- Pat McManamon, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Cleveland Browns lost a member of their Hall of Fame family Friday when Mike McCormack died at the age of 83.
McCormack’s most recent history was in the front office of the Carolina Panthers, but Browns followers remember him as a stalwart of the offensive line for Paul Brown’s standout teams of the '50s and '60s.
Brown actually called McCormack the finest offensive lineman he ever coached. Brown also respected McCormack’s professionalism and leadership; McCormack was captain of Brown's teams from 1956 through the end of his career in 1962.
McCormack was the main piece in a 15-player trade Brown made with the Baltimore Colts in 1953. Among the players the Browns sent to Baltimore was Don Shula, a Cleveland-area native who would go on to coach the Colts and Miami Dolphins. McCormack spent his rookie season with the New York Yanks, then was in the Army for two years before the trade, which is tied for the second-largest in NFL history.
McCormack initially was tabbed to replace Hall of Famer Bill Willis at middle guard on defense, and he stepped right in. In the 1954 Championship Game he set the tone for an easy win over Detroit by stealing the ball from Bobby Layne.
“I’ll never forget the play,” quarterback Otto Graham told longtime Browns writer Chuck Heaton for the book “Browns Scrapbook: A Fond Look Back at Five Decades of Football.” “Quarterback Bobby Layne was dropping back to throw a quick slant. Mike just reached across and took the ball right out of Layne’s hands.”
McCormack then moved to right tackle, where he made five more Pro Bowls and blocked for Otto Graham. Strong, tough as nails and durable, McCormack was the prototype Paul Brown tackle, and played on the side opposite Lou Groza.
“We could have played Mike at middle linebacker or on the offensive line,” Paul Brown said, according to the Hall of Fame. “But his number one niche was offensive right tackle. He was an excellent pass protector but he could also blow people out of there. He was stabilizing factor throughout the period that he played for us.”
McCormack also blocked for Jim Brown. Twice with McCormack at tackle, Brown ran for 237 yards in a game.
“His contributions to game as a player for the great Browns teams of the 1950s and early ‘60s are etched in history with his place in the Hall of Fame,” Hall of Fame president and director Steve Perry said in a statement of the 1984 inductee.
Photos of him playing with a single bar on his facemask bring back a different era in pro football, an era that was probably the greatest in Browns history.