JAMIE H. VAUGHT: Former U of L & NFL Star Frank Minnifield Recalls His Early Days
Remember Frank Minnifield?
One of the top players in pro football many years ago, he is a Cleveland Browns legend who grew up in central Kentucky.
Minnifield (pictured), who now has several business ventures in the Lexington area, played for the Browns during the 1980s and early 1990s. He was a three-time All-NFL choice by the Associated Press. In addition, the four-time Pro Bowl selection has been nominated for Pro Football Hall of Fame several times in recent years.
Several years ago, a Top 100 list of players who played for the Cleveland Browns was published in Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer (Cleveland.com). The ranking was based only on players’ careers with the Browns.
Not surprisingly, Minnifield is on the list. The ex-Browns cornerback was picked at No. 18.
Minnifield –- a former Lexington Henry Clay High School football standout who once became a walk-on during his first year at U of L because of his small size (5-foot-9 and 140 pounds) before earning a scholarship -- was pleased with his rating, but he smiled, saying “a single-digit ranking would have been more appropriate!”
He has many memories of his remarkable NFL career.
“My favorite memories are the time I spent in Hawaii with all of the other all-star players from around the league because it felt like a ceasefire among warring factions,” recalled Minnifield, who in 1982 began his pro career with NFL legendary coach George Allen and the Arizona Wranglers in the old United States Football League before joining the Browns as a free agent in 1984.
One of the NFL star quarterbacks who had trouble facing Minnifield on defense was Houston Oilers’ Warren Moon, who later became an NFL Hall of Famer in 2006. During Cleveland’s 40-7 win over the Oilers at the Astrodome in 1987, Minnifield had three interceptions against Moon, tying a team’s game record for interceptions by one player. It was an emotional, hard-fought divisional battle for first place.
“Cleveland had an outstanding secondary for a lot of years,” Moon said in a 1990 United Press International (UPI) article. “When I first came into the league both their cornerbacks (Minnifield and Hanford Dixon) were All Pros. They did give me a lot of problems. (Strong safety) Felix Wright has had a lot of success against me.
“They've done a good job putting pressure on me and making me throw before I wanted to.”
By the way, it was Minnifield and Dixon who interestingly started the now-famous Dawg Pound end zone section for Cleveland’s passionate fans.
Minnifield retired from pro football after the 1992 season. For his noteworthy pigskin career, he is a member of U of L Hall of Fame, Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame, Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, to name several.
His son, Chase Minnifield, was a football standout as well. Like his dad, he played at Henry Clay High. Chase then signed to play at Virginia where he was a two-time All-ACC selection. He also played briefly for the Washington Redskins in the NFL.
Interestingly, the Minnifields are just a handful of father-son duos who have played in the NFL.
“I feel grateful that neither one of us suffered any life-long debilitating injuries,” said the elder Minnifield.
Over the years, the former Browns’ star has been heavily involved in business, including Minnifield Enterprize Inc. He was the first African-American executive named to the Lexington Chamber of Commerce board in 1993. He also returned to his alma mater where he eventually became the chairman of the U of L Board of Trustees in 2011.
Minnifield -- whose cousin and 1979 Kentucky “Mr. Basketball” Dirk Minniefield (who is spelled differently) is a former standout at UK -- is also very active with Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Group, serving as a board member in both Lexington-based organizations.
“I really believe in the purpose of both organizations’ desire to appropriately honor persons that have brought significant recognition to the state of Kentucky,” he explained. “And as I like to say when speaking publicly, it's an honor just to be a part of the NFL and just because you don't end up in the NFL Hall of Fame doesn't mean you weren't a great player. I believe it is extremely important that the state of Kentucky celebrates their contribution to this great game we call the NFL.”
By the way, in late June, the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame will be inducting five new members, including former Wildcat standout Wesley Woodyard (now with the Tennessee Titans), ex-UK head coach and pro football player Guy Morriss, Ernest Givins, Tommy Bell and Tim Lester. Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Jerome Bettis will receive the 12th annual Blanton Collier Award for Integrity.
Since his playing days, Minnifield has made numerous trips to Cleveland, attending the club-related events and watching the Browns play. But the Browns have struggled over the years, including their 0-16 mark in 2017.
Minnifield isn’t very thrilled about Cleveland’s recent struggles. He was asked what seems to be the problem for the Browns.
“Talent evaluation and relying too heavily on the combine results versus evaluating great players based on the film,” commented Minnifield.
Perhaps it might not be a bad idea for Cleveland to ask Minnifield for help with his successful business/athletic background.
If the Browns listen, this likeable man probably could get the Cleveland team back on winning track.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught