Five feet and nine inches is not the ideal size to play cornerback in the NFL.
It is not easy to cover an NFL wide receiver who is several inches taller than you.
Frank Minnifield, nicknamed “Mighty Minnie”, overcame his five feet and nine inches height to become a multiple Pro Bowl and All-Pro cornerback for the Cleveland Browns.
Over his nine seasons with the Browns, Minnifield helped the Browns reach three AFC championship games in 1986, 1987, and 1989.
In addition, Minnifield will always be remembered in Cleveland for his role in the creation of the “Dawg Pound”.
— Rebeldawg73 #D4L (@RebelDawg73) October 15, 2020
We take a look at the life of Frank Minnifield – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Frank LyDale Minnifield was born on January 1, 1960 in Lexington, Kentucky.
He grew up living in the housing projects in Lexington.
Minnifield attended Henry Clay High School in Lexington.
Although he was only five feet and nine inches tall and weighed only 140 pounds, Minnifield was an outstanding football player at Henry Clay High School.
He played both tailback and safety.
Minnifield’s play helped Henry Clay High School make the playoffs his senior year.
Because of his size, Minnifield was not highly recruited by major colleges.
It was suggested to Minnifield that he consider attending the University of Louisville.
Minnifield did not even know that Louisville played college football.
Minnifield ultimately accepted the suggestion and, after high school, stayed in Kentucky to attend the University of Louisville.
Minnifield was a letter-winner for four years at Louisville.
As a freshman, in 1979, Minnifield was a “walk-on” for the Louisville football team at defensive back.
In 1979, Minnifield intercepted one pass, which he returned for 26 yards.
Louisville had a 4-6-1 record in 1979.
Minnifield’s play sufficiently impressed Louisville’s coaches that Minnifield was given a scholarship for his final three years at Louisville.
It also helped that Minnifield had bulked up about 40 pounds from his high school weight to 180 pounds.
In 1980, Minnifield intercepted three passes, which he returned for 74 yards.
He also caught one pass for four yards.
Louisville posted a 5-6 record in 1980.
Minnifield first received national attention with his kickoff returns for the Cardinals in 1981.
He returned 11 kickoffs for 334 yards and one touchdown.
His 30.4 average return yards per kickoff return led the NCAA in 1981.
Minnifield also intercepted two passes and returned one punt for 10 yards in 1981.
In 1981, Louisville again compiled a 5-6 record.
As a senior, Minnifield returned 11 punts for 165 yards and one touchdown for the Cardinals.
His 15.0 average return yards per punt return ranked third in the NCAA in 1982.
Minnifield also intercepted a pass, which he returned 56 yards for a touchdown.
He also returned nine kickoffs for 139 yards.
Louisville, for the third consecutive year, had a 5-6 record in 1982.
After his four years at Louisville, Minnifield played in the 1982 Blue-Gray all-star game and then headed on to professional football.
The Pro Football Years
Minnifield was not drafted by any team in the 1983 NFL draft.
He was drafted in the third round of the 1983 United States Football League draft (with the 30th overall pick) by the Chicago Blitz and signed with the Blitz.
Minnifield played for the Blitz in 1983, starting one game.
The Blitz in effect traded franchises with the Arizona Wranglers before the start of the 1984 season.
As a result, Minnifield became part of the Wranglers.
In 1984, he played in 15 games and started 14 of them for the Wranglers.
He intercepted four passes, which he returned for 74 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown.
During his 1984 season with the Wranglers, on April 3, 1984, Minnifield signed a reported $1.1 million, four-year contract with the Cleveland Browns in the NFL.
The Wranglers threatened to sue Minnifield if he played for Cleveland, contending they had the right to renew Minnifield’s contract with the Wranglers for one more year.
Minnifield ultimately went to court and won the right to move to the Browns over the objections of the Wranglers.
However, because of the legal dispute, Minnifield did not actually join the Browns until just before the beginning of the 1984 season in August, 1984.
“I should have prepared myself better in relation to learning the Browns’ system. I realize expectations for me are high, and so are mine. I really want to help this club. So, I’m going to work as hard as I can. I just finished playing a USFL schedule, so I’m pretty much in shape. It’s just a question of getting my reaction time back to normal.”
Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano stated:
“Frank has a lot of talent. He’s only 5-foot-9, but he can jump and he can run. He will help us.”
In Minnifield’s first season with the Browns in 1984, he played in 15 games and started 12 regular-season games at left cornerback.
On September 30, 1984, Minnifield had his first NFL interception, intercepting Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Todd Blackledge and returning the interception for 26 yards, as Cleveland lost to Kansas City 10-6.
Minnifield also recovered two fumbles in the 1984 regular season, which he returned for 10 yards.
For his play in 1984, Minnifield was selected by the Pro Football Writers of America to the 1984 NFL All-Rookie Team.
The Browns had a 5-11 record in 1984.
However, Minnifield contributed to Cleveland’s defense playing very well in 1984, ranking (among 28 teams) in the NFL second in fewest regular-season total passing and rushing yards allowed (4,641), third in fewest regular-season passing yards allowed (2,696), and sixth in fewest regular-season points allowed (297).
It was in training camp before the 1985 season that Minnifield became part of Browns lore.
Fellow Cleveland cornerback Hanford Dixon and Minnifield created the “Dawg Pound”.
“The ‘Dawg Pound’ started during the 1985 Training Camp at Lakeland Community College in Kirkland, Ohio. Hanford and I started the idea of the pound to try to get more pressure on the quarterback. We had the idea of the quarterback being the cat, and the defensive line being the dog. Whenever the defense would get a regular sack or a coverage sack the defensive linemen and linebackers would bark. This attitude carried into the stands at the training camp, where fans started barking along with the players. We then put up the first ‘Dawg Pound’ banner in front of the bleachers before the first preseason game at old Cleveland Stadium. The bleacher section had the cheapest seats in the stadium, and its fans were already known as the most vocal. They adopted their new identity whole-heartedly, wearing dog noses, dog masks, bone-shaped hats and other outlandish costumes. ‘Woof’ ‘Woof’.”
35 years later, the “Dawg Pound” has moved with the Browns from Cleveland Stadium to FirstEnergy Stadium and remains an iconic element of the Browns franchise.
Minnifield started all 16 regular-season games at left cornerback in 1985.
In a 17-7 Cleveland victory over the Buffalo Bills on November 17, 1985, Minnifield intercepted Bills quarterback Bruce Mathison and returned the interception for three yards.
The game was one of five games in 1985 in which Minnifield’s play helped Cleveland hold the opposing team to single digits, all Cleveland victories.
For the 1985 regular season, in addition to Minnifield’s one interception, he recovered one fumble, which he returned for six yards.
In 1985, the Browns won the AFC Central Division title (Cleveland’s first division title in five years), with an 8-8 record.
Minnifield helped Cleveland rank seventh in the NFL in fewest regular-season points allowed (294) in 1985.
The original "Dawgs"…Felix Wright, Hanford Dixon, Don Rogers, Frank Minnifield. Loved watching these guys back in the old stadium. pic.twitter.com/SuAGYxJNFJ
— Mike Reid (@reidpolysci) January 31, 2019
Cleveland advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs to play the Miami Dolphins on January 4, 1986.
In describing Cleveland’s defense before the game, a January 4, 1986 article in The New York Times stated:
“Cleveland . . . relied heavily on man-to-man coverage. The cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield meet the wideouts at the line of scrimmage and rarely pass up the chance for their one legal hit.”
With Minnifield starting the game at left cornerback, the Browns built a 21-3 lead in the third quarter; however, Miami came from behind to win the game 24-21.
Minnifield played in, and started, 15 regular-season games at left cornerback in 1986.
On September 18, 1986, Minnifield scored a special-teams touchdown when he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone, in a 30-13 Cleveland loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
In a 27-24 Cleveland victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 5, 1986, Minnifield intercepted Steelers quarterback Mark Malone.
Before a game against the Houston Oilers on November 30, 1986, Oilers wide receiver Ernest Givins (who also attended University of Louisville) said about Minnifield:
“Frank’ll talk a lot to you out there, but distractions are part of the game. Is he good? He can be hell. We try to stay away from each other in Louisville.”
In the game. Minnifield was “hell” for the Oilers.
He had two interceptions, which he returned for 20 yards, as Cleveland defeated Houston 13-10 in overtime.
On This Day: 11/30/1986
"Welcome to Cleveland, Mark Moseley!" Just 1 wk prior, Mosley was commentator on CBS; here he kicks winning FG in #Browns 13-10 OT win over Oilers. Frank Minnifield led to win becoming 1st ever in NFL w/ 2 INT's in a OT period. Nev/Dieken on call #MattBahr pic.twitter.com/0EHE6mdgzB
— On This Day: Cleveland Sports (@CityfanC) November 30, 2020
In addition to his three interceptions, Minnifield recovered two fumbles in 1986.
Minnifield received his first Pro Bowl invitation in 1986.
He also was named second-team All-Conference by United Press International.
In 1986, the Browns, with a 12-4 record, again won the AFC Central Division title.
Minnifield contributed to Cleveland being ranked tied for second in the NFL in regular-season recovered fumbles (19) in 1986.
Cleveland played the New York Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs on January 3, 1987.
With Minnifield starting the game at left cornerback, Cleveland defeated the Jets 23-20 in double overtime to advance to the AFC championship game.
Tight coverage by Minnifield contributed to the Browns having nine sacks of Jets quarterbacks during the game.
The following week, on January 11, 1987, Cleveland played the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game.
In a game known as “The Drive” because of a 98-yard late fourth-quarter touchdown drive led by Broncos quarterback John Elway that sent the game into overtime, Denver defeated Cleveland (with Minnifield starting the game at left cornerback) 23-20 in overtime.
Minnifield believes that it adversely affected the Browns:
“It got real ugly. I think those days are still kind of a little messy for all of us because of how we were all divided. I really believe that it really messed up the chemistry of our team from that point on. It was kind of hard dealing with the fact some guys went back, some didn’t, and some guys were financially better off because they went back [versus] the guys who stayed together. . . . We had a special relationship. Our whole team was special. We’d go over each other’s house. We actually liked each other. There aren’t too many [teams] that hung out like we did. It was common to go over somebody’s house each week and just eat together. Thanksgiving was unbelievable. After that strike, we didn’t do it again.”
Because of the players’ strike, Minnifield played in and started only 12 regular-season games at left cornerback in 1987.
In a 34-10 Cleveland win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 20, 1987, Minnifield intercepted a Steelers pass and returned it for 27 yards.
On November 22, 1987, Minnifield played probably his best statistical NFL game, intercepting three Houston passes (which he returned for -3 yards) in a 40-7 Browns defeat of the Houston Oilers.
On This Day: 11/22/1987
This is definition of a STATEMENT game. #Browns come into Astrodome for showdown w/ Oilers for Central Div lead & just anniliate them 40-7. Oh, just Frank Minnifield w/ 3 INT's of Hall of Famer Warren Moon-here's the 3rd one. Def w/ 6 TOs on day.#astroturf pic.twitter.com/U9P80QApme
— On This Day: Cleveland Sports (@CityfanC) November 22, 2020
He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his play in the game.
With his four interceptions in 1987, Minnifield received his second Pro Bowl invitation.
He also was named first-team All-Pro by the Pro Football Writers of America, Pro Football Weekly, and Sporting News, second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and first-team All-Conference by Pro Football Weekly and United Press International.
With a 10-5 record, Cleveland won the AFC Central Division title for the third consecutive year in 1987.
Minnifield contributed to the Browns in 1987 ranking in the NFL second in fewest regular-season points allowed (239) and third in fewest regular-season total passing and rushing yards allowed (4,264).
Cleveland advanced to a divisional-round playoff game on January 9, 1988 against the Indianapolis Colts.
Minnifield started the game at left cornerback and scored Cleveland’s final points of the game on a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Browns defeated the Colts 38-21 and headed to the AFC championship game for the second consecutive year against the Denver Broncos on January 17, 1988.
In a game known as “The Fumble” because of a late fourth-quarter fumble by Browns running back Earnest Byner as he was about to score the game-tying touchdown, Denver defeated Cleveland (with Minnifield starting the game at left cornerback) 38-33.
The players’ strike in 1987 may have prevented Cleveland from having a better regular-season record than Denver, costing Cleveland home-field advantage for the 1987 championship game. Minnifield believes the loss of home-field advantage for Cleveland was critical to the outcome of the game (which was played in Denver), stating:
“We would have beat Denver in Cleveland because we were a better team. They wouldn’t have beat us two years in a row. That was our best team. We were all young kids. We were probably as good as football players in ’87 as we were in our whole career.”
In 1988, Minnifield played in and started 15 regular-season games at left cornerback.
On October 16, 1988, Minnifield had two interceptions of Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham (which he returned for thirteen yards), in a 19-3 Cleveland victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Minnifield helped Cleveland hold Philadelphia to only 48 “net pass yards” in the game.
Minnifield (including based on his four interceptions) was honored as first-team All-Pro by the NFL in 1988.
He also received his third consecutive Pro Bowl invitation and was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the Pro Football Writers of America, Pro Football Weekly, and Sporting News, and first-team All-Conference by Pro Football Weekly and United Press International, in 1988.
Cleveland had a 10-6 record in 1988 and made the playoffs as a wild card team.
Minnifield’s play contributed to Cleveland in 1988 being ranked sixth in the NFL in fewest regular-season points allowed (288), fewest regular-season total passing and rushing yards allowed (4,767), and fewest regular-season passing yards allowed (2,847).
The Browns played the Houston Oilers in a wild card playoff game on December 24, 1988.
Minnifield started the game at left cornerback, but Cleveland lost to Houston 24-23.
In 1989, Minnifield started all 16 regular-season games at left cornerback.
Minnifield received his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl invitation in 1989.
He also was named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and the Newspaper Enterprise Association and first-team All-Conference by United Press International in 1989.
With a 9-6-1 record, the Browns won the AFC Division title for the fourth time in five years in 1989.
Minnifield helped Cleveland in 1989 rank in the NFL tied for second in regular-season interceptions (27), fourth in fewest regular-season points allowed (254), seventh in fewest regular-season total passing and rushing yards allowed (4,831), and seventh in regular-season sacks (45).
Cleveland advanced to the playoffs and played the Buffalo Bills in a divisional-round playoff game on January 6, 1990.
With Minnifield starting the game at left cornerback, the Browns defeated the Bills 34-30.
The Browns next, for the third time in four years, played the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game on January 14, 1990.
Minnifield started the game at left cornerback, but Cleveland lost to Denver 37-21.
The 1989 championship game was the last playoff game in which Minnifield played.
During his three remaining seasons with the Browns, Cleveland posted records of 3-13 in 1990, 6-10 in 1991, and 7-9 in 1992.
Minnifield received no Pro Bowl nor All-Pro honors in his final three seasons in the NFL.
In 1990, Minnifield played in nine, and started eight, regular-season games at left cornerback.
He had two interceptions.
Minnifield played in 14, and started 11, regular-season games at left cornerback in 1991.
It was his only year in the NFL that he recorded no interceptions.
On December 20, 1992, in a 17-14 Browns loss to the Houston Oilers, Minnifield intercepted Oilers quarterback Cody Carlson (and returned the interception for five yards) for Minnifield’s final NFL interception.
In 1992, Minnifield played in 10, and started eight, regular-season games.
He intercepted two passes (which he returned for six yards) and recovered one fumble in 1992.
After the 1992 season, Minnifield retired from the NFL.
The Years After the NFL
Minnifield has a son, Chase, who played defensive back for the Washington Redskins.
Since his retirement from the NFL, Minnifield has been a successful businessman.
He founded Minnifield All-Pro Homes, a homebuilding company in Lexington, Kentucky.
In 1993, he was the first African American executive named to the Lexington Chamber of Commerce Board.
Minnifield became Chairman of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees in 2011.
Spurred initially by Minnifield’s desire to bring current and former pro football players from Kentucky together to host football clinics for underprivileged youth, Minnifield was involved in the creation of a new chapter of the NFL Players Association in Kentucky and then the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame (which honors professional football players, coaches and contributors connected to Kentucky).
— Nate Cochran (@AD_Nate_Cochran) August 16, 2019
It has been estimated that Minnifield’s work has led to the raising of more than $1,000,000 for youth organizations.
Frank minnifield dog pound at the "chase minnifield football camp in lexington kentucky pic.twitter.com/owTMGlfcxR
— Frank Minnifield (@FrankMinni31) June 24, 2014
In 2014, Minnifeld was selected to receive the Blanton Collier Award for Integrity.
Dr. Kay Collier McLaughlin, daughter of Blanton Collier (who coached Cleveland to its last NFL championship in 1964), stated:
“Frank Minnifield lives out our father’s belief you can accomplish anything so long as you do not care who gets the credit, which explains why he was so surprised to be nominated for this award. . . . Frank is a visionary and humanitarian who almost single-handedly created the KY Pro Football Hall of Fame to benefit children in the commonwealth.”
Minnifield was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame (now known as the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame) in 1998 and the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
He was also inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Program in 2005.
Minnifield was named by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to its second team All-1980’s decade team at cornerback.
With 20 regular season interceptions in his Browns career, Minnifield ranks tied for thirteenth in Browns history.
However, just looking at interception statistics ignores Minnifield’s elite coverage skills, which made him one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in the 1980’s.
The play of Minnifield, in particular when combined with the play of his fellow cornerback Hanford Dixon, was a critical factor in the Browns reaching the AFC championship game in 1986, 1987, and 1989.
NBC Sunday Night Football color commentator Cris Collinsworth, who played wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals against Minnifield, said:
“There’s a guy I played against, Frank Minnifield, that played with Cleveland that probably never got a vote for Hall of Fame in his life. I thought he was one of the best guys that I ever played against.”
In honor of his role in the creation of the “Dawg Pound”, Minnifield should receive a hearty “Woof! Woof!” from Browns fans for being “one of the best guys” to ever play defensive back for Cleveland.
— Dave Dameshek (@Dameshek) January 4, 2020