Josh Cribbs holds a career NFL record. Think about that for moment. With his two returns Sunday he now has run back more kick-offs for touchdowns than anyone in the history of the game. He has three for the season, giving him eight total. He passed Dante Hall, Gayle Sayers, Mel Gray, Travis Williams (?) and Ollie Matson (??) who are now tied for second with six. Upon hearing this news (while stuck Christmas shopping in Columbus, don’t ask) my immediate reaction was- really?
The previous record was really just six? Certainly this goes to show what a rare talent Josh Cribbs is, but I still had a hard time wrapping my head around this. Dante Hall? Devin Hester? Deion Sanders? Eric Metcalf? Billy Johnson? What gives? they didn’t find the end zone more? Really? It seemed like Deion Sanders scored a TD every week for a while in the 90’s. And didn’t the media make Dante Hall out to be this amazing x-factor guy? Weren’t teams terrified to kick to him? I guess that all could be listed as exhibit A on why he only had 6 in his career.
Now, the record is just for kick-offs. Cribbs and all these guys I mentioned also return punts. What about combining the totals? Gotcha covered.
Sanders comes in at the bottom of the list with his six return TDs. No, that doesn’t include interception returns. If we were going to include those we’d have to include everyone’s other position numbers and frankly I’m just not that interested. Cribbs has 10 combined return touchdowns. Devin Hester edges Josh with 11 combined TDs, while Eric Metcalf and Dante Hall each have 12 combined return TDs. Your clubhouse leader is Brian Mitchell who has 13 combined.
There you have it, if you are judging by just touchdowns you have a pretty even match between Hester and Cribbs. Obviously this contest is far from over, as Cribbs is in just his 5th season, and Hester his 4th. But there is a question as to how long a returner has an effective career. Mitchell is the rare player that was an effective returner for 14 seasons. Metcalf returned punts for nine years, but didn’t return kicks regularly after his five years with the Browns. In addition Metcalf didn’t do much work out of the backfield once he left Cleveland. No, he didn’t run draws on third and long for the Falcons.
Sanders was only an effective punt returner for about 6 seasons, and only returned kick-offs for 4 years. Dante Hall returned both punts and kicks effectively for six seasons. Devin Hester has already stopped returning kick-offs. He returned those for his first 3 years, and continues to return punts. Cribbs became the Browns’ kick-off man from the start, but is only his third year of punt return duties.
Everyone on this list also has some other job. Sanders played opposite the best wide outs in the game. Metcalf took a beating running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. Dante Hall started getting more reps as a WR, as did Devin Hester. Obviously Josh Cribbs may feel the effects of his many roles. He has taken more hits this year than ever, when you combine his kick coverage, wildcat runs and pass patterns into the mix. If Cribbs wants to own the overall return touchdown title, he still has a little work to do. His best year for scoring on returns is this one with 4 total. He would need another couple seasons at his average to put himself in the lead.