While most attention in the NFL draft focuses on players drafted in the first round, a team is considered to have an especially successful draft if it can find some hidden gem at the end of a draft.
One such hidden gem for the Cleveland Browns was Cody Risien.
Drafted in the seventh round of the 1979 draft, Risien earned Pro Bowl and other honors and played on five division winners and seven playoff teams as an offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns from 1979 to 1989.
"I ended up on top of him. He was not happy. We were all piled on top of each other & I could hear him cussing & snorting. I got up and went to the huddle thinking what have I done?"#Steelers pic.twitter.com/7EAnOLYSTM
— Steelers Takeaways 🌗 (@PittsburghSport) September 4, 2019
We take a look at the life of Cody Risien – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Cody Lewis Risien was born on March 22, 1957 in Bryan, Texas.
Bryan is located in east central Texas.
It borders College Station, Texas, where Texas A&M University is located.
Risien’s family moved to the Houston, Texas vicinity, first to the Memorial area and then to the Cy-Fair area.
From 1971 to 1975, Risien attended Cy-Fair High School
Risien first played on the Cy-Fair High School football team as a defensive end when he was a sophomore in 1972.
As a junior, Risien moved to the offensive line.
A second high school opened in the Cy-Fair school district in 1972, causing the football team to divide between two schools.
With the loss of football players to the new high school, Cy-Fair High School failed to make the playoffs during any of Risien’s three varsity seasons.
In recalling his time playing at Cy-Fair High School, Risien said:
“(Cy-Fair) split, and we lost our freshmen class. If we could have kept that team, we could have been really good. [Head coach Tommy] Ward was a good head coach – an organized, good communicator. [Offensive line coach Tommy] Marshall (taught us) discipline. Anybody that played for Coach Marshall (learned) good technique and good footwork.”
Risien’s play in high school attracted the attention of Texas A&M head coach Emory Bellard.
Texas A&M’s interest in Risien was matched by Risien’s interest in the Aggies.
Risien’s father, George, had been a student at Texas A&M.
George told Risien and his younger brother, Flint, that they could play college football at any school, but if it was not at Texas A&M, they would have to change their last name.
There was no doubt about what college Risien would select.
“My brother and I were born and brainwashed to be Texas Aggies. All I ever wanted to do was play football at Texas A&M University. It was a boyhood dream come true.”
Staying in Texas, Risien headed back to near his birthplace in Bryan to attend Texas A&M in College Station.
Risien played football at Texas A&M from 1976 through 1978.
As a sophomore in 1976, Risien was a starter on the offensive line.
Risien’s play helped Texas A&M post a 10-2 record and be ranked seventh in the nation in the final Associated Press poll in 1976.
Among the victories by the Aggies in 1976 were a 27-3 road victory over rival Texas on November 25, 1976 and a 37-14 Sun Bowl victory over Florida on January 2, 1977.
Texas A&M averaged 30.3 points per game in 1976, which ranked 10th among 137 college football teams.
In addition, in three games in 1976, the Aggies rushed for over 300 yards (526 yards in a 57-34 win over Rice on October 23, 1976, 349 yards in a 36-0 shutout of SMU on October 30, 1976, and 518 yards in a 59-10 defeat of TCU on November 20, 1976).
In 1977, Risien was named All-Southwest Conference at tackle.
With Risien at tackle, Texas A&M had an 8-4 record in 1977.
As one of their victories in 1977, the Aggies defeated Texas Tech (then ranked seventh in the nation in the Associated Press poll) 33-17 on September 24, 1977.
Texas A&M averaged 29.2 points per game in 1977, which ranked 18th among 145 college football teams.
In five games in 1977, the Aggies also rushed for over 300 yards (348 yards in a 28-14 win over Kansas on September 10, 1977, 331 yards in a 27-6 victory over Virginia Tech on September 17, 1977, 313 yards in a 38-31 defeat of Baylor on October 15, 1977, 404 yards in a 38-21 win over SMU on October 29, 1977, and 606 yards in a 52-23 victory over TCU on November 19, 1977).
In 1978, for the second consecutive year, Risien was named All-Southwest Conference at tackle.
Texas A&M, helped by the play of Risien (who was also a team captain in 1978), had another 8-4 record and was ranked 19th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll in 1978.
In Risien’s final game for the Aggies, Texas A&M defeated Iowa State 28-12 in the Hall of Fame Classic on December 20, 1978.
— Texas A&M Football 🍊🌴🏆 (@AggieFootball) May 24, 2018
Aggies running back Curtis Dickey ran for 278 yards in the game.
Texas A&M averaged 24.2 points per game in 1978, which ranked 36th out of 138 college football teams.
The Aggies also rushed for over 300 yards in six regular season games in 1978 (322 yards in a 37-10 win over Kansas on September 9, 1978, 312 yards in a 37-2 defeat of Boston College on September 23, 1978, 523 yards in a 58-0 shutout of Memphis State on September 30, 1978, 431 yards in a 38-9 victory over Texas Tech on October 7, 1978, 352 yards in a 38-21 win over Rice on October 28, 1978, and 380 yards in a 15-7 defeat of TCU on November 25, 1978).
Risien graduated with a degree from the Texas A&M School of Architecture in 1979 and headed to the NFL.
The Pro Football Years
Risien was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round of the 1979 NFL draft; he was the 183rd overall pick.
In recalling his rookie training tramp with the Browns in 1979, Risien said:
“Being in an NFL training camp, meeting guys like Greg Pruitt and Calvin Hill, who was a rookie with the Cowboys way back when I was in the seventh grade. I introduced myself to him and called him ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir.’ Guys I had watched over the years playing. Reggie Rucker was there, Tom DeLeone and Doug Dieken, of course. That was really exciting and certainly a challenge. I guess the most challenging part of my rookie-year training camp (at Kent State University) was the first day of practice. . . . [A]fter the first morning practice, my brother called from Houston and told me I needed to get back home. I had left my father dying with cancer. I immediately told (coach) Sam Rutigliano and he wasn’t aware of the situation. But the whole Browns family was so accommodating and encouraging. They got me to the airport and I went back to Houston to join my family at my dad’s bedside. He passed away that night. It was tough. Going through training camp with the things on the field, mentally and physically, that’s a challenge anyway, but that really added to it.”
As a seventh round draft pick (in a draft when the Browns selected two other offensive tackles in earlier rounds) and burdened by the death of his father, it would be easy to understand if Risien had failed to make Cleveland’s roster.
However, Risien overcame these obstacles.
“When I got back from my father’s funeral, they moved me to guard. I was like ‘wow, that might be the writing on the wall.’ At the time, I was the NFL’s tallest guard (at 6-7). George Buehler (who started at left guard to open the 1979 season) was in his last season in the NFL and there was an opening there. He was having some physical problems. So guard was the best place to be. We were stacked at tackle. Things just work out sometimes. I really excelled at pass blocking. The Browns, with Sam Rutigliano and Brian Sipe and the Kardiac Kids and the receivers we had, we really liked to throw the ball and pass blocking is definitely a premium in the NFL. . . . I had long arms. Rod Humenuik was our line coach and he was a good teacher. We had an experienced line and just watching those guys work and operate was an education. I just got it, you know. I started pass blocking the likes of Jerry Sherk in practice and caught the coach’s eye. I think it was the second pre-season game against the Baltimore Colts I even started. I had the opportunity to play a good bit as the season unfolded and they threw me in against the Steelers in the sixth game of the (regular) season and the rest is history.”
In 1979, Risien played in all 16, and started 10, regular season games at left guard.
He was named to the 1979 All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers of America.
…Cody Risien… pic.twitter.com/RkXa9LOMk9
— David Eiben (@OhioSt8r) December 15, 2020
Cleveland had a 9-7 record in 1979.
Risien contributed to Cleveland’s offense ranking in the NFL in 1979 ninth in points scored (359), third in total passing and rushing yards (5,772), sixth in passing yards (3,491), and tied for second in average yards per rushing attempt (4.5).
In addition, in 1979, quarterback Brian Sipe tied for the lead in touchdown passes (28) and running back Mike Pruitt ranked fifth in rushing yards (1,294).
In 1980, Risien moved to right tackle, the position where he played for the rest of his career.
He started all 16 regular season games in 1980.
Risien helped the Browns offense gain 400 or more total passing and rushing yards in five regular season games in 1980 (400 yards in a 34-27 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 28, 1980, 471 yards in a 26-21 defeat of the Green Bay Packers on October 19, 1980, 439 yards in a 27-26 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 26, 1980, 432 yards in a 27-21 victory over the Chicago Bears on November 3, 1980, and 403 yards in a 28-27 defeat of the Baltimore Colts on November 9, 1980).
The Browns had an 11-5 record in 1980 and won the AFC Central Division title.
With Risien at right tackle, Cleveland’s offense ranked in the NFL in 1980 eighth in points scored (357), fifth in total passing and rushing yards (5,588), second in passing yards (3,915), and second in fewest sacks allowed (23).
In 1980, in addition, Brian Sipe (who was named the NFL Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press) ranked tied for second in touchdown passes (30) and Mike Pruitt ranked eighth in rushing yards (1,034).
Cleveland played the Oakland Raiders in a divisional round playoff game on January 4, 1981.
Risien started the game at right tackle.
In a game known as “Red Right 88” (after a passing play that led to a game-winning interception for the Raiders, as a result of Cleveland deciding to attempt to score a touchdown instead of kick a potential game-winning field goal), the Browns narrowly lost to Oakland 14-12.
In 1981, Risien started all 16 regular season games.
On October 25, 1981, in a 42-28 Browns victory over the Baltimore Colts, Risien helped the Browns offense gain 562 total passing and rushing yards, including that Brian Sipe threw for 444 yards.
Cleveland fell to a 5-11 record in 1981.
The Browns offense, helped by Risien, ranked in the NFL in 1981 fourth in total passing and rushing yards (5,915) and fourth in passing yards (3,986).
The 1982 regular season was only nine games because of a players’ strike; Risien started all of the nine regular season games.
In the opening game of the 1982 regular season, Risien’s blocking helped the Browns rush for 200 yards, as Cleveland defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-7 on September 12, 1982.
Cleveland had a 4-5 record in 1982.
Risien’s play helped tight end Ozzie Newsome rank tied for fourth in pass receptions (49) and seventh in receiving yards (633) in 1982.
With an expanded 16-team playoff system in 1982, the Browns’ 4-5 record was sufficient to make the playoffs in 1982.
On January 8, 1983, Cleveland met the Los Angeles Raiders in a playoff game.
Risien started the game at right tackle, but the Browns lost to the Raiders 27-10.
In 1983, Risien started all 16 regular season games (for the fourth consecutive year, starting every regular season game for the Browns).
In a 25-19 Browns win in overtime over the Houston Oilers on October 30, 1983, Risien’s blocking helped Cleveland rush for 188 yards.
Risien was named second team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and first team All-Conference by United Press International in 1983.
The Browns posted a 9-7 record in 1983.
With Risien’s help, Cleveland’s offense ranked in the NFL in 1983 tenth in total passing and rushing yards (5,583), sixth in passing yards (3,661), and tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed (33). In addition, in 1983, Brian Sipe ranked tied for fourth in touchdown passes (26), Mike Pruitt ranked ninth in rushing yards (1,184), and Ozzie Newsome ranked second in pass receptions (89).
In 1984, Risien suffered a knee injury in the final preseason game and missed the entire 1984 regular season.
In Risien’s absence, Cleveland had a 5-11 record in 1984.
Returning to action in 1985, Risien played in and started 12 regular season games.
The Browns had an 8-8 record in 1985 and won the AFC Central Division title.
Risien contributed to the Browns offense ranking in the NFL in 1985 fourth in fewest sacks allowed (36), eighth in rushing yards (2,285), and tied for eighth in average yards per rushing attempt (4.3). In 1985, in addition, running back Kevin Mack ranked tenth in rushing yards (1,104).
Cleveland played the Miami Dolphins in a divisional round playoff game on January 4, 1986.
With Risien starting the game at right tackle, the Browns rushed for 251 yards in the game (including 161 rushing yards by running back Earnest Byner).
However, Cleveland lost to the Dolphins 24-21.
In 1986, Risien started all 16 regular season games.
He recovered two fumbles.
With Risien at right tackle, the Browns offense gained over 400 total passing and rushing yards in three regular season games in 1986 (558 yards in a 26-16 defeat of the Miami Dolphins on November 10, 1986, 536 yards in a 37-31 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 23, 1986, and 462 yards in a 47-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers on December 21, 1986).
Risien received his first Pro Bowl invitation in 1986.
He was also named first team All-Conference by Pro Football Weekly and second team All-Conference by United Press International in 1986.
Cleveland had a 12-4 record in 1986 and again won the AFC Central Division title.
Risien helped Cleveland’s offense rank in the NFL in 1986 fifth in points scored (391), ninth in total passing and rushing yards (5,394), and eighth in passing yards (3,744).
#whatISee #63 Cody risen the rt tackle pulls 2take on #donnieshell off the edge, #Hermanfontenot takes care of the initial edge with #DANFike leading the way, @TheMack34 getting the last block so i could get the edge. Most def wanted 2keep the clock running @steelcitystar 👇🏽 https://t.co/oFNuwRZoyv
— Earnest A. Byner (@EByner) September 1, 2018
The Browns played the New York Jets in a divisional round playoff game on January 3, 1987.
Risien started the game at right tackle.
Cleveland, helped by Risien, gained 558 total passing and rushing yards (including that quarterback Bernie Kosar threw for 489 yards), as the Browns defeated the Jets 23-20 in double overtime.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) January 7, 2019
Cleveland then advanced to the AFC championship game against the Denver Broncos on January 11, 1987.
Risien started the game at right tackle.
In a game known as “The Drive” (after a late fourth quarter game-tying 98-yard drive led by Broncos quarterback John Elway), Cleveland narrowly lost in overtime to Denver 23-20.
Risien played in and started 13 regular season games in 1987.
He received his second Pro Bowl invitation and was also named second team All-Conference by United Press International in 1987.
With a 10-5 record in 1987, the Browns won their third consecutive AFC Central Division title.
Risien contributed to the Browns offense ranking in the NFL in 1987 third in points scored (390), ninth in total passing and rushing yards (5,200), fifth in passing yards (3,455), and tied for seventh in fewest sacks allowed (29).
In addition, in 1987, Bernie Kosar ranked sixth in touchdown passes (22).
Cleveland played the Indianapolis Colts in a divisional round playoff game on January 9, 1988.
The Browns, with Risien starting the game at right tackle, gained 404 total passing and rushing yards and defeated the Colts 38-21.
The following week, on January 17, 1988, the Browns again played the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game.
Risien started the game at right tackle and helped the Browns gain 464 total passing and rushing yards against Denver.
In 1988, Risien started all 16 regular season games.
On December 18, 1988, Risien’s blocking helped the Browns gain 388 total passing and rushing yards, in a 28-23 Cleveland victory over the Houston Oilers.
The win over the Oilers gave the Browns a 10-6 record in 1988.
Risien helped Cleveland’s offense rank in the NFL in 1988 ninth in passing yards (3,436).
With their 10-6 record, the Browns earned a wild card playoff berth and played the Houston Oilers in the playoffs on December 24, 1988.
Risien started the game at right tackle, but Cleveland lost to Houston 24-23.
Risien again started all 16 regular season games in 1989.
In the opening game of the 1989 regular season on September 10, 1989, Risien’s play helped Cleveland gain 357 total passing and rushing yards, as the Browns routed the Pittsburgh Steelers 51-0.
Cleveland, with a 9-6-1 record in 1989, won its fourth AFC Central Division title in five seasons.
With Risien at right tackle, Cleveland’s offense ranked in the NFL in 1989 tied for eighth in fewest sacks allowed (34). In 1989, in addition, Webster Slaughter ranked seventh in receiving yards (1,236).
The Browns played a divisional round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills on January 6, 1990.
Risien started the game at right tackle, and Cleveland defeated Buffalo 34-30.
The following week, on January 14, 1990, for the third time in four years, the Browns played the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game.
In what turned out to be his final game in the NFL, Risien started the game at right tackle, but the Broncos defeated the Browns 37-21.
On July 28, 1990, Risien retired from the NFL.
The Years After the NFL
Risien was married to Kathy.
He has three daughters, Jen, Cassidy, and Jessica.
Since his retirement from the NFL, Risien has worked in real estate and construction, including as a project manager for Austin Commercial.
“You can’t play pro football forever. . . . I like being in the construction industry. As a program manager, it’s a good mix of being in the office and being in the field. It’s good, hard, honest work. A project is kind of like a football season – it has a beginning and an end.”
Risien was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Program in 2010.
In 2011, Risien was inducted into the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame.
While Risien is disappointed by the close losses in the “Red Right 88”, “The Drive” and “The Fumble” games, he has positive memories of playing in Cleveland in front of Browns fans:
“I firmly believe it was safer being on the field than it was being on the Dawg Pound (during the Browns-Steelers games). Cleveland Browns fans are next to none. They love the Browns, and they show up. Cleveland gets a bad rap, but it’s a great town. They’re a Browns team, and they love their Browns.”
It is often difficult to statistically measure the career performance of an NFL offensive lineman.
However, in looking at Risien’s career from four perspectives, it is clear he was an excellent player for the Browns.
First, Risien was durable.
Despite having 12 surgeries while he played, excluding the 1984 season, Risien missed only seven regular season games over his other 10 seasons.
Second, Risien achieved his own individual success, with two Pro Bowl invitations and other honors.
Talking Football with The Guys 🏈Joe D,Judge Dick Ambrose,George Lilja and Cody Risien👍🏼Go Browns 🏈 pic.twitter.com/TnEVvYD888
— Bernie Kosar (@BernieKosarQB) September 8, 2018
Having Breakfast in Boston with the Great Paul Farren and Cody Risien.Fantastic Offensive Linemen from the 80's Brown Teams!!🏈🏈🏈 pic.twitter.com/VTZJLn781e
— Bernie Kosar (@BernieKosarQB) June 30, 2017
Fourth, Risien’s performance contributed to team success.
Over the 10 seasons that Risien played for the Browns, Cleveland made the playoffs seven times (including winning the AFC Central Division title five times) and advanced to the AFC championship game three times.
Durability, individual success, contributing to the individual success of others, and contributing to team success – the legacy of Cody Risien is that he was one of the best offensive linemen to ever play for the Cleveland Browns