I can hear the late Nev Chandler‘s voice still in my head from my childhood days… “Ice Cube at the twenty, to the twenty-five, outside to the thirty-five, to the forty (Chandler’s voice getting more excited with each breath), he’s got a clear path past the fifty, to the forty, to the thirty, to the twenty, to the ten, touchdown Browns!” It was moments like this that I would emulate in the front yard of our Lakewood home. So, you can imagine how it felt when I had the opportunity to talk with former Cleveland Browns fan favorite Gerald “Ice Cube” McNeil.
Born in Germany on March 27th 1962 (my birthday is March 7th), McNeil played his college ball for the Baylor Bears. As a wide receiver, he also found a calling in returning punts and kickoffs. Because of his small size at 5’7″ and 140 lbs, McNeil earned the nickname “Ice Cube” because of how difficult it was to grab a hold of him. Former Browns’ punter Jeff Gossett was responsible for nicknaming McNeil. Cleveland reporter Tony Grossi put in the local paper a headline reading “The Ice Cube Has Arrived” the very next day.
For his speedy efforts, McNeil earned Pro Bowl honors in 1987. That year he became one of the few players in NFL history to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same season. McNeil told me that was the highlight of his career, saying “I had a great year and was able to do a lot of fantastic things. Thank God I had Bill Cowher for a special teams coach and a lot of great blockers along the way.”
Now living in Houston, TX with his wife Paula, McNeil still heavily follows the Browns and hopes they can turn it around. McNeil told me with a chuckle, “If you ever become a Browns fan, you are a Browns fan for life. I am really excited about the new ownership. It should help bring some stability and help bring a lot fortitude on how to build a successful franchise, you have to have a model.” The Browns need to find that model quick.
When asked why the Browns have struggled so mightily since coming back to the NFL in 1999, he said, “Hire the right people and then you don’t have to worry about replacing them every four or five years.” What was interesting was what McNeil thought was the difference between his Browns and the ones that take the field today. “We had identity and a lot of heart. The identity that our team had was we were going to play you for four quarters. And, we were going to fight you till the very end.” McNeil explained. From my memories, it seemed like those Browns were never out of a game.
The former Brown who wore No. 89 (It was the highest number he could take at the time, although he wore 13 in college) has some fond memories in the four seasons he played with the orange and brown. McNeil’s favorite memories was the two AFC Championship games. McNeil stated, “I cannot have another experience from a sporting perspective to be anything higher than that. The AFC Championship was Super Bowl-like. Those memories of playing in those Championship games were spectacular.” I too was very fond of those memories as well.
The “Cube” also told me that concussions were not as emphasized as they are in today’s game. “We had smelling salts, look at couple fingers they were holding up, and what was your name.” McNeil said. McNeil believes that this game has changed big time. “These players today are bigger, faster, and stronger” he said.
The one thing McNeil will never forget about Cleveland is the loyal crazed fan base. “Die hard. die hard. It was family. Anybody that talked about us in bad way, they (the fans) were right there defending us. I loved that. It’s thirty below zero and they were right there sitting in the stands. That takes a lot of heart and determination. They are just very loyal and I can’t say enough about the Cleveland Browns fans” McNeil went on to say sternly.
The one cool thing that was surprising was how McNeil touted Browns’ return man Joshua Cribbs. McNeil agreed with me in the fact that Pat Shurmur stunted the growth of many players the last two seasons. “One of them is the return guy Josh Cribbs. I firmly believe that. I think it’s up to a coaching staff to figure out and best utilize the talent that is there. Cribbs has a lot of talent. You can get him involved in a lot of different ways. Had there been other offenses around, they would have found a way to use that young man.” McNeil strongly stated. While I fully agree with “Cube”, unless the Browns surprise everyone, we have likely seen the last of Cribbs in an orange helmet.
Although the past is the past, a return to the glory days is all these fans want. To have a winning record and make the playoffs like the Browns’ teams of the late 1980′s did is all they ask for. Until then, it’s about living in the past through players like the “Ice Cube”.
Ryan Ruiz – Cleveland Browns Writer
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