A True Champion

I know a Cleveland player who has one more "ring" than Lebron James.

It's not that I don't have an opinion on Lebron James' recent "decision".  But it's of little consequence to me that, if he ever wins a championship, it won't be in Cleveland.

If Clevelanders want a champion to be proud of, it isn't Lebron, ring or no ring.

As just about every Cleveland sports fan knows, including those who have been born since, the last "world championship" won by a Cleveland team was by the Browns in 1964 (it was then known as the NFL Championship, three years before there was a "Super Bowl".  Most even know the names of at least a few players on that team, such as Hall of Fame fullback Jim Brown, quarterback Frank Ryan and even receiver Gary Collins.

The one I have known...personally...is linebacker Vince Costello.

Costello was drafted in the late 1950's out of Ohio University (where he was acquainted with my parents) by then-Browns coach and founder Paul Brown. Although he stayed with the team after Brown was out and Art Modell was in, his loyalties always were with Paul Brown. Browns players themselves have said he was a major contributor to the 1964 team, which, by the way, upset John Unitas and the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts.

But his contribution to society had little to do with football.  He ran a boys camp in Millersburg, Ohio during the 1960's which I attended during the years 1967-68.  Each summer, he brought NFL stars to meet the campers...my rememberance is the visit by legendary Browns kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza. That camp was as much his pride and joy as anything he did in pro football. I should add, he also was a devoted family man.

He continued the camp even after the Browns traded him to the New York Giants (after he had a "difference of opinion" with Modell). But after he retired, Paul Brown called again.  By now, Brown was the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, and hired Costello to be his linebackers coach.  Those duties forced him to close and sell the camp.

Costello remained with the Bengals (and helped build the team's best defense it has had, until recently) until 1973, and after a few years with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs, he settled down in Kansas City and began a restaurant, which he ran for 20 years.  Reportedly, he more recently has been in the sports collectables business.

The impression Vince Costello made on me, however, has had one lasting effect.  People ask me why I, a native Cleveland-area resident, have long been a fan of the Bengals.  Vince Costello is the answer to that question.

The contributions he made to football, and to young men, as far as I'm concerned, outweigh anything Lebron James (or any superstar pro athlete, for that matter) has done, on or off the field.

The true champions aren't always the ones with the rings.


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