If you heard someone did not play regular football in high school, went to Ohio (not Ohio State) University, and had four years elapse between his college graduation and his first professional football regular season game, you might think such person would not have a productive NFL career.
However, this person is Vince Costello, and he proves it is not how you get to the NFL, but rather how you play in the NFL, that counts.
Over a 12-year NFL career, mostly with the Cleveland Browns, Costello was a solid defensive player.
Costello played middle linebacker on the last Browns championship team in 1964.
R.I.P. Uncle Vince Costello. pic.twitter.com/UpzMC3TGlT
— Albert Woodin (@Albert_Woodin) June 25, 2019
We look at the life and career of Vince Costello – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Vincent Costello was born in Dellroy, Ohio on April 8, 1932.
His parents, Bartolomeo Giordonno and Celesta Menna, were immigrants from Italy who came to the United States through Ellis Island.
Giordonno changed his name to William Costello.
Costello had three sisters and two brothers.
He grew up in Magnolia, Ohio, about 12 miles south of Canton, Ohio.
When Costello was growing up, Magnolia had a population of less than 1,000 people.
Costello attended Magnolia High School, graduating in 1949.
At Magnolia High School, Costello excelled in football, baseball, and basketball.
Costello was part of the first football team at Magnolia High School – a six-man football team.
The team started in Costello’s junior year in high school.
“We were going to go strike if they didn’t give us football. And we were serious. The Board of Education had to give us a football team. There were enough for regular football, but we compromised on a six-man team.”
In describing six-man football, Costello said:
“That was a challenging sport. We played on a field 40 yards wide and 80 yards long. You’d have two ends, a center, two halfbacks and a quarterback, and two guys had to handle the ball on every play. I was quarterback. Everything else was the same as regular football, except you’d begin every series first and 15. On defense, you’d have two ends, a nose guard and three defensive backs. I’d play safety. It wasn’t a whole lot different than middle linebacker. It was open field, a lot of running.”
Costello played two years of six-man football at Magnolia High School, playing quarterback and “six-man football” linebacker-safety.
At the age of 16, Costello helped his team in the 1948-1949 school year have an undefeated season and win the Tri-County League (made up of Carroll, Harrison, and Monroe counties in Ohio) championship.
Costello’s high school football coach, Cliff Foust, said:
“He was a great quarterback and linebacker. Vince was a great athlete. I was in coaching for 50 years, and I had a lot of great players come through. No one was ever better than Vince way back then. He was great in football, basketball and baseball. He was one of those guys who could do everything.”
In baseball, Costello started playing on the high school team at age 13.
Concerning basketball, Costello stated:
“I played basketball real well. Basketball is a sport that takes more quickness and moves than football. Football, it’s a physical, hard-nosed, stick-it-to-them (sport). The movement in football is not like it is in basketball.”
It was basketball that was to provide the link to the next stage of Costello’s life.
Ohio University offered Costello a basketball scholarship, and he headed to Athens, Ohio to attend Ohio University for college.
Although Costello had a basketball scholarship, he played basketball at Ohio University for only one year.
His two primary sports in college were football and baseball.
In football, at Ohio University, Costello played linebacker and center.
When Costello was at Ohio University, the football team posted records of 6-4 in 1950, 5-4-1 in 1951, and 6-2-1 in 1952.
In 1952, Costello was named second team All-Mid-American Conference at center.
We are mourning the loss of 1968 Kermit Blosser Ohio Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Vince Costello.
Vince was an All-MAC and All-America selection in 1952. He played 12 seasons in the NFL and was a member of the 1964 NFL champion @Browns.
Our thoughts are with Vince's family. pic.twitter.com/YQWQB60ZHH
— Ohio Football 🏈 (@OhioFootball) June 27, 2019
He was also named Little All-American in 1952.
Former @Browns linebacker and @ohiou @OhioBobcats football and basketball player Vince Costello passed away last Saturday. Here's Vince in the 1952 https://t.co/5aXQrIEZvn and 1953 https://t.co/LEEtQ1yNf9 yearbooks. pic.twitter.com/okR8ZsapWC
— OhioUDigitalArchives (@AldenLibDigital) June 28, 2019
While Costello graduated from Ohio University in 1953, he did not immediately move on to professional football.
In fact, Costello was never selected in an NFL draft.
Instead, Costello spent his initial post-college years on a number of other activities.
First, he signed a minor league baseball contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 1953.
Over four years, Costello had a .267 batting average in 123 games.
Second, he was drafted and served two years in the Air Force ROTC through 1956.
Third, he coached basketball in his birthplace of Dellroy, Ohio.
Fourth, he finished a master’s degree in education.
In 1956, a call from an Air Force friend about football led to Costello contacting his former assistant coach at Ohio University, Howard Brinker.
Brinker was then an assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns.
Brinker invited Costello to the Browns training camp in 1956.
However, Costello was hampered by a hamstring injury he had suffered while playing baseball.
“My leg was black and blue from the bottom of my ankles to the top of my butt. One day [Browns head coach] Paul Brown called me in and said, ‘I don’t think you’re gonna make it with that leg. Why don’t we get you a coaching job and you come back next year?’”
After coaching at Big Walnut High School, Costello returned to the Browns to begin his NFL career in 1957.
The Pro Football Years
After winning NFL championships in 1954 and 1955 (and playing in every NFL championship game from 1950 to 1955), Cleveland fell to a 5-7 record in 1956.
During the 1956 season, the Browns moved from a five-man defensive front to a 4-3 defense.
With the 4-3 defense, Costello found a position when he returned to the Browns in 1957 – middle linebacker.
As a rookie in 1957, Costello (playing at a height of six feet and at a weight of 230 pounds) started all 12 regular season games at middle linebacker.
In a 24-7 Browns victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on October 13, 1957, Costello was part of a Cleveland defense that held the Eagles to only 44 “net pass yards” and 63 rushing yards.
Costello’s play helped the Browns post two shutouts in 1957 – 24-0 over the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 10, 1957 (holding Pittsburgh to only 90 rushing yards), and 31-0 over the Chicago Cardinals on December 1, 1957 (holding Chicago to only 16 “net pass yards”).
Costello intercepted two passes in the 1957 regular season, which he returned for 19 yards.
The Browns returned to the playoffs in 1957, winning the NFL East Division title with a 9-2-1 record.
Costello helped the Browns 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), and first in fewest total passing yards allowed (1,300).
Cleveland advanced to the 1957 NFL championship game against the Detroit Lions on December 29, 1957.
Costello started the game at middle linebacker, but Detroit defeated Cleveland 59-14.
In 1958, Costello started all 12 regular season games, primarily playing at middle guard.
— MoreForYouCleveland (@MoreForYou_CLE) June 26, 2019
With a 9-3 record, in 1958, the Browns tied for first place in the NFL East Division with the New York Giants.
Cleveland’s defense, with Costello’s play, ranked in the NFL regular season in 1958 third in fewest points allowed (217).
Cleveland played a “tiebreaker” playoff game against the Giants on December 21, 1958.
Costello started the game at middle linebacker and intercepted Giants quarterback Don Heinrich (which he returned for 22 yards).
However, the Browns lost to the Giants 10-0.
In 1959, Costello started all 12 regular season games at middle linebacker.
The Browns had a 7-5 record and failed to make the playoffs in 1959.
Costello helped Cleveland’s defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1959 third in fewest points allowed (214) and second in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,422).
Costello played in all 12, and started 10, regular season games in 1960 at middle linebacker.
He was part of a Browns defense that held three opponents to 10 points or less in 1960 – a 48-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on October 16, 1960, a 31-10 defeat of the Washington Redskins on October 30, 1960, and a 42-0 shutout of the Chicago Bears on December 11, 1960. In the Cowboys victory (79 “net pass yards”), a 27-16 defeat of Washington on December 4, 1960 (57 “net pass yards”), and the Bears shutout (90 “net pass yards”), Cleveland’s defense limited the opposing team to less than 100 “net pass yards”.
The Browns had an 8-3-1 record in 1960, but failed to make the playoffs.
Costello contributed to the Cleveland defense ranking in the NFL regular season in 1960 tied for first in most recovered turnovers (45) and first in most intercepted passes (31).
In 1961, Costello played in all 14, and started 10, regular season games, primarily playing at left linebacker.
Costello scored his first NFL regular season touchdown on a 30-yard fumble return, as the Browns defeated the Dallas Cowboys 38-17 on December 3, 1961.
In 1961, Costello contributed to a Cleveland defense that held four opponents to single digits – a 25-7 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys on October 1, 1961 (holding Dallas to only 52 rushing yards), a 31-7 victory over the Washington Redskins on October 8, 1961 (holding Washington to only 44 rushing yards), a 17-6 win over Washington on November 12, 1961 (holding Washington to only 96 rushing yards), and a 7-7 tie with the New York Giants on December 17, 1961.
With an 8-5-1 record in 1961, Cleveland failed to make the playoffs.
Costello played in and started 13 regular season games at middle linebacker in 1962.
In the opening game of the 1962 regular season, on September 16, 1962, Costello intercepted future Pro Football Hall of Fame New York Giants quarterback Y. A. Tittle and returned the interception for 18 yards.
Cleveland defeated the Giants 17-7, and Costello helped the Browns hold New York to only 87 rushing yards.
On October 28, 1962, Costello scored his second NFL regular season touchdown on a 21-yard fumble return, in a 41-14 Browns win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Costello also helped Cleveland’s defense limit Pittsburgh to only 41 “net pass yards”.
For the 1962 regular season, Costello intercepted three passes, which he returned for 40 yards.
Cleveland missed the playoffs in 1962, with a 7-6-1 record.
Costello contributed to Cleveland’s defense ranking in the NFL regular season in 1962 third in fewest points allowed (257), third in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,924), and second in fewest passing yards allowed (1,984).
Cleveland had a new head coach in 1963 when Blanton Collier replaced Paul Brown.
Costello spoke very positively about Brown, stating:
“Paul Brown was a great coach. I’m indebted to him; he’s the guy who put me in football. . . . I love Paul Brown. Paul Brown is not what people think he is. I always say that he was like a president of a university coaching a football team. He had a lot of dignity. He was good to me. I got along with him.”
In 1963, Costello, at middle linebacker, started all 14 regular season games.
In a 37-7 Browns defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles on October 20, 1963, Costello intercepted two passes, which he returned for 47 yards.
He also helped Cleveland limit Philadelphia to only 80 “net pass yards” and 81 rushing yards.
On December 15, 1963, in the final game of the 1963 regular season, Costello intercepted Washington Redskins end Bill Anderson and returned the interception for 25 yards.
In addition, Costello helped Cleveland’s defense hold Washington to only 56 rushing yards, in a 27-20 Browns victory over Washington.
With seven interceptions, which he returned for 118 yards, Costello had the best interception year of his NFL career in 1963.
The Browns had a 10-4 record, but missed the playoffs in 1963.
With Costello’s play, Cleveland ranked in the NFL regular season in 1963 third in fewest points allowed (262) and tied for third in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.9).
If 1963 was Costello’s most productive NFL year (in terms of his interception statistics), 1964 was his most memorable NFL year.
Costello again started all 14 regular season games at middle linebacker in 1964.
Costello recovered four fumbles in the 1964 regular season (tied for fifth in the NFL), in addition to his two interceptions.
With their December 12 win over the Giants, Cleveland won the NFL East Division title with a 10-3-1 record.
Costello helped the Browns rank in the NFL regular season in 1964 tied for second in most fumbles recovered (21).
Cleveland advanced to play the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL championship game on December 27, 1964.
In recalling the game, Costello stated:
“We were confident. We finished our regular season up well . . . and had two weeks to get ready for the Colts. We practiced at Western Reserve Stadium. I was like most other guys on the team, not even thinking about how good the Colts were supposed to be . . . just concentrating on my job.”
Costello started the game at middle linebacker, intercepted future Pro Football Hall of Fame Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas (and returned the interception for one yard), and was part of a Browns defense that held the Colts to only 89 “net pass yards” and 92 rushing yards.
Vince Costello with the pick at Cleveland Municipal Stadium(sound on)pic.twitter.com/7lAelwf0ao
— CleWest (@erjmanlasvegas) August 28, 2020
Cleveland shut out the Colts 27-0, winning its first NFL championship in nine years.
About the game, Costello said:
“I had a pretty decent day. Our defense had a good day. . . . If we wouldn’t have won that 1964 championship game, I would have been disappointed in my career.”
In 1965, Costello played in and started 13 regular season games at middle linebacker.
For the 1965 regular season, Costello intercepted three passes, which he returned for 33 yards.
With an 11-3 record, Cleveland again won the NFL East Division title in 1965.
The Browns then played the Green Bay Packers in the 1965 NFL championship game on January 2, 1966.
Vince Costello pic.twitter.com/kWbDc10OrG
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) December 6, 2020
Costello started the game at middle linebacker, but the Packers defeated the Browns 23-12.
In 1966, Costello, at middle linebacker, started all 14 regular season games.
Cleveland had a 9-5 record, but failed to make the playoffs in 1966.
Costello helped the Browns defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1966 first in both most recovered turnovers (49) and most intercepted passes (30).
On September 11, 1967, the Browns traded Costello to the New York Giants for a sixth-round draft pick in the 1968 NFL draft.
In 1967, Costello started all 14 regular season games at middle linebacker for the Giants.
Pat Summerall interviews Giant LBer Vince Costello pic.twitter.com/USlqJU8LDq
— 𝐏𝐫𝐨 𝐅𝐨𝐨𝐭𝐛𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐉𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐧𝐚𝐥🏈 (@NFL_Journal) February 9, 2017
For the 1967 regular season, Costello had four interceptions that he returned for 54 yards.
One of his interceptions was of his former teammate Browns quarterback Frank Ryan that Costello returned for 26 yards in a 38-34 Giants win over Cleveland on October 29, 1967.
At age 36, Costello’s final NFL season was in 1968.
He started and played in two games for the Giants in 1968.
The Years After the NFL
Costello married Sally Dutton in 1959.
They had seven children, six daughters (Carol, Kay, Ann, Sue, Mary, and Tricia) and one son (David).
After his retirement as an NFL player, Costello was active in both football coaching and business.
In 1969, Costello’s former head coach, Paul Brown, then head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, hired Costello to be assistant linebackers coach for the Bengals.
While Costello coached for the Bengals from 1969 to 1973, the team won two AFC Central Division titles in 1970 and 1973.
Costello next was hired by the Miami Dolphins in 1974 as a defensive assistant coach.
In 1974, the Dolphins won the AFC East Division title.
In 1975 and 1976, Costello was the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.
In business, Costello owned a company called Vince Costello’s Collectibles that designed and made various sports collectibles, including a product line designed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Costello and his wife also owned Costello’s Greenhouse Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri.
While Costello lived in the Kansas City area, he remembered his Ohio roots.
“I really like to get back there. The people are great. It’s just a fine place, but I guess I’m a little prejudiced because I grew up there.”
On June 23, 2019, Costello, at the age of 87, died in Overland Park, Kansas.
Costello was inducted into the Kermit Blosser Ohio Athletics Hall of Fame in 1968.
In 2002, Costello was inducted into the inaugural class of the Stark County High School Football Hall of Fame.
Costello was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Program in 2011.
In assessing Costello’s career, it would be unfortunate if it was defined by his failure to receive any Pro Bowl invitations or All-Pro honors.
Instead, one can cite Costello’s accomplishments while he played for the Browns.
First, Costello was durable.
In his 10 seasons with the Browns, he missed only two regular season games.
Second, Costello is among Cleveland’s career leaders in interceptions.
He ranks tied for 16th in Browns career regular season interceptions (18) and 19th in Browns career regular season interception return yards (245).
When only Cleveland linebackers are considered, Costello ranks first in Browns career regular season interceptions and second in Browns career regular season interception return yards.
Third, Costello is among Cleveland’s career leaders in defensive fumble recoveries.
He ranks tied for 16th in Browns career regular season defensive fumble recoveries (8), sixth in Browns career regular season defensive fumble recovery return yards (54), and tied for first in Browns career regular season defensive fumble recovery touchdowns (2).
When only Cleveland linebackers are considered, Costello ranks tied for sixth in Browns career regular season defensive fumble recoveries, second in Browns career regular season defensive fumble recovery return yards, and tied for first in Browns career regular season defensive fumble recovery touchdowns.
Fourth, Costello was a winner.
He played on Browns teams that never had a losing record, in three NFL championship games, and, most importantly, for the last Cleveland championship team in 1964.
Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club treasurer Dave Seffens stated:
“If Vince Costello had played (most of his career) for the New York Giants and [Pro Football Hall of Famer] Sam Huff had played for the Cleveland Browns, Vince Costello would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were the two premier middle linebackers. Costello was pretty awesome.”
Playing most of his career at the critical defensive position of middle linebacker, for his individual statistics and contributions to Cleveland’s success as a team in 1964 and other years, Vince Costello “was pretty awesome” for the Cleveland Browns.