Came through in the Trenches
for "Bear", Brown and Uncle Sam
Bob Gain was born in Akron, Ohio on June 21, 1929. Bob's father died when he was in the 6th grade and he moved with his mother, grandmother and aunt to live in Weirton, West Virginia. He attended school in Weirton through high school.
It was there, as a Weirton High School Red Rider, that his football career started. Bob played left tackle, punter and kicker. He earned All-State honors which resulted in a flood of football scholarship offers.
He remembers his Serbian grandmother coming to her first football game to watch Bob play. The team had an Indian on horseback ride out onto the field every time they scored. "Her only comment about the game was how beautiful the horse was. She loved the horse!"
Cleveland Browns and University of Kentucky
Football Legend Bob Gain
When it came time to pick a college Bob received offers from all of the major schools with football teams - Tennessee, University of Kentucky, North Carolina State, Pitt and Notre Dame to name a few. He had a total of 42 scholarship offers.
By the time it came time to decide he had narrowed it down to University of Kentucky or Notre Dame. "At that time Notre Dame was the only team comparable to Army or Navy."
The Notre Dame Athletic Director, Moose Krause (who himself, had been a star of both the basketball varsity team under coach George Keogan and the football varsity team under coach Knute Rockne before becoming A.D.) told Bob they were interested in him and that he would probably be playing by his junior or senior year.
Kentucky on the other hand, had coach Bear Bryant who told Gain he would be a starter his first year. In fact, Bear Bryant told the athletic coordinator "Bring him back or you're fired!"
"Kentucky was closer to home and I really wanted to play right off, so for me there was no question, I went to the University of Kentucky in 1947." Bob was 17.
Bob was surprised that such a small town High School would have so many scouts watching their teams. "It wasn't until later on that I found out the Ohio Valley was a real hot bed for athletes."
Bob enrolled in summer school which made him eligible to play in his first year. He played both offensive and defensive left tackle all through college.
Bob played in the sole Great Lakes Bowl against Villanova in December, 1947 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. 2nd-year coach Paul "Bear" Bryant led the Wildcats to a 24-14 victory over Villanova. George Blanda was quarterback and placekicker for Kentucky.
While at Kentucky, Bob played in the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Senior Bowl and the College All Star Game.
He was twice voted All American (1949 and 1950) and also won the Outland Trophy as the nation's outstanding collegiate lineman. The Outland Award was created to honor linemen, and has been doing so since 1946.
(The 2006 winner was Joe Thomas from Wisconsin. Other notable Outland Trophy winners were Dick Modzelewki from Maryland in 1952, 1956 Jim Parker from Ohio State, 1957 Alex Karras from Iowa, 1961 Merlin Olsen from Utah State, 1962 Bobby Bell from Minnesota, 1965 Tommy Nobis from Texas, 1967 Ron Yary from USC, 1973 John Hicks from Ohio State, 1974 Randy White from Maryland, 1975 Lee Roy Selmon from Oklahoma, 1984 Bruce Smith from Virginia Tech, and 1996 Orlando Pace from Ohio State.)
Bob fondly recalls winning the Sugar Bowl. "We beat Oklahoma after they had 31 straight wins! The score was 13-7."
As the press release said: "Jan. 1, 1952 - Kentucky arrived on the national football scene and stunned national champion Oklahoma, 13-7, to capture the 1951 Sugar Bowl before 82,000 at New Orleans.
The Wildcats, 11-1, displayed a tough defense and opportunistic offense in snapping Oklahoma’s 31-game winning streak, the longest in the nation at that time. More than 13,000 Kentucky fans made the long trip to New Orleans to watch the Southeastern Conference champions pick up their school record 11th win.
Bob played an average of 58 ˝ minutes a game - playing both sides and kicking the extra points. Playing at Kentucky was no cake walk. They were expected to play hard and keep their grades up. He eventually earned degrees in Economics, Sociology and Education. "If (coach) Bear Bryant was mad we might be on the practice field from 3:30 to 7:30-8:00 at night."
Bob found himself playing against a lot of ex-GI's with scholarships from the government. "Most of them were in their late 20's. One guy was even older than Bear. These guys were at their highest maturity. People don't realize that the body doesn't really mature all the way until you're in your twenties. If you mature right you can last until you're 34-36 years old."
He points to Roger Bannister of England who broke the four minute mile in 1954 at age 28.
Bob Gain in his stance
He also remembers playing a college all star game in 1951 against the Browns and "The Browns beat the pants off us."
Bob was the No. 1 draft pick in 1951, drafted by the Green Bay Packers. He never went to Green Bay however. "I wanted to go there, but they only wanted to give me $7,000 and I thought I should get 8".
So instead he went to Canada and played for Ottawa "and it was the first time Ottawa ever won the title." He was selected to the All-Canada team.
Canadian football is a little different that American football. "In Canada there are three downs for a first and no time outs."
In 1952 the Cleveland Browns traded for his draft rights and Bob Gain became a Cleveland Brown. He also went back to school in 1952. It was at this time that he earned his degree in education.
"I lost 28 credit hours when I transferred from engineering to Education. They didn't count the classes like trigonometry and chemistry - I had to retake them."
Also in 1952 Bob met the woman who was to be his wife, Kitty. He had met her briefly before, but this meeting was different.
Bob and Kitty Gain at a Browns Game in 2006
"We met at the race track. The Chief of Police from Paris, Kentucky introduced us. It cost me a big bet because I was talking to her and didn't get my bet off in time. We went to the Kentucky Derby together. We won a lot of money and had a great time, and we've been together ever since."
"It seems like Kitty and I spent a lot of time saying "Good Bye" and "can't wait to see you again." In 1952 I got married, in '53 my daughter Janis was born and in 1954 I went overseas."
Kitty had a five year old daughter, Gerry Lynn when they got married. Bob had entered the Air Force as a commissioned Lieutenant. In January, 1954 he was shipped to Korea.
"Paul Brown wanted to fly me in for the Sunday games. The Air Force even agreed. But I figured that wasn't such a good idea. So they said, okay play for Air Force. But I said no. They said well then, you're off to Korea."
He was offered a spot in Washington, if he played there, but again Bob turned them down. "I didn't want any special treatment and I would deck anyone who said I got special treatment."
Now Bob goes to Veterans' events and Veteran's hospitals and says "I feel good about it. I feel good when a veteran kisses my cheek or shakes my hand. If I had played football I couldn't have looked them in the eye. I lost friends in the war and I had to fulfill my obligation."
Bob spent 2 ˝ months in Japan. There was a B-26 coming back and the 5th Air Force called him to play football. "I guess they just didn't get it. I told them send me anywhere you want, I'm not playing football till I get out fair and square."
The Air Force had thirty days to send a soldier home after his Separation Date. He had 38 days leave time coming. He knew he could play the last games and be eligible for the National Championship. He got back in time for the last two games and the Browns took on Detroit in the Championship Game and beat them 56-10.
After the service Bob moved back to Kentucky where Kitty and the children where, but decided now it was time to move to Cleveland. "I didn't have enough money to have two homes and I didn't want the kids in and out of school." So the family moved to an apartment in Euclid for about three years and then, in 1958, they moved to Timberlake "and we have been here ever since."
Bob Gain and wife Kitty signing autographs
A few months after moving into their new home their daughter Judy Ann was born. Paul Brown let Bob spend the night at home even though he was in training camp. Of course Brown, the father of three boys, chided Bob about his three daughters. But Bob was happy he didn't have sons.
"Girls are feminine and sweet. If a boy acted up I would've had to deck him. And I wouldn't want him to follow in my footsteps in football."
Bob enjoyed playing for Paul Brown; they had a very close relationship. Paul Brown's wife called Kitty at least once a week the entire time Bob was in Korea. Bob had considered going back to the Canadian league when he got out; there would have been an extra twenty five thousand dollars in it for him.
But when he heard about the calls to Kitty he decided to stay here. Bob says "I thought that was really something and I wanted to repay that kind of loyalty and friendship. I always respected Paul." Bob and Paul stayed in contact even after Paul left.
Bob's hangouts back then included places like Moe's Main Street on Euclid Avenue and Spotty's on 105th. He enjoyed good food, good entertainment, and always good scotch. "Moe's especially had good entertainment like The Hilltoppers and Johnny Ray."
Cleveland Indian Perfect Game Pitcher Len Barker
with Pat Hanson and Bob Gain
Football players have changed drastically in Bob's opinion. He says that television has made everyone a superstar. He also thinks there was a different type of camaraderie with the players.
"We traveled by train most of the time. We'd leave Cleveland on Friday, practice on Saturday. Play on Sunday. Leave Sunday night and home on Monday. You really got to know the guys better when you spend all that time in a train with them."
Bob Feller once made the same comment about the camaraderie of the baseball teams in his day.
Another major difference in Bob's opinion is that there were no drugs when he played. "Sure they'd prescribe codeine if you were in a lot of pain, but most of us wouldn't even take it. There wasn't even marijuana around then. We were athletes."
Bob feels athletes should be role models. "We carried ourselves well in college and the pros. We knew we had to stay in shape and sacrifice and train. As an athlete you have to be able to say No to all the vices people try to offer you."
He knows that it would have been very easy to go the wrong way, the opportunities were always there. He says there was always a lot of the riff-raff coming "out of the gutter to be your friend".
But, he says, he wanted to play football. He wanted to be an athlete. So he made his choices and prays that today's youth will make good choices too.
Bob doesn't like to see the show-boating and celebrations after a score. He remembers Paul Brown teaching him "When you score act like you've been there before."
He looks at so-called athletes like Maurice Clarett or Mike Tyson and describes them as thugs saying they are "everything you don't want an athlete to be."
Bob Gain signing autographs at a Browns game
(Note: The medallion Bob is wearing is 80 grams of memories made up of family heirlooms including an earring from his grandmother, rings from his uncle, service pins, Kitty's gold filling, Bob's graduation ring and more.)
Bob was primarily a defensive tackle, but also played middle linebacker, did kick-offs and kicked extra points. He even played some offense in his very early career.
Bob has had his share of injuries. In his junior year Bob dislocated his knee and was out for four weeks. He spent 11 days in the hospital and was back on the field in four weeks. He played with broken ribs in his senior year. His big toe swelled up so bad during training camp one year he had to wear shoes with the toe cut out - but he played.
Once he was in Cleveland he broke his jaw and missed five weeks. With his mouth wired shut he lost about eighteen pounds and Brown ordered him to put the weight back on. "Nobody ever ordered me to gain weight before, so that was exciting, but my mouth was still wired shut."
Kitty Gain at Browns Game in 2006
So Kitty made him all kinds of foods, everything from scrambled eggs to beef stew and put them in the blender. He sucked his food threw a straw inserted into the space of a missing molar and he was all set. "I even drank Scotch through that straw!"
The entire time his jaw was wired shut Paul Brown had him running on the field so he didn't "lose his legs".
Then in 1964, in a home game against Dallas, Bob had a career ending injury when he broke his leg.
Bob says "I loafed a couple of years. I did the banquet circuit, Kiwanis Clubs, Lions, High Schools - that kinda thing. But I couldn't do that forever." So he went to work for Cleveland Frog and Crossing on Bessemer Ave. He worked in sales with steel mills as customers.
Cleveland Frog and Crossing was sold to Pettibone and he worked for them until 1982 when he was laid off. "I was called back to Pettibone in '86 and stayed until '90, but in December 1990 they shut her down. My 62nd birthday was right around the corner, so I decided it was time to retire and start collecting my pensions."
Now Bob is back on the speakers' circuit. "Whenever Dino [Lucarelli] calls, I'm there." He attends almost all of the home games and feels there's always hope for the Browns. "Injuries are always the biggest concern."
If he had to choose the best Browns in history his list would include: Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Dante Lavelli, Lenny Ford, Doug Deiken and Abe Gibron.
Bob Gain at home in 2006
In his day "we belonged to a team" says Bob, emphasizing that the changes made every season maybe good for the player but not for the team. He says that especially the defense needs to know the other players moves and be able to anticipate plays and "that can't happen when you are always on a new team."
Bob and Kitty Gain
Bob has had many awards, citations and honors bestowed on him - all of them richly deserved. He has been inducted in the West Virginia Hall of Fame and the City of Cleveland Hall of Fame. In 1980 he was installed in the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame (along with Merlin Olsen of Utah State and Calvin Jones of Iowa) and in 1993 he was entered into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.
Bob Gain's football highlights - Cleveland Browns and University of Kentucky Wildcats
Bob Gain's football skills make him stand out from the crowd - he is certainly an athlete in every sense of the word. What makes Bob Gain special though is his demeanor, his spirit, his attitude, on and off the field. He knows the meaning of the word commitment - to his team, to his wife of 54 years, to himself.
Paul Brown expected 100% from him and was never disappointed. Bob demanded even more from himself and never fell short. He is a man with a strong professional and personal ethic. Bob Gain is a superstar in many different ways.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson and Dan Hanson (12/06)
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