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Pete Brewster — 1950s NFL Legend Interview

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Notes from The Game Before the Money Podcast. Many episodes include interviews with NFL legends. This football history podcast is on your favorite podcast app.

PETE BREWSTER — NFL LEGEND BIO AND STORIES

Pete Brewster played for the Cleveland Browns from 1952 – 1958. He finished his NFL playing career by playing two years for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He won back-to-back championships with the Browns in 1954 and 1955. As a receiver, he played in two Pro Bowls and led the NFL in yards per catch in 1957.

After playing, Brewster worked as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Vikings and later the Kansas City Chiefs. He won Super Bowl 4 as a member of the Chiefs coaching staff under Hank Stram. Both Brewster and Stram went to college at Purdue

Pete shared stories with The Game Before the Money during the summer of 2019. The audio clips in the podcast are from that interview. Hear him share stories of how he was drafted by the Cardinals but wound up with the Browns, his memories of playing with Otto Graham and winning championships with Paul Brown, and how he landed a career in coaching.

You can listen to the podcast on the player below. You can also find a full transcription within the player by clicking on the transcription tab (first orange tab at the top of the player).

Please note that transcriptions are automatically generated and may contain errors.

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FOOTBALL HISTORY PODCAST:
Everybody, welcome to “The Game Before the Money” podcast.

Celebrating pro and college football history. This episode Cleveland Browns legend Pete Brewster

Football Oral History

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Hi, everybody, welcome to “The Game Before the Money” podcast, I’m Jackson Michael, author of the book The Game Before the Money Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL published by the University of Nebraska Press. And that’s available on Amazon.com. And this podcast is really an extension of that book, an oral history of football, preserving the history of the game, mainly through stories from the players.

The book featured interviews with people like Bart Starr and Frank Gifford. And in this episode, we’ll hear stories from Darrell “Pete” Brewster, who played on those great Cleveland Browns teams in the 1950s. Pete Brewster passed away in January of twenty twenty, and thankfully I was able to interview him in the summer of twenty nineteen. And so very grateful that he shared his stories with “The Game Before the Money”.

Pete Brewster NFL career

Pete Brewster was born in 1930, and as I alluded to before, he played for the great Paul Brown in the 1950s. He won two championships with the Cleveland Browns and led the NFL in yards per catch in 1957. And three times he finished in the top 10 in receiving yards. He ended his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1960. Afterwards, Pete Brewster got into coaching. He won a Super Bowl ring as an assistant coach to Hank Stram on that great Kansas City Chiefs team that won Super Bowl for Pete grew up in Indiana, mostly in Portland, Indiana, located about 90 miles northeast of Indianapolis, according to the city’s website. Portland, Indiana, host the world’s largest antique tractor and engine show.

Pete Brewster’s father passed away when he was 12. He credited his mother for raising him well and making sure that he went to church on Sundays.

His older siblings also helped carry the load.

Pete Brewster Purdue

Like many Indiana high schoolers, Brewster loved playing basketball. He played hoops all four years in high school and only played one year of football. Indiana, Purdue and nearby Ball State all offered him basketball scholarships, he chose Purdue and he told me there was a story behind his choice.

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
I almost went to IU (Indians), but there was two fellows that were two years older than I was and we made a commitment to go to college together.

Well, the two boys that was older went in the Navy when they graduated from high school. And when they got out why, we all decided we were going to go to Purdue.

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Tragically, one of Pete’s friends lost his life in a car accident before the boys headed to attend college. Pete and his other friend continued their pledge to attend.

Purdue, Pete’s friend, took engineering at Purdue and went on to work on the lunar rover for an Apollo moon mission. Produce football team invited Brewster to try out, and Brewster told me he couldn’t be sure, but he had a hunch as to why he was offered a tryout, despite only playing one year of high school football.

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
When I got to college, I was invited out to play football. Why? I don’t know for sure. I think it was because they had more scholarships in football than they did basketball. So they wanted to get me in football so I could be on a football scholarship.

1952 NFL Draft

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Pete told me that he progressed in football more than basketball while at Purdue and the NFL Chicago Cardinals took note and drafted him in the second round of the 1952 NFL draft. And that 1952 NFL draft was special in that five of the first 14 picks made the Hall of Fame, including Frank Gifford and Larry, both of whom you can learn more about in the book, The Game Before the Money,

Brewster never played for the Cardinals. However, the Cardinals new coach, Joe Kuharich, previously coached at the University of San Francisco, and Kuharich wanted one of his linebackers from college for the Cardinals, Pete Brewster.

Explain to me the deal that sent him to the Cleveland Browns.

Pete Brewster traded to Cleveland Browns

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
Joe Kuharich became the coach of the Chicago Cardinals. He coached a linebacker in college. His name was Burl Toler. He was drafted by Cleveland and I was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals. And Kuharich wanted Burl Toler. Well, Paul Brown liked it to have a offensive receiver. So Joe Kuharich offered me and Paul Brown accepted. That’s how I got to Cleveland.

Burl Toler NFL official

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Some of you football history majors out there might have perked up at the name Burl Toler, who served for a long time as an NFL official from the mid 1960s until 1990, he served as the head linesman in the freezer bowl game, the 1981 AFC championship game between the Bengals and Chargers that was played in subzero conditions.

Both Towler and Brewster made the roster for the college all star game. And you regular listeners know that was a game that featured a team of college all stars against the previous year’s NFL champions. Toler, Brewster and Company faced the Los Angeles Rams who won the 1950 one league championship over Brewsters new team, the Cleveland Browns. Toler suffered a knee injury in the game and never played another down of football, and that started his journey in officiating.

1950s Cleveland Browns

Pete Brewster, meanwhile, embarked on his NFL playing career. He joined a Cleveland Browns team with enough all time greats that would take a long winded sentence to list them.

Quarterback Otto Graham, Dontae Lavelli, Marium Mottley, Mac Speedie, Lou Groza, Len Ford, Dub Jones, who we had on “The Game Before the Money Podcast” recently. And we’re just getting started in naming the great players from that team.

There’s a reason why the Browns played in an incredible six straight NFL championship games. Actually, there are many reasons and not the least of which being the legendary Paul Brown, who today still stands as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Brewster shared with me what it was like as a rookie coming on to that legendary Browns team.

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
They were class individuals, Paul Brown wouldn’t have it any other way. They just took me in just like I’d been there for two or three years, but they were all very helpful. I roommated with Warren Lahr, who was a defensive secondary. And became very close to Dante Lavelli, Mac

Mac Speedie, I played one year when he was there. The other receiver, opposite Dante Lavelli.

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Brewster caught only four passes his rookie year, but won one for 47 yards and a touchdown, the Browns fell to the Lions in the 1952 NFL championship game. Seventeen to seven. Pete, however, led the Browns with 53 yards receiving in that championship game. Brewster got a greater opportunity to play in a second season, an opportunity that a teammate told him was coming.

Mac Speedie Canadian Football League, CFL

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
The second year, Mac Speedie went to Canada and played in the Canadian League for some more more money than it was getting here. So he called me and said, “Pete, I’m jumpin’ the league. And I’m going up to Canada and you have a chance here to make a little more money and ask for a bigger raise.” Which wasn’t very much. It was some.

Cleveland Browns receivers of the 1950s

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Brewster landed a bigger spot in 1953, his second year with the Browns, he landed over 600 yards, receiving an averaged nearly 20 yards per catch, finishing third in the league that season. He also scorched the New York Giants one Sunday for one hundred and eighty two yards and three touchdowns. Brewster told me about his strengths and the depth of the Browns excellent receiving corps.

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
I felt like I had real good hands and pretty good speed. It was real enjoyable. We had so many great receivers, Dante (Lavelli) and Ray Renfro, Dub Jones, myself. So that would have spread around. Numbers were quite a few.

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
We’ll put that Browns receiving talent in perspective. Dante Lavelli is in the Hall of Fame. His nickname was Glue Fingers. Dub Jones was an all purpose player who scored six touchdowns in one game. He’s also the father of legendary Colts quarterback Bert Jones. And you can learn more about Dub Jones, as I mentioned before, in the Dub Jones episode of “The Game before the Money Podcast”, a great listen with many wonderful stories. That Browns team also featured Ray Renfro, who averaged over 20 yards per catch in five seasons, and he also is the father of another NFL player, Houston Oilers legend Mike Renfro. All of those players, including Pete, made Pro Bowl rosters during their career. That’s how deep the Browns receiving corps was in the 1950s. And in addition to all of that amazing receiving talent, you had legendary quarterback Otto Graham there to make things go.

NFL’s most underrated receiver

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
I got to brag about Otto Graham, who was a great person. And he made a compliment to me one year and he said he thought that I was the most underrated receiver of the league. I take that as a great compliment, especially coming from Graham.

1953 Cleveland Browns

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
The Browns made the championship again in nineteen fifty three and Pete Brewster started at left end opposite Dante Lavelli. In the Browns lineup. Future Steelers coach Chuck Noll started at right guard for the Browns that year, and the Browns lost a heartbreaker 17-16 to the Detroit Lions in the NFL championship game as Lions quarterback Bobby Lane conducted a touchdown drive in the game’s final three minutes.

Otto Graham Facemask

Nineteen fifty three also marked the year of the famous Otto Graham facemask story. Many of you know at least some of the story where Otto Graham suffered a serious cut around his mouth during a game.

“Coach Paul Brown had him fitted with a clear plastic face mask for the second half. That wasn’t the first face mask used in pro or college football players in the book “The Game Before the Money” talk about using them in college ball in the 1940s. But Otto Graham’s face mask paints a point of historical reference for when face masks would find regular use in the NFL. In fact, Paul Brown even got a patent for the one he created. Pete spoke about his experience with early face masks and a conversation between Paul Brown and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell about establishing a penalty for grabbing the face mask.

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
Well, we didn’t have any. We eventually had two bars of I don’t know what they were made of, but they were brittle as can be. I remember I got clobbered one time, splintered it and broke my nose.

I remember Paul Brown telling Bert Bell as he came around every year and training camps beginning of the year. And Paul Brown told them, and said, and ‘If you don’t do something about this, grabbing the masks and penalizing them severely, I’m going to put a little razor blades all around in those plastic bars that went across there. That’ll take care of that.”

But they did.

They started calling them and making it a penalty.

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
It’s probably highly unlikely that Paul Brown would have followed up on his threat.

When did the NFL start the Facemask Penalty?

According to NFL Dotcom, the league first issued penalties for grabbing the facemask in 1956.

1950s Cleveland Browns NFL Championship Games

Brewster and the Browns kept winning during the 1950s. As I mentioned before, the Cleveland Browns played in six straight NFL championship games. They even played in seven of the first eight NFL championship games of the 1950s. That was after they won all four AAFC championship games before the two leagues had a partial merger. So between the AAFC and the NFL, Cleveland made the championship game ten straight times. That’s a complete decade of consecutive championship game appearances. Pete Brewster won back to back championships with the Browns in 1954 and 1955 and caught a touchdown pass in that 1954 championship. He also made a key catch in the 1956 Pro Bowl that helped the E squad sneak out a one point victory.

Jim Brown Rookie Year, 1957

In 1957, the Browns welcomed a rookie to their team, one with an appropriate last name for the Browns franchise. His name was Jim Brown.

Talking about Jim Brown

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
Yes, he was a very quiet man, dedicated and did his job very well.

If we needed a yard or two, we would say, Jim, we got to have it.

You got to get us a yard. And he would.

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
The Browns made the NFL championship game again in 1957, but lost to the Detroit Lions. You can hear more about that Detroit Lions team in the Roger Zatkoff episode of “The Game Before the Money Podcast”. The NFL schedule and roster structure was much different back then in the 1950s. Pete talked about that and credited Paul Brown for his success.

NFL schedules and rosters in the 1950s

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
Of course we only

We only played about 12 games back in there. We had 33 players. And those two things I remember most and we had to play offense, defense and then on some of the special teams, but we were in good shape. And I just know a lot of Paul Brown and his staff.

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Pete played with the Browns through 1958. The Giants defeated the Browns in a divisional playoff in 1958, and New York then went on to play the Colts in that legendary 1958 NFL championship game, often called the greatest game ever played.

Pete Brewster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pete Brewster retired after the 1958 season. At least he thought he had retired. Steelers head coach Buddy Parker called Brewster out of retirement to join him for two seasons in Pittsburgh. Parker had previously won two NFL championships as head coach of the Lions, and the Steelers suffered injuries at receiver and knew Pete could help. Those Steeler teams featured aging veterans like Bobby Layne, Ernie Stautner, Jack Butler and John Henry Johnson, all Future Hall of Famers in their thirties.

The 1959 Steelers also had a young quarterback on their roster from Pete’s alma mater, Purdue. His name was Len Dawson. Pete Brewster played sparingly in his two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the team’s record hovered around the 500 mark, Pete approached coach Buddy Parker after the 1960 season to discuss his future.

Pete Brewster, Coaching Career

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
After the season.

They always had a big party get together at the end of the season. And I went to Buddy Parker and I said, well, the two years are up and what do you think now? And he says, Did you ever think about coaching? And I said, Well, I’ve never closed doors to it. I think I might like it.

He said, I would hire you right now, but I don’t have an opening.

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Buddy Parker said he would call Pete if he heard of any openings and make good on his word as he picked up the phone to call Pete Brewster just a couple of months later,

Minnesota Vikings first year

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
He (Buddy Parker) called me and said that Norm Van Brocklin was getting the head job of a new franchise in Minnesota called the Vikings. He Said you give him a call and tell him I told you to call and he recommended me to be the receiving coach.

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Brewster worked for Van Brocklin in Minnesota for three seasons. He and his wife found the winters a little too harsh to their liking, especially after they had grown accustomed to living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After leaving Minnesota. However, another pro football head coach dialed his number.

Hank Stram offers job

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
We were headed home and I got calls from Hank Stram. Hank Stram was the coach here with the Kansas City Chiefs, and I’ve known Hank for a lot of years from Purdue days when he was assistant coach at Purdue and the years I went to school there.

Hank Stram and Purdue connection

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
And that’s another example of that well-established yet often overlooked Hank Stram Purdue connection, Stram worked as an assistant at Purdue in the late 1940s and through the mid 1950s. That was during Pete’s time at Purdue and also Len Dawson’s. He told me that at first he didn’t immediately take the assistant coaching job with Hank Stram in Kansas City.

PETE BREWSTER, NFL, Cleveland Browns legend:
I said yes and I said no. And he said, well, come down and visit. So I did. I went down and visited. And it was really nice. It was a first class operation. Lamar Hunt, his wife.

Very, very nice people. And so I became the receiver coach at Kansas City.

Chiefs win Super Bowl 4

Jackson Michael: Football History Book Author:
Pete worked as a receivers coach for the Chiefs when they won Super Bowl four. He often wore his Super Bowl ring after he retired from coaching. Pete Brewster passed away in January of 20/20 at the age of 89.

He was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame and the field at the middle school he attended in Portland, Indiana, is named in his honor.

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PHOTO OF PETE BREWSTER (#88)

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