Very few people today remember Bob Gain, but the folks who had to tussle with him on pro football fields around the country between 1952 and 1964 won’t ever forget him.
Gain is one of those guys who burned brightly during a 12-year NFL career and then simply walked away, content in the knowledge that few had done as much as he during his time in a Cleveland Browns’ uniform.
Gain was named first- or second-team All-Pro eight times (seven 2nd team selections), was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, a member of three NFL championship teams and an anchor of a defense that led the league in many categories through much of his career.
After winning the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best college lineman at Kentucky in 1950, Gain was the fifth player selected in the 1951 NFL draft. But when he could not come to a contractual agreement with the then-lowly Green Bay Packers, he signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League.
Gain was an immediate hit because he often hit people immediately after the ball was snapped. He was named first-team All-CFL and dominated the line of scrimmage for a defense instrumental in Ottawa’s 21-14 Grey Cup victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. In that game, Gain recovered a fumble on punt coverage at the Saskatchewan 10 yard-line that proved a critical turning point.
His play in Canada convinced Paul Brown to trade four veteran players – end Dan Orlich, guard Bill Schroll and halfbacks Ace Loomis and Dom Moselle – to the Packers for Gain’s rights in 1952. Brown signed him, and Gain played in six games before entering the Air Force during the Korean War. He returned late in the 1954 season and played in the final two games plus an NFL Championship game win over the Detroit Lions.
From 1955 until a broken leg ended his career six games into the 1964 season, Gain started all but one game for the Browns at middle guard, left defensive tackle and defensive end and was a force so dominant that in 1957 the Los Angeles Times named him the NFL’s Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Three years ago, the Cleveland Plain Dealer did a series on the 100 greatest Browns of all-time. Of all the players from the Browns’ dynastic teams of the 1950s, through the Jim Brown years and then to the 1980s’ era of Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome, Clay Matthews, Sr., Kevin Mack and Ernest Byner, Bob Gain was judged the 14th greatest player in franchise history.
He was a star on teams that won 66 percent of their games, including six Eastern Conference titles as well as the 1954, 1955 and 1964 NFL championships. He may be long forgotten now outside of Cleveland, where he wore his number 79 proudly, but, if you look at the record, you have to ask yourself: Eight All-Pro selections in 12 years and not once were his credentials debated by the Hall of Fame?