Long-time Cleveland Browns return man (and quarterback and wide receiver and…) Josh Cribbs formally announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday afternoon. Whether he was taking kickoff returns to the house, tracking down return men in coverage, or hauling in the occasional pass for six points, Cribbs was Cleveland football for a sizable chunk of time in the late 2000s, bleeding into the early teens.
Though he had not been on an NFL field in some time, the 33-year-old had not officially stepped away until he linked up with LeBron James’ UNINTERRUPTED to share a few words with fans.
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) March 22, 2017
Almost immediately, players who have suited up with Josh in various capacities flocked to Twitter to discuss their appreciation for No. 16. Rather than reminiscing behind the scenes, we felt that the best way to discuss what Josh meant to us was through a roundtable. Below, you’ll find all of our thoughts on one of the most electric players to ever wear a Browns uniform. In the comments, we invite you to do the same.
Dave: The Immaculate Deception. I didn’t even realize we were calling it that. But still, this encompasses so much for me as a Browns fan. Number one, it was against Pittsburgh Football. Number two, it looks like it was going to be (because it was) a muffed kick, we’d be lucky to KEEP the ball let alone get a touchdown. Number three, his tap dancing on the sidelines to stay in bounds. Number four, amazing hit by Chaun Thompson on the kicker.
Josh’s approach to kick off returns was simple, run as fast as you can towards the guys coming at you and they’ll probably miss.
Scott: In his announcement video, Josh Cribbs discusses his brief time with the Indianapolis Colts, the team which signed him to help their return game as they attempted to take down the New England Patriots in late 2014. In what ended up being the Deflategate game, Cribbs perched under a punt like he had countless times before. The Colts had held the Pats to a three-and-out and it was his time to shine. He stood back at the 22, clapped his pristine white and blue Nike gloves together and nodded his head—trademark dreads flowing behind him—as he set out to put his team in the best position to capitalize on their defensive efforts. He watched he football sail off of Ryan Allen’s foot, soaring through the air toward him. While Josh joked about the ball moving all over due to its deflated state (there’s no way the Patriots would punt a deflated football—that defeats the purpose), the ball plunged back toward earth and slammed right into his facemask, grazed off of his finger tips, ricocheting right to the Patriots’ gunners. They would take over and score a touchdown on that drive en route to a 45-7 win. Josh would never return a punt again.
I won the gloves at a charity event that subsequent March. At this point, Josh was still under contract with the Colts as they would not release him until early May. When the gloves were up for auction, Cribbs was just 31 years old and still felt like he had plenty left in the tank. I type this as a 35-year-old who couldn’t even dream about no longer being able to do the things that I love at that same age. I hate that the gloves are not those of his Cleveland Browns days, but not as much as I hate that he had to go somewhere else at all. For so long, Cribbs was Cleveland football. While he was from the DMV, once Josh landed a spot with the Browns, he immediately adopted Cleveland as his home.
From: Josh Cribbs pic.twitter.com/C1H7hTOdsl
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) January 18, 2015
The year 2010 was the first time I could remember, as a fan, feeling passionate about an athlete being paid more than the contract he had originally signed. It was also the first time I could recall an athlete using social media and a #PayTheMan hashtag to help rally a fan base in his or her defense. There were t-shirts, autograph sessions, dramatic cleanings of lockers… It had it all. That it had to happen in the first place was preposterous, but easily the product of multiple regimes attempting to leave their fingerprints on the organization during their respective stint. It ultimately led to (much deserved) three-year, $20 million deal that has not only allowed Josh to retire this early, but to continue his generous, philanthropic ways in the Cleveland market. He could have easily taken his money, returned back to Maryland, and set up shop there, but he’s chosen to not only stay in Cleveland, but continue to help it grow. He may not have won a lot of football games, but Josh Cribbs certainly won himself an entire fan base.
Here’s to catching another 18 with No. 16 sometime in the near future.
Josh: Since Dave stole my favorite (and most memorable) Josh Cribbs’ moment on the football field, I figured I would talk about just how special Cribbs was rather than pick a single moment or play. The do-it-all player literally did everything he was asked to do while playing with the Browns from 2005-12. Outside of play defense (which he even might have did so at times), No. 16 lineup up behind center, out wide as a receiver, and even on special teams, both in coverage and handling returning duties. Simply, he did all of the dirty work for the Browns, something that many stars wouldn’t do for their team.
He may have had less than 2,000 receiving and rushing yards combined, but he won’t be remembered for that. He will be remember for what he did on special teams and what he brought to the shores of Lake Erie. Five years after playing his last down in the NFL, Cribbs is still proving that he loves the Browns and the Dawg Pound. Whether it’s oarticipating pregame or postgame shows or continually showing that he still roots for the Browns every Sunday, Cribbs is a class act and a player that many in Cleveland will forever love.
Cribbs did everything he could to bring a winning football team to the city of Cleveland, and because he did that, he will forever be one of my favorite players to ever don the brown and orange.
FWIW, having the name Josh helps as well.
Michael: Despite being the Cleveland Browns best special team player of my lifetime coupled with some great runs playing Wildcat quarterback and even some wide receiver, my favorite memory of Josh Cribbs is the College World Series. No, Cribbs didn’t play baseball for Kent State. He did however support the team and rallied fans from around the area when the Flashes made it to Omaha in 2012.
Cribbs rented a bus, bought T-shirts (Flash Mob!), bought food for the trip, and organized buying tickets for the game so that everyone could sit together. He even donated a bunch of signed gear to giveaway during games that the fans used to pass the time on the 16 hour trip. The Browns wouldn’t let him out of practice, so he had to fly separately to catch up to the group, but, regardless, he put Eric Mangini to shame when it comes to Browns-related bus trip trivia.
Before the Browns had Gary Barnidge hosting movie nights and Joe Haden showing up everywhere around town, the team had Josh Cribbs and the Kent State Flashes. Good times.
Joe: It was December 30, 2007. The Browns arrived at their final game of the season against the San Francisco 49ers with a 9-6 record and a chance to make the playoffs. I was able to attend this game and hopefully finally see a Browns teams make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Yes, the Browns needed help from the Indianapolis Colts, but the smell of the playoffs was there at the 2007 season finale game at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Josh Cribbs was the star of the game for the Browns. His first quarter was one of the best returner performances I have ever seen. His first punt return went 53 yards and really started off a day of brilliance. Later in the quarter, Cribbs made the play of the game. He put the first points on board with a touchdown on a 76-yard punt return. He helped give the Browns great field position all day, leading to the team’s tenth victory of the season. He had two kick returns for a total of 57 yards (28.5 yards average) and four punt returns for a total of 135 yards (33.75 yards average) and a touchdown.
Cribbs performance helped give the Browns a chance to get into the playoffs. The Browns just needed the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Tennessee Titans. Easy, right? Well, the Colts decided to play quarterback Payton Manning for just over a quarter, putting in Jim Sorgi to try and win the game for the Browns. As everyone thought, Sorgi stunk and gave the Titans the victory, which pushed the Browns out of the playoffs. But, Cribbs performance gave me hope of playoffs and some real excitement watching a Browns game. Oh, we can only dream now.