It’s hard to imagine football for what it’s become in Ohio this week without remembering the life, career, and legacy of one of the state’s finest…former Browns kicker, Lou Groza.
It’s been sixteen years now, November 29, 2000, since he passed away. But as Ohio focuses this weekend on crowning seven new champions in high school football, it’s more than fitting to take a moment to remember one who had so much to do with making football a part of the state’s culture.
Lou, “The Toe” Groza died on this date, of course, at the age of 76 after a hall of fame career with the Cleveland Browns, retiring after the 1967 season as the NFL’s leader in kicking and career points.
He was born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, enrolled at Ohio State in 1942 on a football scholarship, and left OSU after his freshman season to serve in the United States Army during World War II. The brother of former University of Kentucky basketball great, Alex Groza, he served in the Pacific until the end of the war and returned to football in 1946 where he played with the Cleveland Browns as an offensive tackle and place-kicker.
After helping the Browns win World Titles in 1954 and 1955, he was named MVP and briefly retired following the 1959 season after suffering a back injury.
He returned to football in 1961 and played on the Browns last championship team in 1964.
Groza, one of the most popular Browns of all time for his personality and committed service to the Cleveland community, became the icon for a generation of future place-kickers. Many a kid grew up kicking a football in the backyard, imagining he was Lou Groza on Sunday.
His accuracy and distance was legendary at a time when 50-yard field goals were a rarity. Long before the days of the soccer-style attempt, Groza popularized the square-toed kicking shoe that he’s seen wearing in many of his photographs.
He was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1974; and in 1992 the Lou Groza Award was inaugurated in his honor, honoring the top kicker annually in college football.
A big man with a big heart, he ran a successful insurance business in Berea for several years following football. Recognized as the Browns’ unofficial ambassador, Groza and wife Jackie were such popular public figures they became known as the team’s “first family. Following his death of a heart attack on November 29, 2000, he was laid to rest in Sunset Memorial Park in North Olmsted, Ohio.