For some NFL players, it takes being on the right team to fully develop their football potential.
One such player is Don Colo.
For his first three seasons in the NFL, Colo was largely unrecognized, playing on losing teams.
In 1953, Colo was traded to the Cleveland Browns, and he started to be regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.
Over his six years with the Browns, Colo was invited to three Pro Bowls and received various All-Pro honors.
His play also helped Cleveland advance to four NFL championship games and win NFL championships in 1954 and 1955.
70 Days !! Don Colo was a 3rd round pick in the 1950 NFL draft. Don played played with the Browns from 1953- 1958 and went to 3 pro bowls. Don was also a veteran of World War II. pic.twitter.com/sftQDsPjSH
— Brad Russell (@BradRussell_5) June 30, 2019
We take a look at the life of Don Colo – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Donald Richard Colo was born on January 5, 1925 in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
East Bridgwater is located in southeastern Massachusetts.
While Colo was growing up there, East Bridgewater had a population of approximately 3,500 people.
Colo was the son of Josephine and Virgilio Colo.
He attended East Bridgwater High School.
Colo did not play football in high school because East Bridgewater High School did not have a football team.
Colo was an excellent student in high school.
At the age of 18, on July 1, 1943, Colo joined the U.S. Navy.
He served on the U.S.S. Samuel S. Miles in the South Pacific during World War II.
After Colo returned from military service, in 1946, he enrolled at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Colo decided to try out for football at Brown.
He ended up earning three letters at Brown in 1947, 1948, and 1949.
He played tackle at Brown.
In 1947, Brown posted a 4-4-1 record.
Among its victories in 1947 was a 20-14 victory over Yale (then ranked 20th in the nation by the Associated Press) on November 8, 1947, Brown had a 7-2 record in 1948.
On October 2, 1948, Brown defeated Princeton 23-20.
In 1949, Brown had an 8-1 record.
In consecutive weeks, Brown defeated Yale 14-0 on November 5, 1949, Harvard 28-14 on November 12, 1949, and Columbia 16-7 on November 19, 1949.
Future College Football Hall of Fame Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was co-captain of the 1949 Brown football team.
Colo graduated from Brown in 1950 and headed to the NFL.
The Pro Football Years
In the 1950 NFL draft, Colo was drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Colts, as the 28th overall pick.
1950 was the first year for the Colts in the NFL.
The Colts, the Cleveland Browns, and the San Francisco 49ers had moved from the All-America Football Conference (which dissolved) to the NFL in 1950.
As a rookie in 1950, Colo started all 12 regular season games at left defensive tackle.
Playing at a height of six feet and three inches and a weight of 252 pounds, Colo was one of the biggest players on the Colts team.
Colo recovered two fumbles in 1950.
Baltimore had a 1-11 record in 1950.
Among the defeats for the Colts in 1950 was a 31-0 shutout by the Cleveland Browns on September 24, 1950.
Colo’s play helped Baltimore rank in the NFL regular season in 1950 tied for fourth in recovered turnovers (48) and first in defensive interceptions (34).
The Colts were beset by major financial problems and disbanded after the 1950 season.
The NFL placed the Colts players in the 1951 NFL draft.
Colo was “re-drafted” by the New York Yanks in the ninth round of the 1951 NFL draft; he was the 106th overall pick.
In 1951, Colo started all 12 regular season games at right defensive tackle for New York.
Colo recovered one fumble in 1951.
New York had a 1-9-2 record in 1951.
Colo helped the Yanks rank in the NFL regular season in 1951 tied for fifth in defensive interceptions (22).
For the second consecutive year, Colo played on a team with significant financial problems.
The Yanks folded after the 1951 season.
A group of Dallas businessmen purchased the player contracts of the Yanks players, including Colo, under a new franchise, the Dallas Texans.
In 1952, Colo played in four, and started two, regular season games for the Dallas Texans.
He intercepted a pass, which he returned for 11 yards, in 1952.
In 1952, Dallas had a 1-11 record.
Colo contributed to Dallas ranking in the NFL regular season in 1952 tied for third in recovered turnovers (46), tied for fifth in recovered fumbles (18), tied for third in defensive interceptions (28), and fourth in sacks (43).
Colo’s connection to Dallas was to be as short-lived as his connections to Baltimore in 1950 and New York in 1951.
Like the Colts and the Yanks, the Texans had major financial difficulties.
After the 1952 season, the NFL granted a new franchise in Baltimore and transferred the player contracts of the Texans players, including Colo, there.
Although distinct from the 1950 version of the Baltimore Colts, this new franchise was also called the Baltimore Colts.
As it turned out, Colo played longer for the 1950 Baltimore Colts than he would for the 1953 Baltimore Colts, as Colo never played a game for Baltimore in 1953.
Instead, on March 26, 1953, Colo was involved in one of the largest trades in NFL history.
The Colts traded Colo, future Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Mike McCormack, center/linebacker Tom Catlin, guard Herschel Forester, and back John Petitbon to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for 10 players – quarterback Harry Agganis, tackle Dick Batten, end Gern Nagler, safety/kicker Bert Rechichar, linebacker/guard Ed Sharkey, tackle Stu Sheets, defensive back (and future Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach) Don Shula, end/guard Art Spinney, back Carl Taseff, and guard Elmer Wilhoite.
The Browns acquired Colo in part because their defensive tackle Bob Gain was to leave the team to serve in the military in 1953.
For Colo, after playing on three losing teams with a combined record of 3-31-2, it was his first chance to play on a successful team in the NFL.
Cleveland had played in three consecutive NFL championship games since joining the NFL in 1950, winning the championship in 1950.
In 1953, Colo started all 12 regular season games at left defensive tackle for Cleveland.
On September 27, 1953, in the opening game of the 1953 regular season, with Colo at defensive tackle, the Browns shut out the Green Bay Packers 27-0.
Cleveland’s defense held Green Bay to only 55 “net pass yards” and forced four Packers turnovers.
Colo’s play helped Cleveland earn its second shutout in 1953, in a 7-0 victory over the New York Giants on October 25, 1953.
Cleveland’s defense held New York to only 66 “net pass yards”.
Colo recovered one fumble in 1953.
He was named second team All-Pro by the New York Daily News in 1953.
Cleveland won the NFL East Division title in 1953 with an 11-1 record.
Colo’s play helped the Browns defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1953 first in fewest points allowed (162), tied for third in sacks (32), and fifth in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,560).
On December 27, 1953, Cleveland advanced to the 1953 NFL championship game to play the Detroit Lions.
Colo started the game and was credited with one-half of a sack (he combined a sack with future Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Len Ford).
Cleveland forced four Lions turnovers, but Detroit narrowly defeated the Browns 17-16.
In 1954, Colo started all 12 regular season games at right defensive tackle.
Colo recovered two fumbles in 1954.
In 1954, Colo received his first Pro Bowl invitation.
In addition, he was named second team All-Pro by United Press International in 1954.
With a 9-3 record, the Browns again won the NFL East Division title in 1954.
Colo helped Cleveland’s defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1954 first in fewest points allowed (162), first in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,658), tied for fourth in recovered fumbles (19), first in fewest passing yards allowed (1,608), first in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,050), and first in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (2.8).
Cleveland advanced to play the Detroit Lions in the 1954 NFL championship game on December 26, 1954.
The Browns sought revenge on Detroit for beating Cleveland in the 1952 and 1953 NFL championship games.
Colo started the game at right defensive tackle and helped the Browns force nine turnovers (six defensive interceptions and three recovered fumbles) by the Lions.
Cleveland defeated Detroit 56-10 to win the team’s second NFL championship.
In 1955, Colo again started all 12 regular season games at right defensive tackle.
Bob Gain, who had returned from his military service late in the 1954 season, and Colo were a strong pair for Cleveland in the middle of the Browns defensive line.
Future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson, in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech, said:
“I haven’t been this scared since I was chased by Bob Gain and Don Colo.”
On October 2, 1955, Colo helped Cleveland defeat the San Francisco 49ers 38-3.
The Browns defense limited the 49ers to only 72 “net pass yards”.
In addition, Colo’s performance against the 49ers was described in “Pro Football Journal” as follows:
“The usually formidable 49er ground game is limited to just 67 yards as right defensive tackle Don Colo is a stonewall in defending the run. Big Don survived three lost years with the Colts, Yanks, and Texans – but has now developed into a Pro Bowl player for the defending champion Browns.”
In a 24-14 Browns win over the Washington Redskins on October 16, 1955, Colo’s play helped Cleveland’s defense hold Washington to only 51 “net pass yards” and force five Washington turnovers.
Colo received his second consecutive Pro Bowl invitation in 1955.
He was also named first team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and United Press International, and second team All-Pro by the Associated Press and the New York Daily News, in 1955.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) January 6, 2021
The Browns, with a 9-2-1 record, again won the NFL East Division title in 1955.
With Colo at defensive tackle, the Browns defense ranked in the NFL regular season in 1955 first in fewest points allowed (218), first in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,841), fifth in recovered turnovers (40), third in fewest passing yards allowed (1,652), fourth in defensive interceptions (25), first in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,189), and tied for second in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.4).
Cleveland advanced to its sixth consecutive NFL championship game, playing the Los Angeles Rams on December 26, 1955.
Colo started the game at right defensive tackle and had a sack.
The Browns intercepted seven Rams passes and defeated Los Angeles 38-14 to win Cleveland’s third NFL championship.
In 1956, Colo played in all 12, and started seven, regular season games at right defensive tackle.
Colo was part of a Cleveland defense that did not allow more than 24 points in any regular season game in 1956.
In addition, the Browns defense allowed the opposing offense only one touchdown or less in six regular season games in 1956 – a 9-7 Cleveland loss to the Chicago Cardinals on September 30, 1956 (the Cardinals were held to 68 “net pass yards”), a 14-10 Browns victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 6, 1956, a 24-7 Cleveland win over the Green Bay Packers on November 4, 1956, a 16-0 Browns shutout of the Philadelphia Eagles on November 18, 1956 (Philadelphia was held to only three “net pass yards”), a 20-17 Cleveland loss to the Washington Redskins on November 25, 1956 (Washington scored a defensive touchdown), and a 24-7 Browns victory over the New York Giants on December 9, 1956.
In 1956, Colo intercepted one pass and recovered one fumble.
Colo was named second team All-Pro by the Associated Press and United Press International in 1956.
Adversely affected by the retirement of future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham, the Browns fell to a 5-7 record in 1956 and missed the playoffs for the first time in their history.
However, Colo contributed to Cleveland’s defense still performing at an outstanding level in 1956.
The Browns defense ranked in the NFL regular season in 1956 first in fewest points allowed (177), second in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,135), first in fewest passing yards allowed (1,103), and tied for fifth in defensive interceptions (18).
Colo started all 12 regular season games at right defensive tackle in 1957.
In the opening game of the 1957 regular season, on September 29, 1957, with Colo at defensive tackle, Cleveland defeated the New York Giants 6-3.
The Browns defense held the Giants to only 39 “net pass yards”.
Colo helped the Browns record another shoutout, in a 31-0 win over the Chicago Cardinals on December 1, 1957.
Cleveland’s defense held the Cardinals to only 16 “net pass yards” and forced four Cardinals turnovers.
In 1957, Colo recovered two fumbles.
He was named in 1957 first team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and the New York Daily News and second team All-Pro by the Associated Press and United Press International.
The Browns rebounded in 1957, winning the NFL East Division title with a 9-2-1 record.
Colo’s play helped the Cleveland defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1957 first in fewest points allowed (172), second in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,802), first in fewest passing yards allowed (1,300), tied for fourth in defensive interceptions (19), fifth in sacks (26), fourth in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,502), and tied for fifth in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.8).
In 1958, Colo again started all 12 regular season games at right defensive tackle.
In a 45-12 Browns victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 5, 1958, with Colo at defensive tackle, Cleveland’s defense forced nine Steelers turnovers.
On October 19, 1958, Colo’s play helped the Browns defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-10.
With Pittsburgh committing four turnovers, it was the fourth consecutive game that the Cleveland defense had forced at least four turnovers.
With Colo at defensive tackle, in a 20-10 Cleveland win over the Washington Redskins on November 16, 1958, the Browns defense forced five Washington turnovers.
Colo recovered three fumbles in 1958.
He received his third Pro Bowl invitation and was named second team All-Pro by the New York Daily News in 1958.
Cleveland had a 9-3 record in 1958, tying for first place in the NFL East Division with the New York Giants.
Great shots here of #Browns DT Don Colo tripping #Giants RB Mel Triplett during the 1958 Eastern Conference playoff. The cutline says: "Triplett came up swinging and was tossed from the game." pic.twitter.com/gxOKaecROx
— Dan Daly (@dandalyonsports) December 7, 2018
Colo helped the Browns defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1958 third in fewest points allowed (217), fifth in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,660), tied for fourth in recovered fumbles (18), fourth in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,448), and tied for fourth in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.9).
The Browns played a “tie-breaker” playoff game against the New York Giants on December 21, 1958.
Colo started the game at right defensive tackle and helped Cleveland’s defense force four Giants turnovers.
However, New York defeated the Browns 10-0.
The game against the Giants turned out to be Colo’s last game, as he retired from the NFL after the 1958 season.
Upon Colo’s retirement, Browns head coach Paul Brown stated:
“His play has been important to us and we’ll miss him.”
The Years After the NFL
Colo was married to Prudence Henderson for 64 years.
He met Prudence as a result of a blind date set up by Colo’s Cleveland teammate Pro Football Hall of Famer Lou Groza, and Groza’s wife, Jackie.
In 1971, Colo was inducted into the Brown University Athletics Hall of Fame.
He was also named in 2003 to Brown’s 125th Anniversary Football Team, recognizing the greatest 50 players in Brown football history.
He was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Program in 2015.
Colo died in Phoenix, Arizona on June 23, 2019 at the age of 94.
It is often difficult to assess the performance of defensive players from the 1950’s, as statistics were not kept on such defensive attributes as sacks and tackles.
Yet, based on the information available, it is clear that Colo was an excellent defensive tackle for Cleveland.
In terms of individual performance, during his six years with the Browns, Colo recovered 11 regular season fumbles, which ranks tied for seventh in Browns career regular season recovered fumbles among defensive players.
If Colo had played with Cleveland for more than six years, his individual statistics would even be higher.
Colo was invited to three Pro Bowls and, every year he played with Cleveland, received certain All-Pro honors.
In addition, he was named to the second team All-1950s (All-Decade) Team by “Pro Football Reference”.
Colo also contributed to an outstanding period of team success by Cleveland.
When Colo was on the team from 1953 to 1958, the Browns had five winning seasons, made the playoffs five times, advanced to the NFL championship game four times, and won the NFL championship twice in 1954 and 1955.
In addition, with Colo at defensive tackle from 1953 to 1958, Cleveland’s defense led the NFL in fewest regular season points allowed five times (in 1958, the Browns defense ranked third in fewest regular season points allowed).
One could say that the Browns were a championship team, and had an outstanding defense, even without Colo.
In response, two points should be noted.
First, after Colo retired in 1958, it would be six years until the Browns next reached the playoffs in 1964.
Second, before Colo joined the Browns, from 1950 to 1952, Cleveland led the NFL in fewest regular season points allowed only once.
Colo certainly is not the only reason for these two points, but they do show that he was an important contributor to the success of Cleveland in the 1950’s.
In moving Colo from losing teams to a winning franchise, his trade to Cleveland in 1953 certainly benefitted Colo.
Browns fans should also be thankful for the trade, as the excellent play of Colo at defensive tackle also benefitted Cleveland.