Josh Cribbs - My Time

The iconic Cleveland billboard had been mounted on the side of an office building near Quickens Loans Arena one day during LeBron James’s third season with the Cavs’. As quickly as it was thrust onto the Cleveland skyline, it was even more hastily removed after King James made his startling decision to leave the Cavaliers. While Cleveland sports fans struggled to come to terms with the departure of the man that had come to define the whole city, a tweet from @JoshCribbs16 the day after the announcement showed signs that the city might survive Life-After-LeBron. The tweet, which was actually a 
“re-tweet” by Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs, displayed a photoshopped image of the billboard that LeBron had graced. Instead of LeBron, Cribbs was displayed 10-stories tall. The words, “True to my word,” replaced “We are all witnesses.”

“It was a great picture,” Cribbs says in our interview. “I felt as though the person who created it—I don’t even know his name—deserved a lot of credit.” But Cribbs, who is characteristically humble, doesn’t want to simply fill LeBron’s shoes because he doesn’t think that one athlete should be definitive of the whole city. He’s appreciative and complimentary of Cleveland in a way that is unusual to hear. Cribbs wants to succeed personally, he wants the Browns to do well, but also, he wants his adopted city of Cleveland to thrive. 
His admiration of Cleveland buoys his popularity with fans, along with his social media savvy and his community-oriented mindset.

And another reason to like this guy: He was a longshot to make it big in the NFL in the first place. While he’s now regarded as force to be reckoned with, The Kent State University graduate began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent in 2005. But Cribbs didn’t waste any time before making a mark on the NFL by setting a franchise record with the Cleveland Browns during his first season for kick return yards. Five years later, and he’s got an NFL record to his name for eight kickoff returns for touchdowns. “I’m glad it wasn’t handed to me.” Cribbs says. “I’m glad I wasn’t the number one draft pick because I had to prove myself.” Read our exclusive Q&A to find out more about the most levelheaded athlete we’ve ever met.
Q & A » » » » » »

If you were not playing football what would you be doing professionally?
I’d probably either be in the military or a police officer. My father is a police officer. He was an MP in the military, as well, Vietnam. So I’m just a junkie when it comes to military-type stories.

So you’re probably
a 300 fan?
Definitely. I was scared to catch punt returns when I first started returning punts. Watching that movie during camp gave me a little extra strength.

Did it bother you that you played quarterback in college, but got your position changed in
the pros?
It did not bother me because my dream was to play in the NFL. I didn’t specify which position, and beggars can’t be choosers. I believe that anybody who makes it to the NFL wouldn’t be sad because they made it there only as a receiver or a kick returner or whatever—the point is to make it there. Once you make it there, the sky’s the limit.

How fast are you?
Last time I was timed in a 40 was before I got to the NFL. It was a 4.41 and a 4.39, those are my best times. But I’m sure I’m faster and stronger now. But you never know. With a ball in my hand, being chased, I run about a 4-flat [laughs].

What is your fondest Kent State memory?
Meeting my wife. My wife is Maria, Maria Cribbs, of course.

How long have you been married?
Eight years.

How many kids?
Two kids.

What are you afraid of?
God. I’m God fearing. Things make me nervous, but I’m not afraid.

When you retire, how do you want to be remembered on and 
off the field?
On the field, I want to be remembered as one of the most athletic people to ever step on the field. I want to be one of the greats. Off the field, I want to be remembered as a great father, a great man in the community, and just someone who kids can model themselves after. I want to be the standard for how people are supposed to carry themselves.

How does it feel to be “The Man” in Cleveland?
It feels great. This is a great city. It’s a blue collared town, so it’s important for me to remain humble in this city. I have to tread it lightly because Cleveland has been hurt by the leaving of LeBron, who was this city’s star, so it feels great to be able to come in and fill his shoes, an athlete with such great talent as him. I know I’m here for a reason. I know I’m supposedly “The Man” for a reason. I’m just going to make the best of my opportunity and keep wowing the crowd.

Did you or someone you know send the Tweet picture of yourself replacing the LeBron billboard?
Somebody tweeted me and I re-tweeted it. It was a great picture. I felt as though the person who created it, I don’t even know his name, deserved a lot of credit. I know he’s seen it, whoever did it. I felt as though it was comical so I put it out there for everybody to see. But I don’t want to be up there. I urged them not to put me in that spotlight. The city doesn’t need one person to be its leader. We all are Cleveland. Cleveland is a makeup of many people, and one person cannot define a city.

What do you like to do on your free time? Any hobbies or passions?
I produce music in my free time. There are many guys that have great voices, that sing on the football team. Brandon McDonald is one of the guys. He’s recently been traded to the Cardinals. But as far as producing music—what else do I do? I like to bowl.

When you bowl, what’s your average?
225. My best is like a 275.

Ever had the snot literally knocked out of you?
Ah, no. I had the sight knocked out of me. I got hit so hard, I saw double vision. You know, where I come from, I don’t admit when I should, even when I have blurry vision. I got hit so hard that I couldn’t even see straight until the next play. I got up recently, and I was just seeing blurry vision. I put my hand up, and it looked like I had three hands.

Who hits the hardest?
I believe—not because I went to college with this guy—linebacker James Harrison for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’ve just seen him blow up my guy a couple years ago, and he hit him so hard that I felt it when I was running past them. You ever feel the wind from a bus when it passes the car, and it makes the car shake? He hit the guy beside me so hard that it kind of knocked me off my bearings. He got Defensive MVP of the year when Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl, and he brings it.

What was the most important resolution you ever made?
To be a good father. When you have children—I know [my wife] can attest to it—there’s nothing more important, even yourself, it’s the kids. So all your decision-making, you can’t think for yourself, you always have to think for the kids. Everything you’ve got to do for yourself, if it affects the kids, you’ve got to change it up so it can make them better. My dad said, “Son, each generation is supposed to have it better, so I’m going to make it better for you and you’re going to make it better for your kids and so forth.”

Football is________?
A job, a career. It doesn’t define me. It’s not who I am. It’s a job and a career—that I happen to love—but it’s a career.

Equate a season of football to something.
A season of football is like switching places with a crash dummy in a car. It’s brutal. It’s something our bodies are not supposed to be accustomed to, and it’s sad that you get used to it. You get used to being hurt, you get used to being hit. Every morning you wake up like you’re stepping on pins and needles because your ankles are hurting, your legs are sore.

At the end of the day, explain to our readers the mental fatigue your sport often causes.
I always tell my wife that we’re physically and mentally exhausted. And the mental aspect is that you have to be able to be have a clear mind to know what you’re supposed to do when you’re dead tired. I think that’s the hardest thing for someone to be able to do—to be able to concentrate when you have nothing left in you. When you’re tired, and you’ve got blood dripping, sweat dripping, to remember not to jump off sides, to remember your assignment, your play, your fundamentals and to execute—I think it goes hand in hand with physical toughness in sports. It’s almost a 60:40. I think it’s more mental than physical. You can be as physical as you want to be, but if you don’t have it up top, the mental toughness, you can’t do it.

Favorite vacation spot?
Without a doubt, Hawaii. I love relaxing. I took a 3-hour nap in the cabana, on the beach, like you see in the movies. Frozen drinks in my hand. The water was so calm at the time. It was a dream come true.

What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
I’ve made some mistakes that have led to great things. It has helped me to get where I am today, because without my mistakes, I wouldn’t be the person I am.

What talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to play the piano. I wanted to learn to play the piano when I was a kid but the means weren’t available to me then, and I think it would just be the most suave, sexy type thing if I could play at my wedding renewal—if I could play the piano and sing a song to my wife. There’s just something about it that’s so graceful and elegant and classy, that’s been something that I’ve been itching to do.

Is there anything you would like to forget in the course of your life?
Nope. I think everything that you see and hear is wisdom.

Can you cook anything? If so, what’s your best dish?
Breakfast. I make the best breakfast. Whenever my wife wants me to make anything for her, I start off with breakfast. I wake up in the morning, and I make French toast, bacon and eggs, omelets, I learned how to make those from my father.

What family tradition do you want to pass down to your kids?
Family, togetherness, just that love and respect for each other. There’s nothing more important than family. No matter what happens.

Are you ever going to cut your dreads?
When I leave the NFL. I feel like it’s a part of me, who I am, my culture. I’ve always had long hair. I decided to dread them up when I got in the NFL. My last year of college I started dreading my hair. It’s funny because people think my hair isn’t real.

What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
The craziest thing I ever did was a doing a front flip off a tunnel onto concrete—in kindergarten.

Any childhood heros?
Like I said, I was fascinated with military. My brother and I would act out military movies, like out in the woods. We would dress up in army fatigue and act like we were my dad in the bush because he told us what the bush was when he had to patrol in Vietnam. Because I was younger, I had to be the enemy most of the time. So my father was my hero. We would dress up in his dress blues. Dress blues is ceremonial wear that the marines wear with the hats and everything. In high school, I was in the ROTC, and like I said, that’s what I would have been.

What animal are you?
A lion.

OK, so what’s more important: sustainability or discovery?
Discovery creates sustainability. You have to see yourself doing it to believe you can actually do it. If you don’t see yourself succeeding, it’s hard to mentally do it.

You hold the record in the NFL for kickoff returns for touchdowns. What’s your secret?
Film study. Film study and envisioning. I feel like I take it more seriously than anybody. I feel like no one is taking it more seriously than me to be successful at that position. I sit before the game and envision myself running through tackles.

Any teams you hate playing?
I don’t like playing Oakland in Oakland because they’ve got a baseball field as their football field. It’s hard as heck. It’s terrible. It’s like a Halloween costume party every time you go into their stadium. Everyone’s yelling and the fans are really disrespectful to opposing teams. They’re the worst team to play against.

You always seem to find time to sign autographs for fans. Why?
If you can make a person’s day just by signing a piece of paper, that’s the easiest job. I feel like it’s our duty to use this stage to make people’s days. We are not expected to go to their home, to their car, but to just sign a piece of paper, and I think that’s the least we can do—especially for kids. It’s the best way to give back without having to do any manual labor or work.

What was your major?
It started out as business management, then I changed when I found out I was going to be in the NFL to communications—public speaking and interpersonal communications.

Favorite movie?

What are you most proud of in your life?
How far I came. I’m proud of my accomplishments. That includes everything. I look back at my life and what I was subjected to. And I look at how far I came, and I’m like, “Wow, I can’t believe I have kids,” It just blows my mind. When my daughter talks back to me, it’s like, “We’ve got a daughter and she’s talking back,” it blows my mind. We’re responsible for lives, and we were just kids not long ago. And our kids are just like us. They’re doing just what we did, and saying just what we said in a different way.

Of all your broken records, which means the most?
Eight kickoff returns for touchdowns. It’s the NFL record. No one has achieved that. People are chasing me now.