(Mac Speedie photos courtesy of the Cleveland Browns)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
When I was in Canton for this year's Hall-of-Fame induction I ran into former GM Ron Wolf, there with over 100 Hall of Famers, and he couldn't wait to ask me something that seemed to have been bothering him for some time.
"Why isn’t Mac Speedie in the Hall of Fame?" he said.
It’s a good question. And I have a good answer: I don’t know.
He is qualified. He played on championship teams. In fact, in his seven-year career the Browns went to the league championship game all seven times – winning five of them, four in the All-America Football Conference and one in the NFL. He was a decorated wide receiver who led the league in catches. Four times. His career average of 800 yards receiving per year was not surpassed until two decades after his retirement, and he produced 33 touchdowns in 86 regular-season games.
But that's not all.
He was an outstanding blocker. He ran precise routes. He was lightning fast. He was athletic, one of the country's top hurdlers in high school and college, and he was all-decade, named to the NFL's all-star team of the 1940s. Plus, for what it's worth, he was liked and respected by teammates who made him the Browns' MVP in 1952.
So what's missing? Longevity, that’s what. That and the support of his former coach, Paul Brown.
After missing the 1952 NFL championship game with a knee injury, Speedie left the NFL and signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Western Interprovincial Football Union, which essentially became the CFL. The Roughriders offered more money than he was making in Cleveland, so he took the offer and ran to Canada, where he became an all-league choice the following two seasons.
So what? Well, so that kept his NFL resume at three years and his Browns' resume at seven.
It also infuriated then-Cleveland coach Paul Brown, who is in the Hall of Fame – so much so that the Browns' organization didn’t put Speedie in its Ring of Honor until 1999, or after Al Lerner headed the expansion franchise, and Brown rebuffed Speedie when they met at the 1977 East-West Shrine Game.
According to those close to the Browns, Speedie's free-spirited personality clashed with the button-downed Brown, who wasn’t amused when Speedie showed up at training camp with a pet skunk he named "Paul." And when Speedie decided to leave Cleveland for Canada? It was Brown who sued him for breach of contract – contending the Browns exercised an option to extend his deal after it expired in the summer of 1953.
Speedie later said Brown "told me when I jumped leagues he would get even with me." And he did. He kept him out of Canton … and out of Cleveland's Hall … until both Brown and Speedie were dead.
At least the Browns corrected their mistake. Now it's time for the Hall's senior committee to correct another.
Mac Speedie was an All-Pro choice in six of his seven pro seasons in this country. He was an all-league choice in two of his three years in Canada. And last time I checked, this is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the NFL Hall of Fame. And while seven of his teammates on the Browns are in Canton, he was as good as any of them – including Dante Lavelli, who played the same position as Speedie.
"I've written letters for years, saying Mac should be in the Hall of Fame," Lavelli said in a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Quite honestly, I can't understand it."
I can. He didn’t ingratiate himself to a powerful and successful head coach. So he was punished. But the punishment has gone on long enough. Otto Graham was enshrined in 1965; Dante Lavelli in 1975. Mac Speedie hasn’t been discussed since 1983, and I'd like to see that changed.