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By JOHN ERZAR Times Leader Sports Writer

Sunday, November 07, 1999     Page: 1C

Warren Lahr never really captured his share of the glory.
    A 1941 graduate of West Wyoming High School, Lahr was one of the valley's top high school football players. But West Wyoming was just an average team, and across the Susquehanna River, Pittston High's Charley Trippi was getting national attention.
    The major colleges wanted Trippi, not Lahr, although some people believed they were nearly equal in talent. While Trippi ended up at Georgia, Lahr, thanks to the efforts of his coach, went to Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
    He later played 12 years as a cornerback for the Cleveland Browns. During that time, they played in seven NFL championship games, winning three. He was so tough that opposing teams thought twice about throwing toward his side of the field. But on a team with eight future hall of famers - Otto Graham, Lou Groza and Marion Motley among them - Lahr was overshadowed.
    Still, his accomplishments have earned him the No. 9 position on the Wyoming Valley's 10 Greatest Athletes Of The Century. The list was selected by The Times Leader sports staff from nominations made by the paper's writers and its readers.
    ``He got overshadowed with a lot of it,'' said Walt Michaels, a Swoyersville native and former Browns linebacker who played with Lahr for eight years. ``If you were with the Giants you were noticed quicker or mentioned quicker, like Emlen Tunnell and some others. But Warnie could stay on the field with any of those guys.''
    Lahr, who died in 1969 at 45, had the numbers to prove it.
    His 40 NFL career interceptions were a Browns' record when he retired in 1959 and are second on the Browns all-time list.
    His five interception returns for touchdowns are a Browns record and 10th best in NFL history.
    He is the only Brown ever to twice return two interceptions for touchdowns in a season. His four playoff interceptions are also a Browns' record shared with three other players. And his 530 interception return yards ranks fourth on the Browns' all-time list.
    ``You invite passes,'' Lahr told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1950. ``It's funny. When you first start to play defense you hope they won't throw. Then after you play a while, you're afraid they won't.''
    Running to Lahr's side was also a tough task for opposing offenses.
    ``He was just a plain good tackler,'' Michaels said. ``He didn't punish you, he didn't come up and kill you, but he didn't miss you.''
    Yet Lahr never bragged.
    ``Warren was a very humble guy,'' said Larh's sister, Amanda Colechio of West Pittston. ``He never talked about it unless you asked him a question. He was very humble and never forgot about his friends back home.''
    Lahr didn't appear headed for a professional career. The Steelers picked him in the 30th round, the 294th of 300 players chosen.
    Instead, Lahr joined the Cleveland Browns and coach Paul Brown in the 3-year-old All-American Football Conference. After missing his first season with an injury, Lahr saw action at a halfback and cornerback on the 1949 AAFC championship team, intercepting four passes.
    In the Browns first year in the NFL in 1950, Lahr intercepted eight passes and returned two for touchdowns, but his biggest contribution might have been in the title game against the Los Angeles Rams.
    Trailing 28-20 late in the third period, Lahr intercepted a pass to kill a Rams' drive and set up a Browns touchdown.
    The Browns took a 30-28 lead with 28 seconds left, but the Rams had a final chance. Rams quarterback Norm Van Brocklin went after Lahr by throwing a desperation pass to former Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis.
    With both players heading for the end zone, Lahr and Davis wrestled for control of the ball.
    Lahr won.
    ``They got into the end zone and Davis threw him down,'' recalled Browns quarterback Otto Graham in the book ``The Golden Age of Pro Football.''
    ``What if the referee signaled a safety? It wasn't because the momentum and Davis had carried Lahr in there, but I've seen crazier calls.''
    Michaels recalled another big interception.
    ``He intercepted a pass against the Redskins in a nip-and-tuck game,'' Michaels said. ``There's Warnie, he slipped and was on his back. Nobody got to him in time, he got up off his back and ran 30 yards for a touchdown.''
    Lahr retired in 1959. He remained in Cleveland, and worked as a manufacturer's agent in industrial sales. He was also a color commentator for Browns games.
    On Jan. 19, 1969, just days after passing a physical, Lahr died of an apparent heart attack.
    ``Warnie played mostly man-to-man coverage,'' Michaels said. ``If you can play that much man-to-man coverage and they know you're going to do it and you don't get beat often, then he has to go down as one of the better ones.''
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