown runs, Warfield is a tremendous key to all of this."
"I've thrown to a lot of receivers in my time," said veteran quarterback Earl Morrall, who filled in for the disabled Griese during most of 1972. "Warfield definitely ranks right at the top. He has fluid moves and anytime he gets one-on-one, he's gone. He is the complete player. He is also a great blocker. He never makes a mistake."
The Dolphins marched to a third straight AFC championship in 1973 and Warfield enjoyed the biggest day of his career in the final regular-season game against Detroit. Four of the first five times Miami had the ball, Griese hit Paul for touchdowns. Lions defenders Levi Johnson and Miller Farr, in awe of what had happened before their very eyes, were lavish in their praise of the elusive Warfield.
Miami went on to win a second straight Super Bowl but the way the Dolphins attacked the
Minnesota Vikings only tended to emphasize Warfield's dissatisfaction with the way he was being used. He caught two passes for 33 important yards but Miami took to the air only seven times in the entire game.
The Dolphins came close to winning it all again in 1974 but, before 1975 came around,
Warfield jumped to the World Football League which had lured him with a six-figure financial package expected to provide lifetime security to himself and his family. It was no secret, however, that his dissatisfaction with the run-dominated Miami offense was a major, perhaps even deciding factor in his decision.
"It's difficult to criticize the Dolphins because they have had great success," Paul explained. "But I felt I wasn't an essential part of the offense and it became frustrating to play. I didn't enjoy being that little of a contributor."
His tenure in the WFL, where he played for the Memphis Southmen, turned out to be even more frustrating. The caliber of play was poor, the crowds were even poorer and the league disbanded 10 games into the 1975 campaign. For the rest of the year, Paul had to be satisfied with watching NFL football either in Cleveland Stadium or on television.
Had his career ended at that point, the lasting luster would still have been assured. Paul may not have been satisfied with his contributions but the players, coaches and press always saw him as the very best. He was named to All-NFL teams as a Brown in 1964, 1968 and 1969 and as a Dolphin in 1971, 1972 and 1973. He was also chosen to play in eight Pro Bowls during his career.
In 1976, Art Modell, the Cleveland owner who had traded Paul away several years earlier, brought Warfield back to the Browns. Paul was overjoyed with the turn of events. He had particularly remembered a standing ovation delivered by a Cleveland Stadium crowd of 80,000 when the Dolphins played there in 1973. To Paul, he was coming home to play where he should have been all along.
"It's a satisfying feeling to be ending my career in Cleveland," Warfield admitted after announcing his intention to retire following the 1977 season. "I really have no regrets the end is drawing near. There have been some disappointments but a lot of great moments. Overall, I'm proud of my accomplishments."
Paul Warfield did indeed have much of which to be proud. On that premise, there are no dissenters.
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