Flashback 50: 23 turns 23

On this date in the championship year of 1964, Larry Benz celebrated his 23rd birthday. Well before Joe Haden, it was Benz who wore jersey 23 in the Cleveland secondary, the first Brown ever to don that number.

The undrafted safety had just finished a rookie year in which he intercepted seven passes while starting all 14 games. The team had a sudden need for a replacement due to the June 1963 death of three-year starter Don Fleming, in whose memory the Browns retired the number 46.

The former Cleveland Heights High School standout had also been a quarterback at Northwestern, and he came to the Browns at the recommendation of his coach, Ara Parseghian, who at 90 is among the very oldest surviving Browns alumni (1948-49).

As a returning starter, Benz was part of the overachieving defensive unit that shut out Johnny Unitas and the Colts’ league-leading offense in the 1964 title game.

He played through 1965 with the Browns, leading or tying for the team lead in interceptions in each of his three years in the league. He was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in their 1966 expansion draft but left their training camp after one day, never to play again. He later testified before a federal grand jury investigating allegations of player blacklisting in the NFL.

Happy 73rd birthday, Larry Benz.