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A Central Kentucky Pro Football Family

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Outside a Lexington home, a small flag flies near the front door for the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League.

If there’s any doubt of the homeowner’s team allegiance, inside on a Sunday afternoon in January a dozen members of the Collier family gather in front of the TV to cheer on their favorite sports team.

Their love of the Cleveland Browns runs deep and eight decades old. 84-year-old Kay Collier McLaughlin says they are more than football fans.

To the Colliers the Cleveland Browns are family, and it began in 1946 when Kay’s father, Blanton Collier, was hired as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns.

As children Kay and her two sisters, Carolyn and Jane, were immediately immersed in the world of professional football. She remembers “going with mother to have a game that we got to see in Cleveland, which meant we got to stay at the hotel with the team beforehand and go to the movie. And we each had our special players that we adored. So yeah, it was it was sort of this is our life.”

Blanton Collier grew up in Paris, Kentucky where he coached high school sports for 16 years. After serving in the U-S Navy during World War II, Collier was hired by the Browns.

Kay says her father became an innovator by using practice and game film to grade the players.

“He had a little projector that sat in front of him, that he could roll back and forth. And the players would talk about how many times that he would roll a piece of film back and forth. He was grading everything from how they, what their eyes were doing, how their arms moved, how their feet moved, every single thing of every play was graded. And so, he produced this study, which then became the model for grading players in the NFL. And I like to think it's sort of the model that led to Analytics.”

Kay says her father became known as a coach who respected his players, and truly loved them. Blanton Collier would later become the head football coach at the University of Kentucky from 1954 to 1961.

“I think, first of all, our father’s love that for the team. He truly loved his team. And they were our family. The coaching staff was just as they were at Kentucky, my parents had an ability to bring people together in a way that bonded them. And so over the years, there have been these tremendous loyalties. And they've simply been our family.”

After coaching at U-K, Collier returned to the Cleveland Browns where he eventually became the head coach. Under his leadership, the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964. During Collier’s head coaching tenure of eight years, the Browns won 69% of their games.

His family says during that time Collier was challenged because he was going deaf.

Granddaughter Mary Blanton Ware says, “he did most of this with a serious hearing impairment, winning the championship and everything. And that's why he had to pull away at the end because he couldn't hear. He could read lips. But as the helmets changed, there were more bars. And so, he lost the ability to read their lips. And so, he got very frustrated because he was such a teacher. He had to talk and communicate with the boys. And he couldn't do it after a while.”

Collier retired from coaching in the early 1970’s. He died of prostate cancer in 1983, leaving behind a legacy that three generations of his family live and breathe.

Granddaughter Sarah Smith says her two young daughters proudly wear Cleveland Browns jerseys and cheer on the team.

“You're kind of born into it and it's all you really know. It's wonderful. I mean, it kind of makes me tear up. I feel very proud. Very honored. And it's neat to you, to teach them a lot about this family legacy so I'm proud.”

To mark the 50th anniversary of Blanton Collier’s NFL Championship in 1964, Kay Collier McLaughlin wears a Browns jersey with number fifty. “What I have on is the shirt that was given me at the 50th anniversary of the ‘64 championship. So that's why it has the number 50 on it. And they gave each of us, the team members that were there, and I was there representing the family. With my nephew, Blanton Collier Hansen. And so, this is what I wore onto the field.”

In addition to cheering on the current Browns, Collier’s family has also honored his legacy by establishing an award in his name for integrity on and off the field. In 2023 the award went to the only three African American head coaches in the NFL.

Kay Collier McLaughlin says her father loved his players no matter their race at a time in the early 1960s when NFL teams were becoming more integrated.

“I never knew him to be judgmental of I mean, you know, he responded to people as people. He looked for characteristics that connected people. And he, he loved people.”

The 2024 winner of the “Blanton Collier Award for Integrity On and Off the Field” will be named a few days before the Super Bowl.

Win or lose on the field, Blanton Colliers’ legacy lives on in his family. He’s remembered as the quiet Kentuckian.

“You know many times people expect a football coach to be quite loud and a little bullish. And people would always say of him, if you met him on the street corner, you might have thought he would be a college professor. You know, he had a very quiet demeanor. And I think that that's where that came from.”

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Sam is a veteran broadcast journalist who is best known for his 34-year career as a News Anchor at WKYT-TV in Lexington. Sam retired from the CBS affiliate in 2021.
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