Injuries are an unavoidable aspect of playing in the NFL.
In many cases, injuries cause players to miss games and often cause teams to lose games.
Doug Dieken did not miss games.
For 14 full seasons, Dieken played every regular season and playoff game for the Cleveland Browns.
Moreover, from November 21, 1971 through December 16, 1984, Dieken started at left tackle every regular season and playoff game played by the Browns.
Playing perhaps the most critical position on the offensive line, generally protecting the blindsides of Cleveland quarterbacks, Dieken was a dependable performer on the offensive line for the Browns.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) December 27, 2018
We take a look at the life of Doug Dieken – before, during, and after his Cleveland Browns playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Douglas Heye Dieken was born on February 12, 1949 in Streator, Illinois.
Streator is located in north-central Illinois, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago.
During Dieken’s childhood, Streator had a population of approximately 16,000 people.
Dieken recalled learning toughness in Streator, as there were frequent fights in Streator, including between people from Streator and people from the nearby town of Ottawa, Illinois.
In Streator, “meeting up to fight with the guys from the town 16 miles away” qualified as having fun on a weekend.
Cleveland Browns receiver, Gary Collins, was a boyhood hero of Dieken.
Streator Township High School
Dieken attended Streator Township High School.
Because there was no available youth football program, Dieken had not played football before high school.
As his father was six feet, six inches tall, and he had an older brother who was six feet, eight inches tall, Dieken expected to play basketball in high school.
Dieken’s high school basketball coach told Dieken to be on either the football team or cross-country team to stay in shape.
Dieken chose football and started playing football his freshman year in high school.
Dieken was originally assigned to play guard, but when the coaches saw him catching passes in practice, he was moved to wide receiver.
Dieken was an all-state wide receiver for two years in high school.
Dieken was recruited by University of Illinois head coach Pete Elliott, who made a positive impression on Dieken.
In addition, both of Dieken’s parents were Illinois graduates.
Dieken decided to attend University of Illinois.
When a slush fund scandal arose at University of Illinois, Coach Elliott resigned, and Illinois was placed on probation for four years.
Dieken could have decided to go to another school, but Dieken honored his commitment and headed to Illinois for college.
Dieken attended University of Illinois from 1967 to 1970, playing football his last three years at the school.
Dieken principally played wide receiver as a sophomore in 1968.
He led Illinois in catching 21 passes for 223 yards in 1968.
The Fighting Illini had a 1-9 record in 1968.
In 1969, Dieken moved to tight end for Illinois.
Dieken caught 29 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns.
He also had two rushes for nine yards.
Dieken was selected as the most valuable player for Illinois in 1969.
Illinois went winless, with an 0-10 record, in 1969.
Dieken had his best year for the Fighting Illini as a senior in 1970.
Dieken had 39 receptions for 537 yards and four touchdowns.
At tight end, Dieken was voted first-team All-Big Ten by United Press International and second-team All-Big Ten by the Associated Press in 1970.
Dieken was again selected as the most valuable player for Illinois in 1970.
Dieken was a co-captain of the 1970 Illinois team, which improved to a 3-7 record.
As co-captain, Dieken recalled:
“I might be the only guy that took a college team out on strike. . . . My senior year, we were getting ready to play Ohio State, and the assistant comes up to me and says they fired the coach, Jim Valek. . . . The boosters wanted him fired. My team isn’t the boosters. So we drew up a letter to the athletic board and told them they made a mistake. I stood up and said, if he’s not here on Monday, I’m not here on Monday. Anyone else with me? Thankfully, everyone raised their hands. So they had to rehire him, and the next week we were playing Purdue in their homecoming game, which would have been real ugly if we didn’t show up. After the game, I gave coach the game ball and I was listening to the radio that night and I hear, ‘In West Lafayette, they gave a coach the game ball.’ And it was Howard Cosell. Of all the things I’ve done in sports, that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of, because there’s no loyalty anymore.”
While at Illinois, Dieken was scouted for the Cleveland Browns by Browns Pro Football Hall of Famer Lou Groza.
Groza played tackle as well as kicked for the Browns.
After playing in the Senior Bowl (where Dieken was coached as a receiver by future Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano) and the Blue-Gray (where Dieken had to play tackle because of an injury to another player) all-star games after the 1970 season, Dieken moved on from college football to his NFL career.
The Pro Football Years
Dieken was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 1971 NFL draft (as the 142nd overall pick in the draft).
When Browns coach Nick Skorich called Dieken to tell him that the Browns had drafted him, Skorich surprised Dieken with the news that the Browns had drafted him to play offensive tackle.
While Skorich was noncommittal when Dieken asked Skorich if Dieken would play any tight end for the Browns as he had done in college, Dieken knew the answer to his question when he was assigned uniform number 73 (a uniform number for a tackle); Dieken’s NFL future was to be at tackle.
Dick Schafrath, a four-time first-team All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler, had manned the left tackle position for the Browns since 1960.
However, Schafrath turned 34 in 1971, and his best days were behind him.
The combined impact of playing over 10 years in the NFL, and a 62-mile run from Cleveland to Wooster, Ohio that Schafrath had completed as a promotion for a car dealership in the spring of 1971, had worn down Schafrath’s body.
Browns coaches saw promise in Dieken and sought to transition the left tackle position for Cleveland from Schafrath to Dieken.
During training camp, after regular practice, the Browns coaches would line up four or five different defensive ends against Dieken for him to improve his pass protection skills.
A little-known fact about Dieken is that his first professional football game was a preseason game against the Chicago Bears (played at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana) on August 28, 1971, which was used as a backdrop for scenes in the football movie, “Brian’s Song”.
Dieken played in every game for the Browns in 1971, starting with a 31-0 Cleveland shutout of the Houston Oilers on September 19, 1971.
Dieken played on special teams for the Browns and actually returned a kickoff for 16 yards on November 7, 1971 in a 26-9 Cleveland loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Schafrath started the first nine games of the 1971 regular season, until Dieken was given his first regular-season start at left tackle on November 21, 1971 in a 27-7 Browns victory over the New England Patriots.
Dieken then started the remaining four regular-season games in 1971.
Playing in all 14 regular-season games, and starting the last five regular-season games, for the Browns in 1971, Dieken had begun his amazing streaks of playing 203 consecutive regular-season games, and starting 194 consecutive regular-season games, for the Browns over his 14-year NFL career.
🥳 Happy Birthday Pro Bowler & @Browns great Doug Dieken! After being named starter in week 10 of his 1971 rookie year, Doug never missed a start for the rest of his 14 year career with the Browns! #Browns pic.twitter.com/sw3y3a34nQ
— 80s Football Cards (@80sFootballCard) February 12, 2019
“Physical courage is part of the game. You learn to play with pain. Part of what it is is survival.”
The Browns won the AFC Central Division title in 1971 with a 9-5 record and advanced to a divisional-round playoff game against the Baltimore Colts on December 26, 1971.
The Browns lost to the Colts 20-3, as Dieken started his first NFL playoff game at left tackle (and also returned a kickoff for 15 yards in the game).
In 1972, Dieken started all 14 regular-season games, helping the Browns post a 10-4 record and earn a wild card playoff berth (finishing second in the AFC Central Division to the Pittsburgh Steelers) against the undefeated Miami Dolphins on December 24, 1972.
Dieken started the playoff game at left tackle, but the Browns lost for the second consecutive year in their single playoff game 20-14.
Unfortunately for Dieken, the Browns did not make the playoffs again until 1980.
Cleveland had records of 7-5-2 in 1973, 4-10 in 1974, 3-11 in 1975, 9-5 in 1976, 6-8 in 1977, 8-8 in 1978, and 9-7 in 1979.
Dieken did help the Browns achieve some offensive success during these years.
Browns running back Greg Pruitt rushed for 1,067 yards (and 4.9 average yards per rushing attempt) in 1975, 1,000 yards (and 4.8 average yards per rushing attempt) in 1976, 1,086 yards (and 4.6 average yards per rushing attempt) in 1977, and 960 yards in 12 games (and 5.5 average yards per rushing attempt) in 1978.
Browns running back Mike Pruitt rushed for 1,294 yards (and 4.9 average yards per rushing attempt) in 1979.
Browns quarterback Brian Sipe passed for 3,793 yards (second in the NFL) and 28 touchdowns (tied for first in the NFL) in 1979.
Browns passers were sacked only 19 times in 1976 (tied for second in the NFL) and 24 times in 1977 (tied for fifth in the NFL)
Individually, Dieken continued to start every regular-season game for the Browns – 14 games in 1973 (Dieken also had a nine-yard kickoff return on October 28, 1973 in a 16-16 tie against the San Diego Chargers and a five-yard kickoff return on November 4, 1973 in a 26-3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings), 1974, 1975 (Dieken also recovered four fumbles in 1975 (he had 13 regular season fumble recoveries in his NFL career)), 1976, and 1977, and 16 games in 1978 and 1979.
Dieken was named team offensive most valuable player for the Browns in 1975.
Dieken appreciated the camaraderie with his fellow offensive linemen on the Browns.
“It was more like an elite boys club than anything. Our group of linemen, we were close as hell. If you picked a fight with one of us, you picked a fight with all of us. To be able to get into that boys club and to play was a great thing to do. It wasn’t for the money.”
Dieken probably had his best NFL season in 1980.
Dieken again started all 16 regular-season games for the Browns, who won the AFC Central Division title with an 11-5 record.
Dieken helped Cleveland have the second-ranked passing offense in the NFL in 1980, including that Browns quarterback Brian Sipe won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award from the Associated Press, the Pro Football Writers of America, and the Sporting News, and Browns passers were sacked only 23 times (second in the NFL).
In addition, Browns running back Mike Pruitt rushed for 1,034 yards in 1980.
Dieken thinks the 1980 Browns team (known as the “Kardiac Kids” for winning several close games) could have won the Super Bowl.
However, Cleveland (with Dieken starting at left tackle) lost in the divisional round of the playoffs 14-12 to the Oakland Raiders on January 4, 1981.
For his play in 1980, Dieken was invited to his only Pro Bowl and was also named second-team All-Conference by United Press International.
In 1981, Dieken again started all 16 games, as the Browns stumbled to a 5-11 record.
The Browns rebounded in 1982 with a 4-5 record (with Dieken starting all nine regular-season games), which was sufficient to earn a playoff berth in the expanded playoff, strike-shortened 1982 NFL season.
However, the Browns lost in the playoffs 27-10 to the Los Angeles Raiders on January 8, 1983.
It was to be the last playoff game for Dieken (who started the game at left tackle) in his NFL career.
While Dieken was again unable to win a playoff game in 1982, he did win another honor – the 1982 Byron “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year Award.
The Award is given to an NFL player for his community service in his hometown and team city.
In 1983, Dieken again started all 16 games, as the Browns recorded a 9-7 record.
Dieken helped Cleveland allow only 33 sacks (tied for fourth place in the NFL), and Mike Pruitt run for 1,184 yards, in 1983.
Dieken also scored the only touchdown of his NFL career in 1983, catching a 14-yard pass from Paul McDonald (on a fake field goal tackle eligible play) in a 25-19 Cleveland victory over the Houston Oilers on October 30, 1983.
In 1983, Dieken was again recognized for his work off the football field, as he was the inaugural winner of the Cleveland Touchdown Club Humanitarian Award.
The Award (which has been renamed the Doug Dieken Humanitarian Award in Dieken’s honor) is presented to a Cleveland Brown or member of their support group for their outstanding contribution to charitable and social welfare organizations.
1984 was Dieken’s final NFL playing season at age 35.
Dieken again started all 16 games, as the Browns had a 5-11 record in 1984.
Dieken’s play helped Ozzie Newsome catch 89 passes for 1,001 passing yards in 1984.
Dieken’s final NFL game as a player was a 27-20 Cleveland victory over the Houston Oilers on December 16, 1984.
After the 1984 season, Dieken retired from playing in the NFL.
After Dieken’s retirement announcement, Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer commented that Dieken would be missed by Browns players and Schottenheimer and that Dieken was “[a] champ no less”, even though Dieken never played on a championship team.
The Years After the NFL
Cleveland Browns Broadcaster
While Dieken retired from playing in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns after 1984, he certainly did not retire from having an involvement with the Browns.
In his first year of retirement, an opportunity opened for Dieken on the Cleveland Browns Radio Network when broadcaster Gib Shanley moved to California.
Dieken was hired as a color commentator.
Almost as amazing as his streaks of playing and starting games for the Browns, Dieken has continued to broadcast nearly every Cleveland Browns game from 1985 to the present time on the Cleveland Browns Radio Network.
Dieken has missed broadcasting only two Browns games since 1985 – one in 1989 when his mother died (when his father died 10 days later, Dieken broadcast the next Browns game), and one when the Browns played a game in London and Dieken was advised by a doctor not to make the lengthy road trip to England because of a health issue.
Dieken has worked with three Browns play-by-play announcers – Nev Chandler (from 1985 to 1993), Casey Coleman (in 1994 and 1995), and Jim Donovan (since the “new” Cleveland Browns franchise started in 1999).
🎉 RT to wish Browns legend Doug Dieken a Happy Birthday! 🎉 pic.twitter.com/50T4gsUwq2
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) February 12, 2019
Speaking about Dieken, Jim Donovan said:
“He’s incredibly vigilant and caring about what’s happening in my life. I had a real health scare awhile ago, and he was incredible to me, almost like a father to me, and he’s a great dad. When Casey Coleman had cancer and was away from us, every Sunday we were in the broadcast booth, he made sure to dial up Casey and ask how he was feeling and doing. That’s the kind of guy he is. . . . From the very first game we did together . . . the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, it was just two guys sitting around talking football like we had tickets to the game. It’s just kind of continued that way. He takes some of the emotion out of it. I can be very emotional. He can clinically say why a play did or didn’t work, or why he’s throwing the ball here and not there.”
Dieken has worked for various Cleveland media outlets commenting on the Browns, including WEWS, WJW, WKYC, and SportsTime Ohio.
In 2003, Dieken was inducted in the Ohio Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Other Post-NFL Playing Activity
Dieken is a popular choice at speaking engagements and banquets in the Cleveland area based on two facts.
First, Dieken is known for his sense of humor, often self-deprecating.
When Joe Thomas was drafted by the Browns as the third overall pick in 2007, he apologized to Dieken for taking Dieken’s old uniform number 73.
“Don’t worry about it. I used up all the holding penalties.”
Second, Dieken is known for his ability to tell a good story.
As one example, concerning former Browns owner Art Modell, he said:
“I got along with Art; he was just a millionaire in a billionaire’s game. One of the last times I was out there and he was alive, I went at halftime to his loge to say hi. David, his son, was there, who has since passed. And I ask where his dad is. In the bathroom. I only have so much time, and the clock’s ticking and I gotta get back. So I knock on the door and say, ‘Art, it’s Doug Dieken. You don’t owe me any money, you could have come out.’”
After retirement, Dieken started an insurance company with fellow Browns lineman Robert Jackson, Jackson, Dieken & Associates, in Westlake, Ohio.
In 1992, Dieken was inducted in the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.
Dieken was inducted in the Cleveland Browns Legends Program in 2006.
In 2012, Dieken was an inaugural inductee in the Dr. Worthy Streator Hall of Fame.
In 1997, Dieken started the Doug Dieken Foundation.
Dieken started the Foundation after witnessing the impact the Special Olympics Program had on his brother, who was developmentally disabled.
Responding to a lack of city funding for the Program, the Doug Dieken Foundation began to co-sponsor various events to support the Cleveland Public Schools Special Olympics Program.
Dieken received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 Greater Cleveland Sports Awards.
The Lifetime Achievement Award honors an individual who has advanced sports in Cleveland through personal or career dedication and achievements.
David Gilbert, President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, stated:
“Doug Dieken is great Cleveland icon, who has had an enormous impact on our community. Doug has been a positive force in Cleveland from the time he first stepped on the field at Municipal Stadium. His work on the field, in the broadcast booth and in the community has touched the lives of countless Clevelanders. We are honored to award him the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 Greater Cleveland Sports Awards.”
In describing Dieken, former ESPN Browns reporter Pat McManamon said:
“This is just a guy who’s been great for Cleveland, it’s his home and his heart. One day the city will look back and appreciate what they had for so long as a player and broadcaster.”
— Browns Creative (@sportdesign) March 15, 2018
Dieken waited until after his NFL playing career was over to start a family.
“You wouldn’t have time to spend with them. You come home miserable, all beat up from the game . . . It just wouldn’t be fun.”
Dieken married television broadcaster, Connie Dieken, but they are now divorced.
Dieken has two children, Spencer and Ali.
Dieken’s Legacy with the Browns
Dieken’s legacy with the Browns is in part his amazing streaks of playing in 207 consecutive NFL regular season and playoff games and starting in 198 consecutive NFL regular season and playoff games.
These are both Cleveland Browns team records.
In addition, Dieken holds the NFL record for a left tackle in starting in 198 consecutive NFL regular season and playoff games.
To start for 198 consecutive NFL regular season and playoff games for a team, you must be a solid performer.
Dieken is part of a tradition of excellent left tackles for the Browns, starting with Lou Groza and continuing with Dick Schafrath, Dieken, and Joe Thomas.
However, Dieken’s legacy with the Browns is not only based on his 14-year playing career.
After his NFL retirement, for the last 35 years, Dieken has been associated with the Cleveland Browns.
Most of this time, Dieken’s association has been as a broadcaster – from 1985 to 1995 with the “old” Cleveland Browns franchise before it moved to Baltimore, and from 1999 to the present time with the “new” Cleveland Browns franchise.
Even in those years when there was no NFL team playing in Cleveland, from 1996 to 1998, Dieken served as an ambassador for the Cleveland Browns Trust (established by the NFL to direct the return of the Cleveland Browns to the NFL).
It is possible that Dieken has seen more Cleveland Browns games than any other person who ever played for the Browns.
Jim Donovan represents browns fans who’s only memories are the expansion browns. These are the best plays we’ve ever seen! Doug Dieken is every original browns fan who watches these highlights & thinks “sure that was nice… but I’ve seen Kosar & Sipe make that throw” 😂 https://t.co/CfPuOnP0cz
— Ryan Snedeker (@rjsneddy) December 11, 2018
Without denigrating the historic accomplishments of such former Browns as Paul Brown, Lou Groza, Otto Graham, and Jim Brown, based on Dieken’s 49-year association with the Cleveland Browns, it is an apt description to refer to Dieken as a modern-day “Mr. Cleveland Brown.”