By Jeff Gallatin
A West Side native, and the younger member of a father-son Hall of Fame-honored team, is continuing his family’s long tradition of service to the Cleveland Browns every home game in the press box.
Lou Abraham is one of the key members of the Browns’ press box staff, which provides statistics, quotes and other assistance as needed to the various members of the media covering the team. He has served in that role since the team returned to NFL playing fields in 1999.
However, his family history with the team goes all the way back to the early days of the franchise in the late 1940s, with such legendary football icons such as Paul Brown, Otto Graham and Lou “The Toe” Groza.
Lou Abraham’s father, Abe Abraham, was “The Man in the Brown Suit” who caught field goals and extra points in his suit for 37 years when they came through the home team’s goal posts. Lou picked up the family tradition of support for the Browns in general, and their placekicking specifically, at an early age, showing a propensity at age 2 for kicking the football, which eventually led to the team asking him to try out in the late 1960s as a placekicker. In addition, he also served as a team mascot in the mid-’50s. He has been a frequent dinner speaker and participant in golf outings and other events, where he has talked about his involvement with the team.
That proud history of service with the team ultimately led to them both being honored by the NFL’s Hall of Fans, which is located at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. They are the only father-son duo to be so honored at the hall.
For Lou, the many years of involvement with the team have always been a labor of love.
“I’ve always loved the team and football,” he said. “I was two when I started kicking the football and showed I had some talent for it.”
Because of that love, his father began taking him to team practices and introducing him to various members of the team – including head coach Paul Brown and placekicker and offensive tackle Lou Groza.
“I was three when I got to meet Coach Brown, and I remember telling him that the Browns were my favorite team, and how much I loved football and watching the team,” he said. “The team was really just like members of our family because we were so involved with them. I loved being around them. My dad did, too. He worked hard at whatever he did, but with the Browns, it was always something he loved doing, too.”
That family tradition of working hard carried over to several businesses they ran in western Cuyahoga County at different times through the years. Judy-Lou’s Delicatessen in Lakewood was open from the early 1950s through 1961. The Riverwood Market in Rocky River was open during the early 1960s, and The Caboose diner was a popular eatery in the 1960s at West 150th and Chatfield, a few minutes from the Cleveland-Fairview Park border.
“They all were fun in their own way, but we worked hard in them as well,” Lou said. “The delicatessen was named for my sister and me, and we had a lot of good people come in there. The Market was only open a few years, but we found Rocky River was a nice place. And The Caboose definitely drew people from around the area. When I’d come home from the Navy, I worked in it and ran it when we needed that.”
Lou said his philosophy of enjoying your work but giving it your best stems from his family and being at, and later working at, the family businesses.
“I learned about enjoying yourself while still working hard and giving 100 percent at whatever you do by watching family in the businesses,” he said. “That’s something I’ve carried with me the rest of my life, whether it was when I was in school, working at other businesses later in my life or even what I’m doing for the Browns right now.”
Dan Murphy, coordinator for media relations for the Browns, said Lou’s experience and enthusiasm are clearly evident.
“Lou has been a member of the Browns family for a long time,” Murphy said. “His enthusiasm can be felt in the press box each home game. He truly has a passion for this team and its players. From Paul Brown to Lou Groza to Ozzie Newsome to Josh Cribbs, Lou has been a part of it all.”
Phil Dawson, the current Browns placekicker, said he enjoys being around Lou.
“It’s just a pleasure seeing someone who so clearly enjoys what he’s doing and does it well and with professionalism at whatever he’s doing, be it handing out stat sheets when he’s here in the locker room, working with the media or helping someone get something else done,” Dawson said.
Lou said because of his early years with the Browns, being in a football locker room has come naturally for years.
“It was a few years after I met him when Coach Brown asked me (in 1953) if I wanted to be the team mascot,” Lou said. “Talk about the thrill of a lifetime. Coach Brown sent us to the same sporting goods store that did the team uniforms and had me outfitted in one just like the team’s.”
After getting the uniform, Lou’s next big moment came when he got to run on the field for the first time.
“I stood at the front of the Browns’ dugout until the announcer introduced me, and I ran through the goal post just like the players and stood with them until (Hall of Fame center) Frank “Gunner” Gatski came and got the game ball from me. After that I got to sit on the bench with the rest of the team.”
Lou said a dominant memory of his time as a mascot was the 1954 NFL championship game, when the Browns demolished the Detroit Lions 56-10.
“Oh, I thought we were in heaven; the Browns had lost the last couple (1952 and 1953) championship games to the Lions, so it was great beating them like that. We had this huge celebration in the locker room that I’ll never forget, and I was in a group celebration picture that made the front page of the paper.”
As he grew older and went from a mascot to a teenager, he remained a huge fan of the team while continuing to hone his personal placekicking skills. He also got to spend time on the field with his father, continuing the tradition Abe had started of supporting the Browns.
“Lou Groza had become my godfather and worked with me on my placekicking and football skills,” Lou said. “It was great being able to spend so much time with my father and a lot of the Browns through those years.”
He utilized his developing gridiron skills at both St. Edward and West Tech high schools – at one point holding the record for longest field goal at St. Ed’s with a 35-yard three-pointer.
“That record went away years ago,” he said, “but I played end on offense and continued kicking.”
After he got out of high school and turned 18 in 1963, Lou joined the U.S. Navy. But he continued to work on his kicking and still followed the team closely.
“In 1967, the team knew Lou Groza was near the end of his career, and the coaching staff contacted me to see if I could come to summer camp and try out for kicker,” he said. “My commanding officer gave me an 88-day early out to let me go home and try out. But the Browns also drafted Don Cockroft and that was pretty much the end of that, since he went on to a long, successful career of his own here.”
Despite not making the team, Lou worked in business and still stayed active with the team where he could.
“Dad was still catching balls and I played in their private golf outings and some celebrity pro-ams,” Lou said. “I also spoke at some dinners and gatherings through those years.”
When his father retired himself from catching the ball, Lou said he decided he didn’t want to succeed him.
“He was known for that and being such a super fan,” Lou said. “I thought it better to keep working on my own history of supporting the team.”
When the team left the NFL between 1996 and 1998, Lou said he stayed busy attending alumni events and other team-related functions.
“We were all anxious to get the team back,” he said. “Then when the NFL awarded the franchise to Mr. (Al) Lerner and Carmen Policy, I got in touch with them, saying I wanted to do something for the team. Mr. Policy told me that the full-time positions were filled, but came up with me working in the press box, which I accepted and still do.”
Lou said he still applies that personal philosophy of working hard while enjoying the game-day rush of the press box.
“It’s fun being around you guys (the media) and working with you,” he said. “I certainly enjoy being around the media members from Cleveland, but I also have friends from all the other teams. It’s just as important to them to get the information they need, so I make sure and check with them that they’re getting whatever they need.”
Members of the media cite Lou as being among their favorite people.
“Lou is the Browns to me,” Andy Baskin, sports director at WEWS Channel 5 and radio personality at 92.3 The Fan, said. “Growing up in Northeast Ohio and watching his father catch extra points was always a thrill for me when my dad would take me to games. Lou carries on his father’s legacy with his stories about the past, while caring about the future. He makes my job easier and works on a game-day team that is second to none in the NFL. He is the guy you want representing our city when dealing with out-of-town media. Lou is a touch of class, even on the Browns’ worst days.”
Daryl Ruiter, veteran radio journalist and Browns beat reporter at 92.3, has known Lou since the team went back on the field in 1999.
“Lou is just great to be around with his combination of professional skills and knowledge of the game and the team,” Ruiter said. “He’s always the first guy to greet you when you come through that door, no matter what’s going on. His knowledge of the team and its history goes all the way back to its beginnings, and is just a phenomenal resource. Plus, it’s fun listening to all the stories he has. When you need something, he’s right there with it. And he does the same thing for the other teams as well. That’s just how he operates.”
Members of the media who cover the rival Pittsburgh Steelers said Lou can’t be beat.
“It’s the best crew for opposing teams in the NFL,” Denny Postufka of the Steelers radio stat crew said. “We need numbers real fast, and it can be hard to get them at other places around the league. But not here; Lou and those guys make sure you have what you need when you need it.”
Gerry Dulac, who covers the Steelers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said he’s enjoyed knowing Lou through the years.
“He’s so knowledgeable about the league in general and all the people he knows makes it great to know him,” he said. “Plus, he is just a great guy we all enjoy getting to see him when we come to Cleveland. Getting to see him and work with him is always a good experience.”
Craig Wolfley, a former lineman for the Steelers and current radio sideline reporter, said he can appreciate Lou’s family heritage in the NFL. Wolfley’s brother Ron was an all-pro special teams performer in the NFL for a decade – including spending 1992 and 1993 with the Browns.
“It’s definitely something to be proud of,” Wolfley said. “It’s fun hearing something like that about someone else’s family and they have an involvement with the league like your family does. And he still makes sure you get whatever you need on game day. That’s important when you’re moving quickly.”
Another family member of Lou’s, his wife Shelley Abraham, said she was impressed when she first learned of Lou and his family’s longtime affiliation with the team.
“Listening to Lou tell me the stories about how exciting the old days were and how personal the relationships were amazed me,” she said. “After all, these people lived in my TV. I would truly marvel at the stories of when he was a young boy and Browns players would join his family at their home for dinner and parties.”
Shelly said Lou is like the team’s link between its storied past to the hopeful present, while noting that he still consistently loves the team in good or bad years.
“What I have treasured the most is the privilege of knowing and loving that ‘little boy’ who still lives inside my husband, Lou Abraham,” she said.
With the Browns moving into another era with the recent purchase of the team by Jimmy Haslam and the appointment of Joe Banner as president, Lou, like millions of other fans, is hopeful of a change in fortunes on the field.
“I wish Mr. Haslam and Mr. Banner all the success in the world for them and the team, and will continue to do so through the years,” Lou said. “I would hope that I could continue to show my support for the team by continuing on in some capacity for the team.”