It’s not often that a professional athlete plays long enough to see three different decades of their sport.
Pro football players especially have to endure consistent pounding on their bodies, which takes a toll on their health.
However, there are anomalies in the sport and former Browns lineman Dick Schafrath was one of them.
— Downtown Browns (@DowntownBrowns_) June 25, 2020
After a memorable college career, Schafrath became a pro during a low period of Browns football.
He stuck around long enough to see those fortunes change and experience the thrill of victory many times over.
Once his playing career ended, Schafrath found himself in the limelight again as a politician.
This is the story of the life and career of Dick Schafrath.
Early Life and College
Richard Philip “Dick” Schafrath was born on March 21, 1937 in Wooster, Ohio.
Schafrath grew up watching how hard his father worked each day and that work ethic rubbed off on him.
In high school, Schafrath played baseball and football and played both sports well.
In fact, as he was set to graduate, the Cincinnati Reds actively pursued Schafrath.
However, coach Woody Hayes and Ohio State also wanted him badly.
Schafrath’s favorite sport was baseball and he initially leaned toward a contract with the Reds.
However, Hayes was persistent and he made his case with Schafrath’s parents.
Eventually, Hayes convinced the Schafraths’ that Ohio State was the place to be.
Schafrath’s talent was unmistakable as a freshman.
Hayes saw this talent every day and asked Schafrath to play on both sides of the ball as an offensive tackle and defensive end.
In 1957 and 1958, Schafrath and company led OSU in defeats of rival Michigan.
During the 1958 Michigan game, Schafrath made a name for himself.
With the Wolverines driving late in the game down by six and looking at first and goal, Schafrath sprung from his defensive end position.
He hit the Michigan running back hard enough to jar the ball loose and it was recovered by an OSU teammate.
The play secured a Buckeye victory and a place in the hearts of every OSU fan.
— john edwardsen (@followbacksen) December 26, 2016
The ‘57 season also saw a Buckeyes national championship and a Rose Bowl victory in 1958.
As a team captain in 1958, Schafrath was an unquestioned leader of the Ohio State team.
It looked like 1959 would be an amazing senior year for Schafrath.
That was until he decided to make a surprising decision.
1959 NFL Draft
It’s commonplace now, but college athletes in Schafrath’s time did not leave college early for the pros, at least not that often.
However, that’s precisely what Schafrath did in early 1959.
Anticipating that he would be selected as a pro, Schafrath left OSU to prepare for a career in the NFL.
During a road trip with pal Dick LeBeau (who would have his own memorable career as a player and coach) to Wheeling, West Virginia, Schafrath found out he had been drafted.
During the trip, Schafrath called home and told his mom that his car ran out of gas.
During the conversation, Schafrath’s mother told him he had received numerous calls by a man named Paul Brown.
Schafrath recalled the conversation in an interview with the Browns.
“Who is he (Paul Brown)?” Schafrath’s mother asked. “He’s from Cleveland or something,” Schafrath responded. “Why? What did he want?”
Brown wanted to tell Schafrath that he had been drafted by Cleveland.
As it turns out, LeBeau was drafted by the Browns as well in the fifth round.
“So, I called up to Cleveland and Paul said, ‘You’re one of us, boy.’ So, up to Cleveland I came,” said Schafrath.
When he arrived in Cleveland, Schafrath was 220 pounds, light for an offensive tackle, which was where Brown wanted to play him.
Needing to bulk up, Schafrath embarked on a serious weight training regimen.
He also ate anything and everything that came in his general vicinity.
Slowly, but surely, Schafrath’s weight increased to 260 pounds by the time training camp started.
Unique Working Arrangement with Brown
When Schafrath entered the league, professional football players had to have second jobs.
Even as professional athletes, they did not make enough money to support themselves and a family.
While many of his teammates worked as insurance salesmen, car sales, or even butchers, Schafrath decided to become a full-time active member of the U.S. Air Force.
Making only $600 a month with the Browns, his Air Force job helped to supplement his pay.
The only problem was, the Air Force required Schafrath to put in 12 hour shifts and he could be called into active duty at any moment.
Because of his commitment, Schafrath rarely practiced with the Browns during the 1959 or 1960 seasons.
Instead, Coach Brown would mail that weekend’s game plan to Schafrath at the beginning of each week.
Brown also included exercises to stay in shape.
Even with his full-time job, Schafrath started every game for the Browns in ‘59 and ‘60.
Eventually, Schafrath began to get paid better by the Browns and, by 1961, he joined the Air Force reserves.
This was the beginning of the Vietnam “conflict” and Schafrath was never called up for active duty.
In a testament to his belief in duty for country, Schafrath felt guilty about not being called to active service.
“I always felt guilty,” Schafrath said about not fighting for his country abroad. “I was always hoping they would call me. I respected soldiers, because that was real war. They were putting their life on the line every day.”
Although he wasn’t around much for practice his first few years, Schafrath was still a member of the Browns teams that were mired in a slump.
Of course, the years from 1959-1963 were only considered a slump by Browns standards.
The organization had frequently been in the postseason since their inception and had only missed the playoffs once, in 1956.
That wasn’t the case in Schafrath’s first five years in the league.
The Browns had winning records during this time, but they did not win enough to qualify for the postseason.
After Schafrath’s fourth season in 1962, Brown was fired by owner Art Modell.
Although it was a surprise to Cleveland fans, the writing was on the wall when several Browns players complained about their coach’s teaching methods.
Former Brown assistant Blanton Collier took the reins in 1963 and led the team to a 10-4 record, the most wins by a Browns team since 1953.
Schafrath was recognized that year for his play by being named the Browns MVP as well as receiving First-team All-Pro honors and an invite to the Pro Bowl.
Though the organization failed to make the playoffs again that year, good things were soon to come.
1964 & 1965
Schafrath continued to start every game as he had since his rookie year.
In 1964, everything came together for the team and they finished the season 10-3-1.
In the NFL Championship game, they locked horns with the mighty Baltimore Colts.
The Browns were given little chance to win the game.
Instead, Cleveland blanked the Colts 27-0.
The victory ended up being the team’s last championship.
Schafrath was voted as a First-team All-Pro again and selected for his second Pro Bowl.
In 1965, the Browns reached the mountaintop again, squaring off against the Packers in the title game.
This time, however, Cleveland lost 23-12.
“The Mule” (as he was called by his teammates) would be voted First-team All-Pro for the third time along with another trip to the Pro Bowl.
In 1966, the Browns missed the playoffs despite a 9-5 record.
Schafrath played well and was voted to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl.
In 1967, Cleveland finished 9-5 again only this time they qualified for the postseason and took on the Cowboys in the Conference Championship game.
The Browns were humiliated during the game and fell 52-14.
Schafrath was voted to his fifth Pro Bowl.
Happy Birthday Dick Schafrath, “The Mule”, out of @OhioStateFB : National Champion, 13 year @NFL career, 176 games played, 158 games started, 7X Pro Bowl, 4X 1st Team All Pro, @NFL Champion 64, former member of Ohio Senate; 83 Today… pic.twitter.com/YtPVzMGQ8I
— Larry in Missouri (@LarryInMissouri) March 21, 2020
The 1968 season brought another postseason trip after a 10-4 record.
This time Cleveland exacted revenge on Dallas and came away with a 31-20 win in the Conference Championship game.
The following week, the Browns were blanked by their old rival, the Colts, 34-0 in the NFL Championship game.
The Mule added another Pro Bowl to his resume after the season.
1969 saw a 10-3-1 Cleveland record and a third straight Conference Championship game against the Cowboys.
Just as they did in ‘68, the Browns advanced to the title game after knocking off Dallas 38-14.
Also in a repeat of 1968, Cleveland lost the title game, this time to Minnesota 27-7.
Schafrath was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl and selected for his fourth First-team All-Pro nod.
1970 & 1971
Age along with wear and tear was starting to catch up with Schafrath as the 1970 season dawned.
He continued to start every game that year as the Browns missed the playoffs with a 7-7 record.
Schafrath was not selected for the Pro Bowl for the first time since 1963.
In 1971, Schafrath started nine games and did his part in helping Cleveland get back to the postseason with a 9-5 record.
The Browns lost in the Divisional playoffs to the Colts 20-3.
After the season, The Mule hung up his cleats and called it a career.
In 13 seasons, Schafrath started all but three games.
He was voted to the Pro Bowl seven times and was named a First-team All-Pro four times.
Dick Schafrath (7x probowler not in hof) pic.twitter.com/PJDmecpEqZ
— D Hoffmann (@daphit51) October 13, 2020
Schafrath was a colorful figure off the field as well.
He was known to take part in eating contests to help him gain weight for upcoming seasons.
He also wrestled a bear and once ran 66 miles from Cleveland’s stadium to Wooster because people told him he couldn’t do it.
Despite his fear of water, the Mule once took a canoe and paddled 78 miles across Lake Erie.
— Neil Brown (@ne_brown) July 7, 2014
Second Career after Retirement
Shortly after retiring, Schafrath took a coaching position with Washington after being offered a job by Redskins coach George Allen.
Schafrath served as an assistant offensive line coach for Washington from 1975-1977.
In 1983, Schafrath began a career in politics.
He was tabbed by then president Ronald Reagan to coordinate and organize “Athletes for Reagan-Bush ‘84”.
The purpose of the organization was to get celebrity athletes to appear at fundraisers to help raise support for Reagan’s re-election campaign.
Three years later, Schafrath won a seat in the Ohio State Senate.
He continued to serve in that capacity until 2003 when his term limit was up.
That same year, Schafrath was elected to the Browns Legends Club.
After retiring from politics, Schafrath decided to return to OSU to get his degree.
In 2006 (at the age of 69), he graduated with a B.S. in Sports and Leisure Studies.
As part of his OSU coursework, Schafrath wrote an autobiography titled Heart of a Mule.
The following year, Schafrath was named by the Professional Football Researchers Association to the PFRA Very Good Class of 2007.
— Super Books (@SuperBookss) September 21, 2016
Lately, there has been a clamoring by Browns fans for Schafrath to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Whether he gets the nod or not, the Mule will always be remembered for his time with the Browns and his service to the people of Ohio.