When Browns fans recall the successful Cleveland teams that won three NFL championships in the 1950’s, their attention often first turns to Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham.
As great a player as Graham was, the excellence of the Browns offense in those years was attributable to many players who came together to form an outstanding offensive unit.
One such player was left guard Abe Gibron.
Over his seven years with the Browns, Gibron’s blocking and overall play helped Graham and other offensive players excel.
Gibron earned four Pro Bowl invitations and various All-Pro honors.
Born #OTD 9/22/1925 Abe Gibron (1949 Bills, 1950-56 #Browns, 1956-57 #Eagles, 1958-59 #Bears). pic.twitter.com/4bMbp5Z9zo
— Ken Crippen (@KenCrippen) September 22, 2016
We take a look at the life of Abe Gibron – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Abraham “Abe” Gibron was born on September 22, 1925 in Michigan City, Indiana.
Michigan City is located in northwest Indiana, about 50 miles east of Chicago.
When Gibron grew up there, Michigan City had a population of approximately 25,000 people.
Gibron’s parents were Lebanese immigrants.
His father worked in a foundry and gave Gibron the following advice:
“Dance as fast as you can dance. Run as far as you can run. Drink as much as you can drink. Do what you can. Be as big as you are.”
He attended Elston High School in Michigan City.
Gibron was captain of the Elston High School football team.
He was named to the All-Northern Indiana Athletic Conference team.
After graduating Elston High School in 1943, Gibron joined the Marines to serve during World War II.
Following his military service, Gibron enrolled in Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana.
Gibron attended Valparaiso in 1944 and 1945.
In 1945, Gibron helped Valparaiso post a 6-1 record and win the Indiana Intercollegiate Conference championship.
Gibron was captain of the team.
He was named honorable mention Little College -American and an All-Indiana Intercollegiate Conference guard at Valparaiso.
In 1946, Gibron transferred to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Gibron was at Purdue from 1946 to 1948, lettering in 1947 and 1948.
He played guard on offense and nose guard on defense for the Boilermakers.
In 1946, Purdue had a 2-6-1 record.
Purdue improved to a 5-4 record in 1947.
One of Purdue’s victories in 1947 was a 14-7 win over Illinois (then ranked fifth in the nation by the Associated Press) on October 25, 1947.
Purdue also defeated Ohio State 24-20 on October 4, 1947.
The Boilermakers posted a 3-6 record in 1948.
Gibron was named All-Big Ten Conference and honorable mention All-American at Purdue.
He ultimately graduated from Purdue in 1950.
The Pro Football Years
The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) competed with the NFL in the late 1940’s.
On July 8, 1948, the AAFC held a secret draft.
The purpose of the secret draft was for the AAFC to start recruiting college football players who would graduate in 1949 to play in the AAFC instead of the NFL.
In this secret draft, the Buffalo Bills in the AAFC selected Gibron in the first round with the sixth overall pick.
The recruiting of Gibron by the AAFC apparently worked.
Even though Gibron was also drafted by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 1949 NFL draft (as the 55th overall pick), he decided to play for the Bills in the AAFC.
In 1949, Gibron played in 10, and started nine, regular season games as a rookie for the Bills.
He principally played left guard.
For his play in 1949, Gibron was named AAFC Rookie Lineman of the Year and AAFC second team All-Pro.
Buffalo had a 5-5-2 record in 1949.
The Bills made the 1949 AAFC playoffs and met the Cleveland Browns, the three-time defending AAFC champion, in a playoff game on December 4, 1949.
During the 1949 regular season, Buffalo and Cleveland had played two tie games (28-28 on September 5, 1949 and 7-7 on November 13, 1949).
Gibron started the playoff game against the Browns at left tackle, but Buffalo lost to Cleveland 31-21.
The AAFC disbanded after the 1949 season.
While the Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts joined the NFL, the other AAFC franchises, including the Bills, did not.
It was intended that the players from the “non-continuing” AAFC franchises, including Gibron from the Bills, would be drafted in an NFL dispersal draft.
However, before this NFL dispersal draft, Gibron and two other Buffalo players, halfback Rex Bumgardner and defensive tackle John Kissell, were acquired by the Cleveland Browns.
In exchange, Bills owner James Breuil received a 25% interest in the Browns franchise.
In 1950, playing at a height of five feet and eleven inches and a weight of 243 pounds (which made Gibron one of the five heaviest Browns on the 1950 roster), Gibron played in all 12, and started three, regular season games for Cleveland in 1950.
Gibron was part of a Browns offense that exceeded 400 total yards in five regular season games in 1950 – 448 total yards in a 35-10 win over the defending NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles on September 16, 1950, 475 total yards in a 31-0 shutout of the Baltimore Colts on September 24, 1950, 412 total yards in a 34-24 defeat of the Chicago Cardinals on October 15, 1950, 533 total yards (including 338 rushing yards) in a 45-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 29, 1950, and 477 total yards in a 45-21 win over the Washington Redskins on December 10, 1950.
Gibron recovered a fumble in 1950.
Cleveland had a 10-2 record in 1950 and finished tied for first in the NFL American Division with the New York Giants.
Gibron’s play contributed to the Browns offense ranking in the NFL regular season in 1950 tied for first in average yards per rushing attempt (4.6).
The Browns played a “tie-breaker” playoff game against the New York Giants on December 17, 1950.
Gibron played in, but did not start, the game, as the Browns defeated New York 8-3.
The following week, on December 24, 1950, in the 1950 NFL championship game, the Browns met the Los Angeles Rams.
Gibron again played in, but did not start, the game, as Cleveland won its first NFL championship, defeating the Rams 30-28.
When Gibron first played for the Browns, he was one of Cleveland’s “messenger” guards.
Future Pro Football Hall of Fame Browns head coach Paul Brown would use rotating guards to bring offensive plays from the sideline to the huddle.
However, as Brown became impressed with Gibron’s playing ability, Gibron became a “starting” guard, and not a “messenger” guard.
Brown said about Gibron:
“His shoulder width [fifty-four inches across] made him a fine pass protector, but his greatest attribute was the explosive speed with which he came off the ball. No guard was ever faster for the first five yards, and when he pulled out to lead our sweeps, he could stay in front of our fastest backs until he threw his first block.”
In 1951, Gibron started all 12 regular season games at left guard.
On October 7, 1951, in a rematch of the 1950 NFL championship game, Cleveland defeated the Los Angeles Rams 38-23.
With Gibron at left guard, Cleveland had 450 total yards.
Gibron helped the Browns gain 412 total yards in a 34-17 win over the Chicago Cardinals on November 4, 1951.
In a 42-21 victory over the Chicago Bears on November 25, 1951, Gibron’s play helped the Browns amass 516 total yards.
Gibron recovered two fumbles, which he returned for three yards, in 1951.
For his play in 1951, Gibron was named second team All-Pro by the New York Daily News.
With an 11-1 record, the Browns won the NFL American Division title in 1951.
Gibron helped Cleveland’s offense rank in the NFL regular season in 1951 third in points scored (331) and third in rushing touchdowns (20).
The Browns met the Los Angeles Rams in the 1951 NFL championship game on December 23, 1951.
Gibron started the game at left guard, but Cleveland lost to the Rams 24-17.
In 1952, Gibron played in all 12, and started nine, regular season games at left guard.
He was part of a Cleveland offense that gained over 400 total yards in six regular season games in 1952 – 419 total yards in a 37-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams on September 28, 1952 (avenging the loss by the Browns in the 1951 NFL championship game), 459 total yards (including 401 passing yards) in a 21-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 4, 1952, 507 total yards in a 49-7 defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles on October 19, 1952, 423 total yards in a 28-13 win over the Chicago Cardinals on November 9, 1952, 410 total yards in a 29-28 victory over the Steelers on November 16, 1952, and 448 total yards in a 48-24 defeat of the Washington Redskins on November 30, 1952.
Gibron received his first Pro Bowl invitation in 1952.
The Browns, with an 8-4 record, again won the NFL American Division title in 1952.
With Gibron’s play at left guard, Cleveland’s offense ranked in the NFL regular season in 1952 third in points scored (310), first in total passing and rushing yards (4,352), first in passing yards (2,566), third in passing touchdowns (22), second in fewest sacks allowed (34), third in rushing yards (1,786), and tied for first in average yards per rushing attempt (4.5).
Cleveland again advanced to the NFL championship game in 1952, meeting the Detroit Lions on December 28, 1952.
Gibron started the game at left guard, but Cleveland lost to Detroit 17-7.
In 1953, Gibron played in and started 10 regular season games at left guard.
Gibron was part of a Browns offense that exceeded 400 total yards in five regular season games in 1953 – 416 total yards in a 37-13 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on October 10, 1953, 403 total yards in a 30-14 defeat of the Washington Redskins on October 18, 1953, 422 total yards in a 34-16 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 8, 1953, 457 total yards in a 23-21 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on November 15, 1953, and 495 total yards in a 62-14 defeat of the New York Giants on December 6, 1953.
In 1953, Gibron received his second Pro Bowl invitation. He was also named first team All-Pro by the New York Daily News and second team All-Pro by United Press International in 1953.
Future Pro Football Hall of Fame Browns wide receiver Dante Lavelli said about Gibron:
“He was really a tough guy. He would go down to the last inch with you.”
Cleveland had an 11-1 record in 1953 and won the NFL East Division title.
Gibron’s play contributed to the Browns offense ranking in the NFL regular season in 1953 second in passing yards (2,814) and tied for third in average yards per rushing attempt (4.2).
For the fourth consecutive year, the Browns advanced to the NFL championship game.
Cleveland met the Detroit Lions on December 27, 1953.
The Cleveland #Browns starting offense for the 1953 NFL Championship
LG Abe Gibron
RG Chuck Noll (fut #Steelers coach)
LT Lou Groza #HOF
RT John Sandusky
LE Pete Brewster
RE Dante Lavelli #HOF
QB Otto Graham #HOF
HB Ray Renfro
HB Dub Jones
HB Chick Jagade pic.twitter.com/jhaAzMC8wW
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) January 4, 2020
Gibron started the game at left guard, but the Browns lost to the Detroit Lions 17-16.
Since joining the NFL in 1950, the Browns and Gibron had been very successful in advancing to the NFL championship game, doing it every year.
The goal in 1954 was to win the NFL championship game, which the Browns then had not done since 1950.
Gibron started all 12 regular season games at left guard in 1954.
In a 31-7 victory over the Chicago Cardinals on October 10, 1954, Gibron helped Cleveland gain 431 total yards.
With Gibron at left guard, the Browns defeated the Washington Redskins 62-3 on November 7, 1954.
The Browns amassed 515 total yards.
On December 5, 1954, Gibron’s play helped Cleveland gain 445 total yards, in a 34-14 win over the Washington Redskins.
The following week, on December 12, 1954, in a 42-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gibron helped the Browns have 464 total yards.
For his play in 1954, Gibron again received a Pro Bowl invitation.
In addition, he was named second team All-Pro by the Associated Press and United Press International in 1954.
With a 9-3 record, Cleveland again won the NFL East Division title in 1954.
The Browns offense, with Gibron at left guard, ranked in the NFL regular season in 1954 second in points scored (336), third in rushing yards (1,793), and third in rushing touchdowns (23).
The Browns met the Detroit Lions in the 1954 NFL championship game on December 26, 1954.
With Gibron starting the game at left guard, Cleveland’s offense scored eight touchdowns – five rushing touchdowns and three touchdowns on passes from Otto Graham.
The Browns defeated the Lions 56-10 for Cleveland’s and Gibron’s second NFL championship.
In 1955, Gibron again started all 12 regular season games at left guard.
On October 2, 1955, Gibron’s play helped the Browns score five offensive touchdowns and defeat the San Francisco 49ers 38-3.
In a 41-10 Browns victory over the Green Bay Packers on October 23, 1955, Gibron helped Cleveland gain 454 total yards.
With Gibron at left guard, Cleveland also exceeded 40 points in a 41-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 20, 1955.
Gibron’s play helped the Browns score five offensive touchdowns, in a 35-24 Browns defeat of the Chicago Cardinals on December 11, 1955.
For the fourth consecutive year, Gibron received a Pro Bowl invitation in 1955.
He also earned his highest All-Pro honors in 1955, being named first team All-Pro by each of the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the New York Daily News, and United Press International and second team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
The Browns won another NFL East Division title in 1955, posting a 9-2-1 record.
Gibron helped the Browns offense rank in the NFL regular season in 1955 first in points scored (349), third in total passing and rushing yards (3,970), first in passing touchdowns (21), second in rushing yards (2,020), and first in rushing touchdowns (20).
Cleveland advanced to play the Los Angeles Rams in the 1955 NFL championship game on December 26, 1955.
Gibron started the game at left guard and helped the Browns score four offensive touchdowns – two on runs by Otto Graham and two on passes by Graham.
Cleveland repeated as NFL champion, defeating the Rams 38-14.
The 1954 and 1955 NFL championships probably were the high points of Gibron’s NFL career.
In 1956, Gibron played in seven, and started six, regular season games at left guard for Cleveland.
However, when Gibron suffered a leg injury in 1956, the Browns released him so that they could sign another player.
Two weeks later, Gibron signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
He played in two regular season games, and started one regular season game, with Philadelphia in 1956 (including a 17-14 loss to his old team, the Browns, on December 2, 1956).
In 1957, Gibron started all 12 regular season games at left guard for Philadelphia.
The Eagles posted a 4-8 record in 1957 (including a 24-7 loss to Cleveland on October 13, 1957, and a 17-7 win over the Browns on October 20, 1957).
Gibron next played with the Chicago Bears in 1958.
He played in all 12, and started 11, regular season games at left guard for the Bears in 1958.
Chicago had an 8-4 record in 1958.
Gibron’s last NFL season was 1959, when he started all 12 regular season games at left guard for the Bears.
Chicago posted another 8-4 record in 1959.
At the age 34, Gibron completed his 11-year professional football playing career.
The Years After the NFL
Gibron was married to Susie for 38 years.
He had three children, William, Kahlil, and Matina.
While some NFL players have little connection to the NFL after their retirement, such was not the case with Gibron.
In 1960, Gibron was hired as an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins.
Gibron stayed as an assistant coach with Washington through 1964.
Gibron next was hired by the Chicago Bears as an assistant coach in 1965.
He worked as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator for the Bears until he was elevated to head coach for the 1972 season.
Gibron was the head coach of Chicago for three seasons from 1972 through 1974.
Unfortunately for Gibron, he was unable to have a winning record with the Bears, posting records of 4-9-1 in 1972, 3-11 in 1973, and 4-10 in 1974.
As a coach, Gibron emphasized the physical side of football.
He said in 1973:
“Football is a hitting game. It’s a violent game. That’s why people like it. There’s a bit of sadist in all of us. They come out on Sunday to see Butkus knock somebody’s head off. Other people are starting to realize that now. Even down in Dallas (where Tom Landry’s reputation was finesse), they cut out the Sermon on the Mount and hired some tough guys like Ernie Stautner and Mike Ditka to teach hitting football. For 10 years, Dallas had the greatest personnel in football, and they only won one Super Bowl.”
The Bears fired Gibron after the end of the 1974 season.
In 1975, Gibron was hired as head coach of the Chicago Winds in the World Football League.
However, after five games, the franchise was terminated out of the league.
Gibron next worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator from 1976 to 1984.
He then worked as a scout for the Seattle Seahawks from 1985 to 1989.
Gibron played himself in 1971 in the movie, Brian’s Song, about the relationship between Bears running backs Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo and the death of Piccolo.
Besides his playing and coaching, Gibron became known for certain non-football traits – his personality and his eating.
The New York Times described Gibron as a “wisecracker and gourmand” and stated:
“His players enjoyed him for his football knowledge and salty honesty. Sportswriters enjoyed him for his sense of humor. At a Monday news conference, he would typically raise a shot of whiskey and say, ‘All right, everything is on the record until this touches my lips, and the minute it touches my lips, everything is off the record. . . . [W]ith his love of eating , he weighed well over 300 pounds, and two teammates on the Browns told why. ‘Every time you went to dinner,’ Lou Groza told The Chicago Tribune, ‘it was a banquet.’ And as Dante Lavelli said, ‘He used to eat until 2 o’clock in the morning.”
Gibron’s recognition by the public increased when he was captured on video by NFL Films for his distinctive comments and appearance as a coach on the sideline.
The Chicago Tribune described Gibron as “one of the most recognizable and colorful characters in NFL history.
In Chicago, he quickly became the city’s most popular sports figure”.
Gibron suffered from various health issues, including a brain tumor and strokes.
He died on September 23, 1997, at the age of 72, in Belleair, Florida.
Paying homage to “Legendary” Coach and former #Browns OG Abe Gibron #GoBucs pic.twitter.com/siBf5rUisn
— exBrÖwnsfan (@browns_ex) February 6, 2021
After his death, Gibron’s wife, Susie, said:
“I know he’s happy. He and (George) Halas are up there and have their football game all organized and Halas is teaching Abe some new words.”
In 1976, Gibron was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.
He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Michigan City High School Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
In 2013, Gibron was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Program.
He was also named to “Pro Football Reference’s” first team All-1950’s Team.
While NFL fans may know Gibron from his unsuccessful stint as head coach of the Bears or appearances on NFL Films videos, they often forget his skill as a left guard. Browns fans should not.
First, Gibron was a durable player for Cleveland.
During his six full seasons with the Browns from 1950 to 1955, he played in 77 out of 79 regular season and playoff games.
Second, Gibron was recognized with postseason honors.
During the five seasons that he principally was a starter for Cleveland from 1951 to 1955, Gibron received Pro Bowl invitations in four years and various All-Pro honors in four years.
Third, and most importantly, Gibron contributed to the team success of the Browns.
During his six full seasons with the Browns from 1950 to 1955, in each year, Cleveland was ranked in the top three in one or more offensive statistical categories, finished first or tied for first in its division, and advanced to the NFL championship game (winning three championships in 1950, 1954, and 1955).
For his blocking and outstanding play at left guard, Abe Gibron should be remembered by Browns fans, as a key contributor to the Browns dynasty during the 1950’s.
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