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Remembering Browns' Great Dick Schafrath: a Hall of Fame-Caliber Player Who Was 'Larger-Than-Life'

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Dick Schafrath was raised on his family's Wooster farm and went on to play football at Ohio State and then the Cleveland Browns for 13 seasons. After retiring, he served as an Ohio state senator.

Former Cleveland Browns left tackle Dick Schafrath died Sunday in Wooster the age of 84. He spent 13 years with the Browns and went on to a 17-year career as an Ohio state senator.

WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto remembers Schafrath as a great athlete with a unique character.

Humble beginnings
Schafrath grew up on the family farm in Wooster during the 1940s.

It was a simple life.

“As [Schafrath] said, ‘We weren’t Amish, but it was like we were Amish,’” Pluto said. “His father would not use a tractor; they used to plow with horses.”

It is from his childhood that Schafrath adopted the nickname “The Mule."

“His father put a harness around him with his older brother, and they took turns like plowing this little vegetable garden they had, as if they were a mule or a horse,” Pluto said.

Schafrath began playing multiple sports in school and excelled at football. But his parents told him his future was on the farm.

“They thought, ‘This is a total waste of time,’” Pluto said.

Ultimately, his nickname would live up to its hype on the field. Schafrath played 13 seasons in the NFL, all for the Browns. He blocked for Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly while being selected for the Pro-Bowl six times.

So, how did he get from the farm to the NFL?

Cleveland Browns

A visit from Woody Hayes
Pluto said a recruiting visit from legendary Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes changed Schafrath's life.

Hayes spent most of that weekend with Schafrath's parents, knowing that's who he had to convince, not their son.

Pluto said ultimately it was Schafrath who had doubts about leaving the farm for the Columbus campus.

“His mother goes, ‘No, you’re going to Ohio State,’” he said. “That was it. Done.”

Pluto said Schafrath struggled to adjust to life at Ohio State. He became homesick, began failing classes, and wanted to drop out.

“So [Coach Woody] Hayes swings into action, brings the parents up from Columbus, they sit down with him and say, ‘You’re not leaving,’” Pluto said.

Scafrath ended up taking some extra summer classes to get back on track.

Ohio State won the national championship in 1957 and the Rose Bowl in 1958. Schafrath played on both sides of the ball as a left tackle and a defensive end.

In 1959, Hayes convinced his good friend, Browns coach Paul Brown, to draft Schafrath. He was picked in the second round, where he spent all 13 of years in the NFL.

“It's a bigger-than-life character [and] sometimes the weird stories put in the shadows of what a terrific Browns lineman he was.”
Terry Pluto

A colorful character
After his playing days and a brief tenure as a coach (1975-77), Schafrath was elected a state senator for the 19th District. He held the seat until retiring in 2000.

Pluto said Schafrath, a Republican, caught the attention of Ronald Reagan, who called him a “cowboy."

Pluto said that nickname would also prove true, taking on any wild challenge that came his way. There's one story about fighting Victor the Bear.

Then, through a business he owned at Mohican State Park, he took a nearly 70-mile canoe trip across the widest part of Lake Erie.

“It took four shots for him to do it, and he finally did it,” Pluto said.

Right before the 1971 season, he ran from Wooster to Cleveland, 60 miles, on a bet to win a car.

Still, Pluto circles back to Schafrath's talent on the football field.

“It's a bigger-than-life character [and] sometimes the weird stories put in the shadows of what a terrific Browns lineman he was,” he said.

Schafrath made six Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams with the Browns.

And, Pluto says, another character trait of Shafrath's was his loyalty to his hometown.

“If you were down around Wayne County or his district, and you were raising money for anything, Dick Schafrath was there,” Pluto said. “He wrote checks. He shook hands. He kept getting re-elected by big margins because he really did work his district.”