Playing in the NFL is the high point of a football career.
How every NFL player reaches this pinnacle varies.
Warren Lahr was not heavily recruited out of high school, selected for any college national All-American team, nor picked high in the draft.
With this background, there was no guarantee that Lahr would ever play in an NFL game.
Yet, Lahr not only played for the Cleveland Browns for 11 years, but also earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors and was one of the best players in Browns history at intercepting passes.
He also played on four championship teams for the Browns in 1949, 1950, 1954, and 1955.
We take a look at the life of Warren Lahr – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Warren Emmett Lahr was born on September 5, 1923 in Mount Zion, Pennsylvania.
Mount Zion is located in south central Pennsylvania.
Lahr grew up in West Wyoming, Pennsylvania, which is located approximately 140 miles from Mount Zion in northeastern Pennsylvania.
When Lahr was growing up, West Wyoming had a population of approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people.
Lahr attended West Wyoming High School, graduating in 1941.
He played football and basketball at West Wyoming High School.
While Lahr was a standout on the football team, because West Wyoming High School did not have a strong team, Lahr was not highly recruited by colleges.
The only college that offered Lahr a scholarship was Western Reserve University (what is today known as Case Western University), a small school in Cleveland, Ohio.
Lahr left Pennsylvania and headed to Cleveland to attend Western Reserve.
At Western Reserve, Lahr first played football as a sophomore in 1942.
He was a reserve in his sophomore season.
Western Reserve had an 8-3 record in 1942, including a 3-0 record in the Big Four Conference.
The Big Four Conference consisted of Western Reserve, Baldwin-Wallace, Case, and John Carroll (all schools in the Cleveland area)
Lahr missed the 1943 to 1945 football seasons.
He served for three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
In 1946, Lahr returned and became one of the stars on the Western Reserve football team.
Lahr played left halfback for Western Reserve in 1946.
For his play in 1946, Lahr was named to the 11-member All-Big Four city all-star team.
He also won Western Reserve’s Jack Dempsey Adam Hat trophy.
In 1946, Western Reserve had a 4-3-2 record, including a 2-0-1 record in the Big Four Conference.
Lahr played both halfback and quarterback as a senior in 1947.
Lahr also showed his future talent for interceptions. In a 6-0 Western Reserve shutout of Butler on November 8, 1947, Lahr preserved the victory by intercepting a pass on the last play of the game.
Western Reserve played in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in 1947 and had a 4-5 record (2-1 in the MAC).
After the 1947 season, it was ruled by the MAC that Lahr and other players who had served in World War II would be given an extra year of eligibility to play college football.
However, Lahr decided not to pursue another year of playing at Western Reserve and instead headed to professional football (see below).
Lahr ultimately earned his degree from Western Reserve in 1951.
The Pro Football Years
Lahr was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 32nd round of the 1947 NFL draft (the 294th overall pick).
However, Lahr never played in a regular season game for the Steelers.
During training camp with the Steelers, Lahr suffered a knee injury and was released.
Lahr then signed with the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).
Because of his knee injury, Lahr did not play in the 1948 season.
While Lahr recovered from his knee injury and was ready to play for the Browns in 1949, Lahr almost did not make the team.
When Lahr made a mistake on defense during a preseason game with the San Francisco 49ers, he was almost cut from the Browns by head coach Paul Brown.
Fortunately, for Lahr and the Browns, Brown ultimately decided to keep Lahr on the team.
In 1949, Lahr played in 11 regular season games, but did not start any of them.
He played for the Browns in a variety of roles – running back, punter, punt returner, and defensive back.
On October 14, 1949, in a 61-14 Browns rout of the Los Angeles Dons, Lahr scored his first professional football touchdown on a two-yard run.
For the 1949 regular season. Lahr rushed for 36 yards on nine rushing attempts and caught one pass for 20 yards.
He also punted four times for 125 yards and returned six punts for 83 yards.
As a defensive back, Lahr intercepted four passes, which he returned for 32 yards.
With a 9-1-2 record, the Browns finished in first place in the AAFC regular season in 1949 and advanced to the playoffs.
Lahr contributed to the Browns defense in 1949 leading the AAFC both in fewest regular season points allowed (171) and fewest regular season passing yards allowed (1,677) and ranking second in the AAFC in regular season interceptions (29).
On December 4, 1949, the Browns played the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round of the AAFC playoffs.
While Lahr did not start the game, he made one of its key plays.
With the Browns holding a narrow 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter, Lahr intercepted a pass from Buffalo quarterback George Ratterman and returned it for a 52-yard touchdown.
The interception touchdown was the final score in the game, as the Browns defeated the Bills 31-21.
The following week, on December 11, 1949, Cleveland won its fourth consecutive AAFC championship, defeating the San Francisco 49ers 21-7.
Lahr did not start this championship game, but showed his versatility, rushing for seven yards on one rushing attempt and returning two kickoffs for 41 yards and two punts for 23 yards.
While Lahr did not intercept a pass, he made a key play in the game, knocking a potential touchdown pass away from 49er wide receiver Paul Salata.
The AAFC folded after the 1949 season, and the Browns joined the NFL.
In 1950, Lahr became a full-time starter.
He started all 12 regular season games at right defensive back.
On December 3, 1950, Lahr scored his first NFL regular season touchdown when he intercepted Eagles quarterback Tommy Thompson and returned the interception for 30 yards.
The play was Cleveland’s only touchdown in the game, as the Browns defeated the Steelers 13-7.
The following week, on December 10, 1950, Lahr scored his second NFL regular season touchdown on an 18-yard interception return, helping Cleveland defeat the Washington Redskins 45-21.
In the 1950 regular season, Lahr intercepted eight passes, which he returned for 99 yards.
He also recovered a fumble and returned it for 21 yards.
The Browns tied for first place in the American Division of the NFL in 1950 with a 10-2 record.
In 1950, Lahr’s play helped Cleveland’s defense lead the NFL both in fewest regular season total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,963) and fewest regular season passing yards allowed (1,390), rank second in the NFL in fewest regular season points allowed (144), and rank tied for second in the NFL in regular season interceptions (31).
Cleveland played a special playoff game with the New York Giants to settle their American Division first place tie on December 17, 1950.
Lahr started the game at defensive back and had an interception of Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly, which he returned for nine yards.
As part of a defense thar held New York to 13 “net pass yards” in the game, Lahr helped the Browns defeat the Giants 8-3 and advance to the NFL championship game.
Lahr again was a critical factor in a playoff game, intercepting two Los Angeles passes (including a game-saving interception on the final play of the game) and returning them for 14 yards.
Cleveland won its first NFL championship and, counting its AAFC titles from 1946 through 1949, its fifth consecutive professional football championship, with a 30-28 victory over the Rams.
While Lahr came into professional football with little fanfare as a 32nd round draft pick, he had an immediate significant impact on the sport.
In his first four playoff games in 1949 and 1950, he intercepted four passes, helping Cleveland win two professional football championships.
In 1951, Lahr started all 12 regular season games at left defensive back.
On October 7, 1951, Lahr scored his third NFL regular season touchdown on a 23-yard interception return, as Cleveland defeated the Los Angeles Rams 38-23.
In a 17-0 Browns shutout of the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 21, 1951, on a 27-yard interception return, Lahr scored his fourth NFL regular season touchdown.
With Lahr at defensive back, the shutout was the second consecutive shutout by Cleveland (the Browns also shutout the Washington Redskins 45-0 on October 14, 1951) and one of four shutouts for Cleveland in 1951 (the Browns also shutout the New York Giants 10-0 on November 18, 1951 and the Pittsburgh Steelers again 28-0 on December 9, 1951).
Lahr intercepted five passes, which he returned for 95 yards, in the 1951 regular season.
He also recovered a fumble, which he returned for two yards.
He received his first All-Pro honors in 1951, being named first team All-Pro by the New York Daily News and United Press International.
In 1951, the Browns won the American Division title with an 11-1 record.
Lahr helped the Browns defense in 1951 lead the NFL in fewest regular season points allowed (152) and rank second in the NFL in fewest regular season total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,002).
Cleveland advanced to the NFL championship game against the Los Angeles Rams on December 23, 1951.
Lahr started the game at defensive back and intercepted Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield – the fifth pass interception by Lahr in five professional football playoff games.
However, the Browns lost to the Rams 24-17.
In 1952, Lahr again started all 12 regular season games at left defensive back.
On September 28, 1952, in the opening game of the season, Cleveland avenged its loss in the 1951 championship game by defeating the Los Angeles Rams 37-7.
With Lahr at defensive back, the Browns defense held the Rams to only 58 “net pass yards” and forced five Los Angeles turnovers in the game.
In a 10-0 Browns shutout of the Chicago Cardinals on December 7, 1952, Lahr was part of a Browns defense that held Chicago to only 98 “net pass yards” and forced five turnovers by the Cardinals.
Lahr, in the 1952 regular season, intercepted five passes, which he returned for 51 yards.
He was named second team All-Pro by the New York Daily News and United Press International in 1952.
Cleveland won the American Division title in 1952 with an 8-4 record.
With Lahr’s play, Cleveland’s defense in 1952 led the NFL in fewest regular season total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,075) and ranked second in the NFL in fewest regular season points allowed (213).
The Browns played in their third consecutive NFL championship game on December 28, 1952 against the Detroit Lions.
Starting the game at defensive back, Lahr was part of a Browns defense that held Detroit to only 59 “net pass yards”.
However, the Lions defeated the Browns 17-7.
Lahr again started all 12 regular season games at left defensive back in 1953.
In the opening game of the 1953 regular season, on September 27, 1953, the Browns shutout the Green Bay Packers 27-0.
Cleveland’s defense, with Lahr playing defensive back, held the Packers to only 55 “net pass yards” and forced four Green Bay turnovers.
In another Browns shutout, 7-0 over the New York Giants on October 25, 1953, Lahr was part of a Cleveland defense that held the Giants to only 66 “net pass yards” and forced three New York turnovers.
For the 1953 regular season, Lahr intercepted five passes, which he returned for 119 yards (his highest total of interception return yards in any regular season).
In 1953, Lahr was invited to the Pro Bowl.
He was also named second team All-Pro by United Press International.
Cleveland had an 11-1 record and won the East Division title in 1953.
Lahr helped Cleveland’s defense lead the NFL in fewest regular season points allowed (162) in 1953.
The Browns advanced to their fourth consecutive NFL championship game on December 27, 1953 against the Detroit Lions.
However, Detroit defeated the Browns 17-16.
Lahr started the 1953 championship game at defensive back, but he was beaten in coverage on the winning score for Detroit in the fourth quarter (a 33-yard touchdown pass to Lions end Jim Doran).
Lahr was so upset by the play that he cried on his way home.
Still can’t believe Warren Lahr was beat by Doran. https://t.co/7WvHyTMsmS
— Bill Holman (@ChickJagade) August 11, 2020
Both Lahr and the Lions rebounded from the 1953 championship game loss in 1954.
In 1954, Lahr again started all 12 regular season games at left defensive back.
On November 7, 1954, in a 62-3 Cleveland rout of the Washington Redskins, Lahr was part of a Browns defense that held Washington to 31 “net pass yards” and forced four Redskins turnovers.
The following week, Lahr scored his fifth NFL regular season touchdown when he intercepted Chicago Bears quarterback Zeke Bratkowski and returned the interception for 27 yards.
Cleveland defeated the Bears 39-10 in the game.
In the 1954 regular season, Lahr intercepted five passes, which he returned for 44 yards.
After not running the ball for five regular seasons, Lahr also rushed for 18 yards on three rushing attempts in 1954.
Lahr was named second team All-Pro in 1954 by United Press International.
The Browns won the East Division title with a 9-3 record in 1954.
Cleveland’s defense, with Lahr at defensive back, led the NFL in 1954 in each of fewest regular season points allowed (162), fewest regular season total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,658), and fewest regular season passing yards allowed (1,608).
For the fifth consecutive year, Cleveland advanced to the NFL championship game on December 26, 1954.
The Browns met the Detroit Lions for the third consecutive year.
This time, the Browns were able to defeat the Lions, routing Detroit 56-10.
It was Cleveland’s second NFL and sixth professional football championship.
Warren Lahr says that coach Brown was the most intelligent human being that he ever came across in his life time.
— Ronald B. Saunders (@BlackBuzzNews) March 5, 2012
The Browns defense forced nine Lions turnovers in the game.
In 1955, Lahr again started all 12 regular season games at left defensive back.
On October 16, 1955, Lahr was part of a Browns defense that held the Washington Redskins to only 51 “net pass yards” and forced five Washington turnovers in a 24-14 Cleveland victory over Washington.
The following week, on October 23, 1955, in a 41-10 Cleveland win over the Green Bay Packers, Lahr helped Cleveland’s defense hold the Packers to only 22 “net pass yards” and force three Green Bay turnovers.
For the fifth consecutive regular season, Lahr intercepted five passes in 1955 (which he returned for 52 yards).
He also recovered one fumble.
In 1955, Lahr was named second team All-Pro by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, the New York Daily News, and United Press International.
With a 9-2-1 record, Cleveland again won the East Division title in 1955.
The Browns defense, with Lahr’s help, led the NFL in 1955 both in fewest regular season points allowed (218) and fewest regular season total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,841).
The Browns advanced to the 1955 NFL championship game (for the sixth consecutive year), seeking to defend their 1954 championship.
Cleveland played the Los Angeles Rams on December 26, 1955.
Starting the game at defensive back (playing with the same starting defensive backs as Cleveland used in the 1954 championship game), Lahr was part of a Browns defense that forced seven Los Angeles turnovers.
Cleveland won its third NFL and seventh professional football championship, defeating the Rams 38-14.
For the seventh consecutive year, Lahr started all 12 regular season games in 1956.
He played left defensive back.
In a 21-7 Cleveland loss to the Baltimore Colts, on November 11, 1956, Lahr helped the Browns defense hold the Colts to only five “net pass yards”.
The following week, on November 18, 1956, Lahr was part of a Cleveland defense that held the Philadelphia Eagles to only three “net pass yards” and forced three Eagles turnovers.
In the game, Cleveland shutout Philadelphia 16-0.
In the 1956 regular season, Lahr intercepted three passes, which he returned for 33 yards.
Lahr was named first team All-Conference by Sporting News in 1956.
Cleveland fell to a 5-7 record in 1956 and missed the playoffs for the first time in Lahr’s career.
However, Lahr helped Cleveland’s defense still play very well in 1956, leading the NFL both in fewest regular season points allowed (177) and fewest regular season passing yards allowed (1,103), and ranking second in the NFL in fewest regular season total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,135).
For the first time since his rookie year in 1949, Lahr did not play in and start every Browns regular season game in 1957.
Instead, in 1957, he played in and started 10 regular season games at left defensive back.
Lahr intercepted two passes, which he returned for 12 yards, and recovered one fumble in the 1957 regular season.
Cleveland returned to the NFL championship game in 1957, winning the East Division title with a 9-2-1 record.
Lahr contributed to Cleveland’s defense in 1957 leading the NFL both in fewest regular season points allowed (172) and fewest regular season passing yards allowed (1,300), and ranking second in the NFL in fewest regular season total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,802).
The Browns advanced to play the Detroit Lions in the championship game on December 29, 1957.
Lahr started the game at defensive back, but Cleveland lost to Detroit 59-14.
In 1958, Lahr, at left defensive back, played in and started only seven regular season games.
He intercepted one pass, which he returned for 25 yards, in the 1958 regular season.
With a 9-3 record, Cleveland tied for the East Division title with the New York Giants and played a special playoff game with New York on December 21, 1958.
Starting the game at defensive back, Lahr was part of a Cleveland defense that forced four Giants turnovers.
However, the Giants shut out Cleveland 10-0 in the game.
In 1959, Lahr played in all 12, and started nine, regular season games, primarily at left safety.
Lahr intercepted one pass in the 1959 regular season.
Cleveland had a 7-5 record in 1959 and missed the playoffs.
On June 21, 1960, at the age of 36, Lahr retired from the NFL.
The Years After the NFL
Lahr was married to Rowena and had five daughters, Jane, Janet, Sallie, Josephine, and Nancy.
After retiring from football, from 1963 to 1967, Lahr worked as color commentator for Browns games broadcast on WJW channel 8 in Cleveland.
Every Sunday on WBEN. Frank Glieber and Warren Lahr in the booth. 86 thousand at Municipal Stadium. Paul Warfield. Frank Ryan. Gary Collins. Leroy Kelly. Jim Kanicki. Paul Wiggin. My heroes!
— Mark Hebscher (@Hebsyman) December 31, 2017
He also worked as a sales agent for Lax Industries and ran a sporting goods business.
Lahr died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 45 on January 19, 1969.
In 1975, Lahr was an inaugural member of the Case Western Hall of Fame.
He was inducted in the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame in 1986.
In 2008, Lahr was inducted in the Cleveland Browns Legends Program.
He was named by Pro Football Reference to its second team All-1950’s decade team at defensive back.
Lahr was one of the best to ever play for the Cleveland Browns at intercepting passes.
He ranks first in Browns regular season interceptions returned for touchdowns (5), second in Browns regular season interceptions (44), and third in Browns regular season interception return yards (562).
In addition, Lahr starred at intercepting passes in the most critical games.
He intercepted five passes in playoff games, which he returned for 75 yards and one touchdown.
Lahr also displayed individual consistency over his 11 seasons with the Browns, intercepting at least one pass in each season and earning All-Pro or All-Conference honors in six consecutive seasons.
Most importantly, Lahr contributed to team success for the Browns.
Cleveland had a winning regular season record in 10 of Lahr’s 11 seasons, made the playoffs in nine of Lahr’s 11 seasons, advanced to the championship game in eight of Lahr’s 11 seasons, and won the championship in four of Lahr’s 11 seasons.
In considering Lahr’s career, it is also important to remember that he did not start in the NFL until he was 26 because of his military service.
When Cleveland fans think of defensive interception turnovers and “Pick Sixes”, they should recall the play of Warren Lahr – one of the best defensive backs in Browns history.