Paul Brown called him "my Louie." He was "one of Dad's favorites," says Bengals president Mike Brown, son of Paul, the legendary Browns coach. "When anyone asked him about Lou Groza, he'd say, 'A high-grade guy.' Louie's word was solid. You could count on him."
Groza, who died last week of a heart attack at 76, had been one of Brown's prize recruits at Ohio State, a big guy for that era (6'3", 240 pounds) with remarkable agility. He played tackle on the freshman team in 1941, before World War II ended his college career. In '45 Groza was serving in a medical unit on Okinawa when he received a couple of footballs from Brown along with a reminder to "work on your kicking." Brown also invited Groza to join his franchise in the nascent All-America Football Conference. That's how Groza, still with three years of college eligibility, became a Cleveland Brown. The team won the championship in all four years of the AAFC and four NFL titles from '50, when it joined the league, until Groza's retirement in '67.
Groza's kicking earned him his nickname, the Toe, and got him into the Hall of Fame. But he was also a six-time All-Pro tackle who was perfect for Brown's revolutionary pass-protection scheme called cup blocking, in which the linemen picked up the men to their outside, forming a protective cup for quarterback Otto Graham. "Fast on his feet, able to glide and shuffle, just what scouts look for in a pass-blocking tackle nowadays," says Mike Brown. "Plus Louie could run." Especially downfield: On his kickoffs he often was the first man in for the tackle.
It's a picture that smacks of antiquity: the kicker who doubled as a lineman, and a fine one at that. "It's more efficient now," says Brown, "but maybe the game lost something when it went to the pure kickers." With Groza's death it lost a whole lot more.