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10 Best Wide Receivers in Cleveland Browns History

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best-wide-receivers-in-cleveland-browns-history
Browns wide receivers Breshad Perriman (19) and Jarvis Landry (80) celebrate with quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the 2019 season. The wide receiver position has seen plenty of talent throughout Browns history.© Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 10 Browns Wide Receivers of All Time

The Browns built an offensive dynasty during their first 10 seasons of existence; they dominated in the short-lived AAFC from 1946 to ’49 and then for several more seasons after joining the NFL in 1950. Cleveland was competitive on and off throughout the next three decades before exploding for another string of successes in the late 1980s.

Throughout many of those prominent seasons, the wide receiver position was ripe with talent, and many of the team’s legends were born during those eras. Ten wide receivers in franchise history have logged more than 1,000 yards in a season, and Hall of Famer Mac Speedie achieved the feat twice. In 2019, receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. became the first teammates to each gain at least 1,000 yards as wide receivers in the same season (in 2007, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and receiver Braylon Edwards each had more than 1,000 receiving yards). Many of Cleveland’s greats at the position showed remarkable consistency throughout lengthy tenures with the team.

Among the 10 best receivers of all-time are multiple Hall of Famers, three players who were instrumental in the early success of the franchise, two more who carried the bulk of the load in the 1980s and a handful of other receivers who posted productive numbers at different junctures in franchise history and joined the team’s elite.

Selection Criteria for This List

This list of the 10 greatest Browns wide receivers of all time also includes a handful of honorable-mention candidates, trivia and statistics from every 900-yard receiving season in team history. The criteria used to develop this list include:

  • Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor, retired number, etc.)
  • Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Pro, Pro Bowl, etc.)
  • On-Field Success (league leader, playoff appearances, records, etc.)
  • Longevity (years with Browns, percentage of career with Browns, etc.)

Only games played with the Browns are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Tommy McDonald would be a great player to include on a list about the Eagles, his 113 yards over nine games with the Browns won’t make the cut here.

For the purposes of this article, players established as tight ends will also be excluded (so Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome is not listed here), but those who played as an end in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s were given consideration. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these selections in the comments section below.

10. Braylon Edwards

  • Years With the Browns: 2005–09
  • All-Pro: 2007
  • Pro Bowl: 2007

Braylon Edwards came to the Browns as the third pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, and while he was a standout in his five seasons, he never lived up to his draft slot. The talent Edwards brought to Cleveland was sometimes marred by controversy—starting with a holdout for a contract as a rookie before advancing to dropped passes, assault, and finally ending with his declaration that he needed a “fresh start” after getting traded to the Jets. Push those issues aside, though, and he was a very productive player who had a big role in one of the Browns’ best seasons in recent memory.

That season came in 2007, when Edwards had a breakout season to push the Browns to a 10–6 record. That season, he set new team records for single-season receiving yards (1,289) and touchdown catches (16), becoming the first Cleveland wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl since 1989. His touchdown mark remains the franchise record, though his yardage total is now second.

Some of his best games included a three-touchdown effort in a win against the Dolphins in 2007—which is tied for the most in team history—as well a 146-yard, two-touchdown showing in a win over the Bengals in 2008. His career-high for single-game yardage was 154, which came against the Giants in 2008. He recorded 100 or more receiving yards in 11 games throughout his four-plus seasons with the Browns and finished his career in Cleveland with 238 receptions for 3,697 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Braylon Edwards’ Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

9. Reggie Rucker

  • Years With the Browns: 1975–81
  • Playoff Appearances: 1980

Reggie Rucker came to the Browns via a 1975 trade with the Patriots, and he closed out a long career with several strong seasons in Cleveland. Rucker missed just one game out of 90 during his first six seasons with the Browns, cementing himself as a reliable target who posted at least 500 yards every year in Cleveland.

In his first season with the Browns, Rucker tied for the AFC lead with a career-high 60 receptions, which at the time ranked fourth in team history. By the end of his tenure in Cleveland, he caught 310 passes, and with those catches came single-game offensive numbers Rucker hadn’t seen early in his career. He had more than 100 receiving yards in a game only twice before coming to Cleveland, where he would accomplish the feat eight times. That included a career-best showing of 177 yards in a 1979 win over the Dolphins. He also scored three touchdowns in a 1976 season-opening victory over the Jets.

Rucker’s production faded as knee and back injuries took their toll throughout the 1981 season, and after learning he wouldn’t start in ’82, he announced his retirement in an emotional press conference. He gained 4,953 yards with the Browns (7th all-time) and caught 32 touchdown passes.

Reggie Rucker’s Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

8. Brian Brennan

  • Years With the Browns: 1984–91
  • Playoff Appearances: 1985–89

Brian Brennan’s success story with the Browns is a good one. Though he was never an electrifying superstar, the fourth-round draft selection became an integral piece of the offense during the late 1980s playoff runs. Though his value is often underappreciated in the grand scheme, Brennan was a favorite target of quarterback Bernie Kosar on third-down plays.

As a rookie in 1984, Brennan had a pair of touchdowns in a victory over the Houston Oilers, while his best game statistically was a 176-yard effort in a win over the Chargers in 1986.

In eight postseason games, Brennan caught a pass in all but one, and snared four touchdowns. Two of those scores came in a loss to the Broncos in the 1989 AFC Championship game. Perhaps his most famous touchdown with Cleveland, however, was one scored in the fourth quarter of the 1986 AFC title game. Kosar connected with Brennan on a 48-yard touchdown to take a 20–13 lead over the Broncos with 5:43 to play. Denver’s legendary quarterback, John Elway, then drove his offense 98 yards on the ensuing drive to force overtime and ultimately spoil Cleveland’s chance for a Super Bowl appearance.

Brennan was released by coach Bill Belichick in April 1992, as the second-year coach opted to test a slate of young receivers in the coming seasons. That ended Brennan’s eight-year career in Cleveland with 315 receptions for 4,148 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Brian Brennan’s Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

7. Webster Slaughter

  • Years With the Browns: 1986–91
  • Playoff Appearances: 1986–89
  • All-Pro: 1989
  • Pro Bowl: 1989

Webster Slaughter had the natural talent necessary to become a featured receiver, and he did not disappoint the Browns after they selected him in the second round of the 1986 NFL Draft. Slaughter became one of quarterback Bernie Kosar’s trusted targets from the get-go, catching a pass in every game of his rookie season.

Slaughter hauled in a 97-yard touchdown in 1989 against the Bears on the second-longest play in franchise history. That catch helped him secure a career-high 186 receiving yards in the game. The following week, Slaughter caught two more touchdowns that again covered a large swath of the field (77 and 80 yards) on his way to 184 yards against the Oilers, which gave him three straight games with at least 100 receiving yards for the only time in his career. Later in the season, he gained 152 yards against the Colts.

During the playoffs, Slaughter played in seven games, catching 23 passes for 381 yards and five touchdowns. Twice, he was on the receiving end of two touchdown passes in a single postseason game.

Slaughter had a somewhat unceremonious end to his career in Cleveland, squabbling with the team over his contract before the 1992 season. The team refused to budge on an offer that was below market value, and Slaughter moved on to the Oilers, where he made the Pro Bowl in ’93. In his six seasons with the Browns, Slaughter caught 305 passes for 4,834 yards and 27 touchdowns. Slaughter only failed to catch a pass in a game once in that span.

Webster Slaughter’s Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

best-wide-receivers-in-cleveland-browns-history
Former Browns wide receiver Dave Logan (right) interviews Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak during the Super Bowl 50 championship parade celebration. Logan has worked as a radio broadcaster for the Broncos since retiring.© Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

6. Dave Logan

  • Years With the Browns: 1976–83
  • Playoff Appearances: 1980, ’82

Dave Logan is perhaps the most gifted athlete on this list. He is one of the few individuals to be drafted into the NFL, NBA and MLB. Thankfully for Browns fans, he chose football as a third-round draft pick in 1976.

Logan didn’t see much of the field as a receiver during his first two seasons in Cleveland, but he became an offensive stalwart for the next several years. Logan started every game from 1978 to 1980, chalking up 56% of his receiving yards during those seasons and helping the Browns end an eight-year playoff drought by qualifying in 1980. By the end of his tenure with Cleveland, Logan had caught 262 passes for 4,247 yards.

What helped further Logan’s status as a fan favorite, however, was his penchant for performing well in rivalry games against the Steelers. The top two single-game receiving marks of his career both came against Pittsburgh—135 yards and a touchdown in 1979, and 131 yards in 1980. He also grabbed two touchdowns on 91 yards in another 1979 matchup with the Steelers. All told, Logan had eight career touchdowns against Pittsburgh, which account for a third of his 24 career TDs with the Browns.

Dave Logan’s Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

5. Ray Renfro

  • Years With the Browns: 1952–63
  • Playoff Appearances: 1952–55, 1957–58
  • Pro Bowl: 1953, ’57, ’60

Nicknamed “Rabbit” for his quickness and elusiveness, Ray Renfro was a versatile offensive weapon for some of the earliest Browns teams. Used as a running back and as a receiver in several seasons, Renfro averaged a blistering 19.6 yards per reception throughout a 12-year career in Cleveland that left him with the ninth-best Y.P.R. average in NFL history.

Taken in the fourth round of the 1952 NFL Draft, Renfro didn’t see much action until his sophomore season, when he became a regular in the offense and made his first Pro Bowl. He’d soon blossom into one of the league’s best receivers; he went on to haul in at least 100 yards in a game 14 times throughout his career, scoring in 10 of those games. Combined with his rushing yards, Renfro had at least 100 offensive yards in a game another seven times.

His best individual effort came in 1959, when he caught five passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to the rival Steelers. In 1961, he set a new career-high with 166 receiving yards in a loss to the Giants.

Renfro won two NFL championships with Cleveland, scoring twice in the 1954 title game and once in the 1955 championship matchup. In six total NFL title games, Renfro caught 13 passes for 195 yards and added 47 rushing yards. For his career, Renfro caught 281 passes for 5,508 yards and 50 touchdowns. His yardage and touchdown totals both rank fourth of all time for the Browns.

Ray Renfro’s Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

4. Mac Speedie

  • Years With the Browns: 1946–52
  • Playoff Appearances: 1946–52
  • All-AAFC: 1946–49
  • All-Pro: 1950, ’52
  • Pro Bowl: 1950, ’52
  • Legacy Honors: Hall of Fame (2020), NFL 1940s All-Decade Team

Mac Speedie was among football’s premier receivers during the late 1940s and early ’50s, proving to be a worthy target for Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham. Speedie led the league in receptions four times during a seven-year career with the Browns, and he played for a chance at a league title every season. Wins included four AAFC championship games from 1946 to ’49 and the inaugural NFL title game in 1950, though he never caught a touchdown in the postseason.

Speedie and Graham, along with Hall of Fame teammate Dante Lavelli, combined for one of the finest aerial attacks of their time. Speedie paced the AAFC in receptions from 1947 to ’49 and led the league in receiving yards in ’47 and ’49. He gained more than 1,000 yards in each of those seasons—the only player in the AAFC to accomplish that feat. No other Cleveland player would cross the 1,000-yard threshold until 1968. Speedie suffered from Perthes Disease, which caused one of his legs to be shorter than the other, but he never let that slow him down on the field.

Major Individual Highlights

  • Catching the first touchdown in franchise history on a 19-yard pass from Cliff Lewis in 1946.
  • Catching a 99-yard touchdown reception from Graham against the Bills in 1947.
  • Setting a then-franchise record with 228 yards in a 1949 game against the New York Yankees.
  • Snaring three touchdowns in the first half of a 1951 win over the Chicago Cardinals.

Speedie left the Browns after the 1952 season following a spat with head coach Paul Brown. He went on to join the budding Canadian League. While in Cleveland, Speedie caught 349 passes for 5,602 yards and 33 touchdowns. His career yardage total is third in franchise history.

Mac Speedie’s Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

3. Gary Collins

  • Years With the Browns: 1962–71
  • Playoff Appearances: 1964–65, 1967–69
  • All-Pro: 1965–66
  • Pro Bowl: 1965–66
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 1960s All-Decade Team

As the fourth selection in the 1962 NFL Draft, Gary Collins began his career with the Browns with a lot of expectations, and he didn’t disappoint once he was slotted into the starting lineup as a receiver. He played primarily as the punter during his rookie year, but burst onto the scene in 1963 with a league-leading 13 receiving touchdowns to set a franchise record that wouldn’t be broken until 2007. In 1964, however, he reached even greater heights.

Though he was passed over as the team’s leading receiving target by rookie Paul Warfield, Collins was still a vital piece of the offense. That was never more evident than in the 1964 NFL Championship game, when Collins caught three touchdowns in a rousing upset of the Colts. The game’s MVP hauled in 130 yards on five passes, scoring on jaunts of 18, 42 and 51 yards. He’d score double-digit touchdowns in 1965 and ’66, leading the team in receptions and yardage in both seasons. Collins also doubled as the team’s punter from 1962 to ’67.

Collins was injured for nine games in 1968, but he bounced back in 1969 to secure his fourth season with at least 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately, another injury in 1970 took its toll, and Collins was replaced in the starting lineup in 1971. He retired after that season after the Browns were unable to trade him, and he’s remembered as one of the finest receivers in franchise history.

Throughout 10 years in Cleveland, Collins caught 331 passes for 5,299 yards, and his 70 career touchdowns are still the team’s all-time record. In eight playoff games, he caught 19 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns.

Gary Collins’ Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

best-wide-receivers-in-cleveland-browns-history
Former Browns receiver Paul Warfield arrives during the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in 2017.© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2. Paul Warfield

  • Years With the Browns: 1964–69, 1976–77
  • Playoff Appearances: 1964–65, 1967–69
  • All-Pro: 1968
  • Pro Bowl: 1964, 1968–69
  • Legacy Honors: Hall of Fame (1983), Browns Ring of Honor, NFL 1970s All-Decade Team

When the Browns drafted Paul Warfield in the first round of the 1964 NFL Draft, they converted him to a wide receiver and hoped to produce a star. The collegiate halfback had little trouble adjusting to his new position, launching a Hall of Fame career by helping push the Browns to an NFL championship as a rookie. After six seasons, he was traded to the Dolphins in a surprising decision, but he returned to Cleveland for the final two seasons of his career.

Warfield scored in his first three games and nearly accumulated 1,000 yards as a rookie. An injury in an All-Star Game caused him to miss all but one game of the 1965 season, though he did play in the NFL Championship game that season, catching two passes.

Over the next four years, Warfield was one of the top receivers in the league, averaging 21.2 yards per reception and leading the league with 12 touchdowns in 1968. Also, in ’68, he set a still-standing team record with 21.3 yards per catch, the best single-season rate in franchise history among receivers with at least 50 receptions.

After five superb seasons in Miami that bolstered his Hall of Fame case, and one season in the World Football League, Warfield came back to Cleveland and started every game in 1976. In total, Warfield played eight seasons for the Browns and caught 271 passes for 5,210 yards and 52 touchdowns (third in team history). He excelled in the playoffs, catching 24 passes for 404 yards in seven postseason games with Cleveland. Warfield was a first-ballot inductee to the Hall of Fame in 1983.

Paul Warfield’s Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

best-wide-receivers-in-cleveland-browns-history
Former Browns receiver Dante Lavelli’s bust, as seen in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.Erik Drost [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

1. Dante Lavelli

  • Years With the Browns: 1946–56
  • Playoff Appearances: 1946–55
  • All-AAFC: 1946–49
  • Pro Bowl: 1951, 1953–54
  • Legacy Honors: Hall of Fame (1975), Browns Ring of Honor, NFL 1940s All-Decade Team

Dante “Gluefingers” Lavelli established himself as a trusted target in his first season with the Browns, and that jumpstarted the career of who I consider the greatest receiver the franchise has ever seen. Lavelli quickly became the favorite receiver of legendary quarterback Otto Graham, and Lavelli’s superb receiving ability helped him lead the AAFC in receptions and yards in 1946. He remained a fixture with the Browns for the next 10 seasons, helping them win seven championships.

In the 1946 AAFC title game, Lavelli was on the receiving end of the game-winning touchdown against the New York Yanks. Lavelli continued to be a shining star in the postseason, hauling in 46 passes for 667 yards in 12 games. He had two touchdowns and 128 yards on 11 catches in Cleveland’s first appearance in the NFL Championship game in 1950, which saw the Browns beat the Rams 30–28. Lavelli added a 50-yard touchdown in the 1955 NFL title game; he only caught three passes, but he gained 95 yards.

In his career with the Browns, Lavelli caught 386 passes for 6,488 yards and 62 touchdowns. All three stats were team records when he retired, and they remain second all-time in the team record books. Late in his career, Lavelli was instrumental in the formation of the NFL Players’ Association, which was founded in 1956.

Lavelli was a native of Hudson, Ohio, and played college football for Ohio State. He remained in the Cleveland area after his retirement. Lavelli was a staunch believer that statistics and records from the AAFC—such as Cleveland’s undefeated season of 1948—should have been recognized equally in the NFL record books. His embodiment of the city and fierce loyalty to the Browns were evident after his death in 2009, when stories of remembrance flowed from local media outlets.

Dante Lavelli’s Statistics With the Browns

Year

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

best-wide-receivers-in-cleveland-browns-history
Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) catches a touchdown as Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton (20) defends in a 2018 game. Gordon is Cleveland’s single-game and single-season record holder for receiving yardage.© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Honorable Mentions

With so many standout wide receivers in the history of the Browns, there were several players right on the cusp of being included among the top 10. Listed below are several players who left an indelible mark on team history but didn’t quite make the cut.

Josh Gordon (2012–18)

Josh Gordon had the potential to become the greatest wide receiver in the history of the Browns, but off-the-field problems led to multiple suspensions during his seven-year tenure with the franchise.

After a strong rookie season in 2012, Gordon played only 14 games in 2013, but led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards, setting a new single-season team record and earning a Pro Bowl selection. Along the way, he became the first player in NFL history to gain 200 yards in back-to-back games, with 237 against the Steelers and a single-game team record 261 against the Jaguars.

Over the next four years, however, he would play just 10 games as he struggled with sobriety. He was finally traded to the Patriots after a game in 2018. In 41 games for the Browns, he caught 180 passes for 3,106 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Kevin Johnson (1999–2003)

Kevin Johnson was the No. 1 target for rookie quarterback Tim Couch when Cleveland returned as an expansion team in 1999, and he was on the receiving end of a famous Hail Mary play that gave the Browns their first win of that season. Johnson caught 315 passes for 3,836 yards and 23 touchdowns. In 2001, he had a career-high 153 receiving yards against the Bengals, and he caught two touchdowns in a game twice.

Michael Jackson (1991–95)

Michael Jackson was a sixth-round draft pick of the Browns, but he played like a much higher selection during his four seasons in Cleveland. He racked up 2,797 yards and 28 touchdowns on 170 receptions before moving, along with the rest of the team, to Baltimore after the 1995 season. His single-game career high for yardage came in the season-opener in 1995, when he posted 157 yards against the Patriots.

Reggie Langhorne (1985–91)

Reggie Langhorne came into the fold for the Browns as a seventh-round draft pick in 1985, carving out a role as the slot receiver in an otherwise crowded receiving corps that helped the Browns into the playoffs in five straight seasons.

Langhorne accumulated 3,597 yards and 15 touchdowns on 261 catches, and in eight playoff games, he added 26 receptions for 370 yards and two touchdowns. In 1988, he had two touchdowns in two different games, and his best single-game yardage effort in Cleveland was a 140-yard game in 1989.

best-wide-receivers-in-cleveland-browns-history
Browns wide receivers Jarvis Landry (80) and Odell Beckham Jr. (13) celebrate after a touchdown during the 2019 season. The duo became the first pair of wide receivers in Browns history to each gain at least 1,000 yards in the same season.© Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver History

The following is a look at some franchise trivia about wide receivers, Cleveland’s receiving records and individual statistics for every 900-yard receiving season in the history of the Browns.

How Many Wide Receivers Have the Browns Drafted in the First Round?

The Browns have used 10 first-round draft picks on wide receivers, half of them during the 1950s or ’60s.

  • 2016: Corey Coleman (No. 15)
  • 2005: Braylon Edwards (No. 3)
  • 1994: Derrick Alexander (No. 29)
  • 1979: Willis Adams (No. 20)
  • 1973: Steve Holden (No. 16)
  • 1964: Paul Warfield (No. 11)
  • 1962: Gary Collins (No. 4)
  • 1961: Bobby Crespino (No. 10)
  • 1959: Rich Kreitling (No. 11)
  • 1956: Preston Carpenter (No. 13)

What Are the Longest Receptions in Browns History?

The top five receptions in Browns history all gained at least 86 yards. Every catch listed below, except for Milt Morin’s, went for a touchdown.

  • 99 yards: Andre Davis (Oct. 17, 2004)*
  • 99 yards: Mac Speedie (Nov. 2, 1947)*
  • 97 yards: Webster Slaughter (Oct. 23, 1989)
  • 95 yards: Josh Gordon (Dec. 1, 2013)
  • 87 yards: Milt Morin (Nov. 24, 1968)
  • 86 yards: Leon Clarke (Oct. 23, 1960)

*Tied for NFL record

Cleveland Browns Receiving Records

Below are prominent records among quarterbacks that are contained in the Browns franchise record book.

  • Career Yards: 7,980, Ozzie Newsome (1978–1990)
  • Single-Season Yards: 1,646, Josh Gordon (2013)
  • Single-Game Yards: 261, Gordon (Dec. 1, 2013)
  • Career Touchdowns: 70, Gary Collins (1962–71)
  • Single-Season Touchdowns: 16, Braylon Edwards (2007)
  • Single-Game Touchdowns: 3, 11 times (last was Jordan Cameron on Sept. 22, 2013)
  • Career Receptions: Newsome, 662 (1978–90)
  • Single-Season Receptions: 89, Newsome (1983 and ’84), and Kellen Winslow Jr. (2006)
  • Single-Game Receptions: 14, Gordon (Nov. 24, 2013), and Newsome (Oct.14, 1984)
best-wide-receivers-in-cleveland-browns-history
Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor runs up the field after a reception against the Giants in 2016. He gained 1,007 receiving yards that season.© Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns Receivers With 900 Yards in a Season

Player

Year

Pos

G

GS

Rec

Yds

TD

Josh Gordon

Braylon Edwards

Webster Slaughter

Jarvis Landry

Mac Speedie

Kellen Winslow

Kevin Johnson

Paul Warfield

Gary Barnidge

Odell Beckham Jr.

Mac Speedie

Antonio Bryant

Terrelle Pryor

Ozzie Newsome

Ozzie Newsome

Kevin Johnson

Dave Logan

Jarvis Landry

Ozzie Newsome

Travis Benjamin

Quincy Morgan

Gary Collins

Paul Warfield

Jordan Cameron

Mac Speedie

Webster Slaughter

Source : Sports IllustratedRead More

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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