Without a doubt, Josh Cribbs was one of the most electrifying kick return specialists in National Football League history.
Cribbs was primarily a quarterback who never returned kicks in the high school and collegiate ranks. He suddenly found his niche when he tried making the Cleveland Browns‘ roster in 2005.
All Cribbs did was record an NFL record eight kick returns for touchdowns during his memorable 10-year pro football career. He also earned a reputation as a Pittsburgh Steelers killer during his days on the pro gridiron.
Cribbs also set seven Browns franchise records, earned three Pro Bowl selections, and became a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
Josh Cribbs set the bar high for returning kickoffs during his era and beyond.
Joshua Cribbs was born in Washington, D.C. on June 9, 1983.
Cribbs learned the ways of the gridiron when he was just six years old when he began tagging along with his older brother Harold to his football games.
Before long, Harold and Josh were playing football on concrete streets. Even though they were brothers, Harold never gave Josh a free pass when they played.
He didn’t just hit Josh—he hit him so hard that he cried.
Once the game ended, Harold tried to pacify Josh so he wouldn’t get in trouble with their parents.
Harold Cribbs had no idea that he was helping develop a future three-time Pro Bowl kick return specialist in the National Football League.
Josh Cribbs gave credit to his older brother for toughening him up two decades later.
“My brother made me tougher and I love him for that,” Cribbs told ESPN’s James Walker in the summer of 2008. “Without the hard work he instilled upon me, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.”
According to The Washington Post’s Vincent Thomas, Cribbs’ behavior was so exemplary his mother Billye once said, “The Lord picked him to be a role model.”
Dunbar High School head football coach Craig Jeffries told Thomas that some of Cribbs’ peers considered him a “goody-two-shoes.”
Although Cribbs was a model citizen in high school, he veered off the right path several years later. Fortunately, he made amends for his mistakes.
Josh Cribbs played quarterback for the Dunbar Crimson Tide in high school. Future two-time NFL Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis was his teammate.
When The Indianapolis Star’s Stephen Holder asked Cribbs in 2015 who the better player was, he said it was him. He thought Davis was neither a true tight end nor a defensive end in high school.
However, since Davis’ physique suited both positions, Cribbs and his teammates had to teach him both. Davis became their understudy and eventually exceeded expectations on both sides of the ball.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) June 9, 2021
Cribbs also told Holder that he remembered seeing Davis’ younger brother Vontae show up for their workouts. Vontae Davis was just a kid back then. Ironically, he and Josh Cribbs became teammates on the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 NFL season.
Josh Cribbs was an icon of the famous Turkey Bowl game held by the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA) during his high school days from 1997 to 2000.
The Turkey Bowl was the DCIAA’s annual title game held on Thanksgiving Day. It was popular in the nation’s capital and was considered a local version of a high school Super Bowl.
“For that one game—the Turkey Bowl game—it felt like the Super Bowl,” Cribbs told The Washington Post’s Preston Williams in the fall of 2006. “It felt like everything. Everything was geared to that one day.”
With Josh Cribbs under center, Dunbar High won three consecutive Turkey Bowls.
Arguably the most memorable Turkey Bowl for the Cribbs family was the 1998 matchup when Josh squared off against his brother, Harold—the same brother who toughened him up when he was learning the ropes of the gridiron.
Josh Cribbs was a backup quarterback, a wideout, and a special teams member for Dunbar High that year. Harold Cribbs was a linebacker for the Roosevelt Rough Riders.
Josh’s Crimson Tide prevailed in a memorable double-overtime game, 28-20.
Regrettably, Josh Cribbs fractured his right ankle in the weeks leading up to the 1999 Turkey Bowl.
Dunbar High backup quarterback Michael Coles filled in for him and helped the Crimson Tide prevail over the Eastern Ramblers in a shutout of 22-0.
Cribbs returned for his third Turkey Bowl in 2000. This time around, he threw two touchdown passes in the second half—one to sophomore tight end and future NFL Pro Bowler Vernon Davis—to lead the Crimson Tide to a 35-12 win over the Ballou Knights.
Craig Jeffries’ Crimson Tide squad became the first DCIAA team to win three straight Turkey Bowls in 34 years, per Williams.
Cribbs didn’t just excel on the gridiron, he also thrived in the swimming pool—he was part of Dunbar High’s swimming team. He participated in the freestyle, breaststroke, and butterfly events, per NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah.
Cribbs turned down offers from the Maryland Terrapins and the Syracuse Orange because they wanted to redshirt him and make him play a position other than quarterback, per ClevelandBrowns.com’s Anthony Poisal.
Instead, he committed to the Kent State Golden Flashes as his high school days wound down.
Little did Josh Cribbs know that he would spend his college days in a school located a mere 40 miles south of Cleveland—a city he electrified as an NFL kickoff return specialist from 2005 to 2012.
College Days With the Kent State Golden Flashes
Josh Cribbs attended Kent State University from 2001 to 2004 and played quarterback for the Kent State Golden Flashes.
According to Cleveland Magazine, Cribbs met his future wife Maria when they attended the university’s Renaissance Ball in the fall of 2001.
Cribbs, a freshman business major, fell hard for the sophomore journalism student who won that night’s best-dressed award. The spotlight shining on Maria in the dark auditorium gave the moment a more dramatic feel.
Cribbs waited near her friends and promptly introduced himself to her after the festivities.
“It was like a movie,” Cribbs told Cleveland Magazine in February 2020. “For me, it was like everything slowed down. It was like God telling me, ‘This is the one!'”
It didn’t take long for Josh Cribbs’ life to change drastically.
Cribbs took on serious responsibilities at an early age. He and Maria got married following his freshman season at Kent State, per Thomas.
They welcomed their daughter, Kimorah, before his junior season with the Golden Flashes.
Unfortunately, Cribbs struggled with his responsibilities as a family man and his desire to live his college life to the fullest.
In January 2004, Cribbs’ wife expected him to accompany her to dinner when one of her friends was in town for a visit. Instead, he hung out with his friends at a nightclub.
Cribbs got home late and an argument with his wife ensued the following morning. According to police reports The Washington Post obtained, the confrontation turned physical.
After police arrested Cribbs in his house, they accompanied him while he got his wallet from a bedroom closet. Authorities discovered eight tiny bags of marijuana that weighed a total of 9.1 grams.
Cribbs confided to Thomas in the fall of 2004 that he had gotten the marijuana from a friend on New Year’s Eve.
Cribbs insisted he had previously smoked marijuana only three or four times. He maintained he had no fondness for it.
In fact, Cribbs recalled seeing people who abused marijuana in their neighborhood. As an athlete, he never wanted to project that kind of image.
Authorities dropped the domestic violence charges after his wife didn’t testify against him. Cribbs spoke at various Boys and Girls Clubs and detention centers to fulfill the 20-hour community service sentence he received.
A judge also sentenced him to three years of probation for fifth-degree felony drug possession.
The youth speaking engagements were an eye-opener for Josh Cribbs. They inspired him to change his major from business to communications and public speaking, per The Washington Post.
Furthermore, Cribbs requested that his athletic director arrange more youth public speaking engagements even after he had completed the required 20 hours of community service.
Cribbs’ mother Billye told Thomas the experience humbled her son to no end. She also said that Josh shared his past experiences with the children he spoke with.
“That’s what I tell the kids at the juvenile centers, too,” Cribbs told Thomas in the fall of 2004. “It’s not your mistakes that make you a man and it’s not your mistakes that you live by. It’s how you bounce back.”
Despite Cribbs’ life-changing experience, Kent State head football coach Dean Pees banned him from team practices and workouts while he was dealing with his legal issues in 2004.
To make matters worse, Cribbs tore his thumb ligament during his senior season. Consequently, Kent State went 1-6 in its first seven games of the 2004 NCAA season.
When Cribbs took the field again, the Golden Flashes promptly ended their losing streak. Cribbs had an impressive 410 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in Kent State’s 69-17 romp over the Eastern Michigan Eagles on November 13, 2004.
Cribbs earned his second Mid-American Conference Player of the Week honors within a three-week span.
Josh Cribbs finished his four-year tenure at Kent State with 7,169 passing yards, 45 passing touchdowns, and 34 interceptions. He also had 3,670 rushing yards and 38 rushing touchdowns from 2001 to 2004.
The Golden Flashes averaged five wins per year and never played in a bowl game during Cribbs’ time with the team.
As Cribbs’ college football career wound down, he told The Washington Post that he envisioned becoming a defensive back in the National Football League.
However, fate had other plans for Josh Cribbs once he set foot on the pro gridiron.
Pro Football Career
The Cleveland Browns signed Josh Cribbs as an undrafted free agent on April 29, 2005. They were the first team to reach out to him and express interest.
Cribbs told The Indianapolis Star a decade later that he tried out for his hometown Washington Redskins before signing with the Browns. He was good enough to be placed on the Redskins’ practice squad.
However, Cribbs wanted to play immediately. The Browns gave him that opportunity as a wide receiver and kickoff return specialist. Cribbs took Cleveland’s offer in a heartbeat.
According to Poisal, Cleveland already had a logjam at quarterback with Charlie Frye and Trent Dilfer in 2005. Hence, they offered Cribbs two positions they felt he could excel at.
“I was up for the challenge,” Cribbs told the Browns’ official website in October 2019. “Just to get that call from a team right down the street was everything. The Browns had already laid out a path that no other team laid out for me.”
Josh Cribbs was an absolute monster for the Browns. Who remembers this beast? pic.twitter.com/gW24W1HyJx
— Menace2Picks (@Menace2Picks) July 19, 2022
Cribbs was a natural kick return specialist. He torched the Detroit Lions for a 90-yard kick return for a touchdown seven weeks into the 2005 NFL campaign. He set a new team record with 1,094 kick return yards that year.
Cribbs earned $232,000 as a rookie. The Browns were so impressed with him that they offered him a six-year contract extension with a $2 million signing bonus.
According to Poisal, NFL teams typically don’t dangle lengthy contract extensions to rookies that early in their careers. Josh Cribbs defied the norm.
It also turned out he was just getting started.
He racked up more kickoff return yardage in each of his next two NFL seasons. He had 1,494 and 1,809 kickoff return yards in 2006 and 2007, respectively
Cribbs’ 2,214 cumulative punt and kickoff return yardage in 2007 was the second-most in league history. He also had an incredible eight touchdowns on kickoff returns through his first five NFL seasons.
Josh Cribbs also earned a reputation as a Pittsburgh Steelers killer during his 12-year NFL career.
— Barstool Cleveland (@BS_Cleveland) May 26, 2022
Cribbs scored three of his 10 touchdowns against their AFC North rivals from 2005 to 2011. Cribbs found the end zone on a wildcat formation that helped the Browns end their 12-game losing streak against Pittsburgh in 2009.
At the end of Cribbs’ eighth pro season, his list of accolades in the pro football ranks included:
- Three-time Pro Bowler (2007, 2009, 2012)
- First-Team All-Pro (2009)
- NFL Alumni Special Teams Player of the Year (2009)
- Second-Team All-Pro (2007)
- NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
Cribbs had absolutely no regrets about switching to the kickoff return specialist position seven years earlier.
“It worked out,” Cribbs told The Indianapolis Star in 2015. “I was a three-time Pro Bowler, on the All-Decade Team. I had success. I missed playing quarterback, but I’m happy with the way things turned out.”
While Cribbs was blowing by opposing special teams during his heyday in the NFL, the Kent State Golden Flashes retired his No. 9 jersey in the fall of 2010.
Yet, Cribbs’ tenure with the Browns wasn’t always rosy.
He and his agents felt insulted by Cleveland’s one-year, $1.4 million offer in January 2010. One of his agents, Peter Schaffer, even threatened that his client would leave the Browns if they didn’t give him a more reasonable offer before the first day of the new league year.
The two sides eventually agreed to a three-year, $20 million deal two months later.
Unfortunately, the Browns averaged just five wins per season with Josh Cribbs as their kick return specialist from 2005 to 2012. They never made the postseason during that eight-year timeframe.
Despite racking up 1,178 kickoff return yards in 2012, Cribbs saw his memorable NFL career in Cleveland end in the spring of 2013. He learned from the Browns organization that they wouldn’t be re-signing him following the 2012 NFL season.
Cribbs signed with the Oakland Raiders two months later. They released him before the 2013 NFL season kicked off.
Cribbs then split his final two pro football seasons between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts. He had a combined 1,098 kickoff return yards from 2013 to 2014.
Cribbs readily admitted that his head took a beating during his 10-year pro football career.
— Lowell Dempsey (@ldempseyII) April 8, 2016
Cribbs shared one of his experiences on the NFL gridiron in a panel discussion during the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) annual conference in Cleveland, OH, in the spring of 2016.
He recalled a time when a defensive player knocked him so hard that he got up on his feet feeling woozy. He knew that the team physician would make him go through concussion protocols on the sidelines.
Once he sat on the bench, the doctor asked him who their opponents were.
Unfortunately, Cribbs didn’t have a clue who the opposing team was. He pretended to run out of breath and requested that the doctor give him a few minutes of solitude on the bench.
The doctor asked him a second time who the opponent was. Cribbs was still clueless.
After Cribbs heard the sound of a whistle coming from the gridiron, he pointed in the direction it had come from.
This got the attention of the medical staff, who immediately looked in the direction he pointed. Once they had looked away from him, Cribbs had the chance to look at the scoreboard.
Cribbs finally gave them the answer they had been looking for: the Denver Broncos.
While the medical staff gave him the go-signal to take the field again, Cribbs’ head coach thought otherwise. Cribbs pleaded his case incessantly before his coach allowed him to return to the game.
Cribbs came to a harrowing conclusion several years later.
“Football is 100 percent injury,” he told the Center for Health Journalism’s Parimal Rohit in April 2016.
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) March 22, 2017
Josh Cribbs officially retired from the National Football League as a member of the Cleveland Browns organization in March 2017.
“I’m at peace in my soul that my NFL career was a great success,” Cribbs told Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Cribbs finished his 10-year NFL career with 11,113 kickoff return yards, eight kickoff returns for touchdowns, 2,375 punt return yards, and three punt returns for touchdowns.
Cribbs’ eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns tied him for the most in league history with Leon Washington and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Cribbs also set seven Cleveland Browns franchise records including most career kickoff return yards (10,015), most career all-purpose yards (14,065), and most kickoff yards in a single season (1,809 in 2007).
Josh Cribbs, his wife Maria, and their two children currently reside in the Cleveland, OH area.
Josh and Maria are opposites in terms of their respective demeanors.
“Maria’s the party,” Cribbs told Cleveland Magazine in February 2020. “I’m like the police that come to the door.”
— Josh Cribbs (@JoshCribbs16) December 24, 2019
Maria Cribbs acts as her husband’s writer, producer, and overall supporter. The couple started a Cleveland morning talk show, Cribbs in the CLE: Josh and Maria Live, in the fall of 2019.
On the show, Cribbs and his wife discuss current events, health and fitness, family, and other topics that resonate with the Northeast Ohio media market, per Cleveland.com’s Joey Morona.
Josh Cribbs launched the TeamCribbs Foundation in 2012. The organization has collaborated with other Northeast Ohio-area foundations such as the Stepstone Academy and the Greater Cleveland Area Salvation Army, per Cleveland Magazine.
Medical experts examined Josh Cribbs’ brain in the spring of 2016. They discovered that Cribbs—who was just 32 years old at the time—had the brain of a 52-year-old man, per Rohit.
Cribbs’ neurological condition could have been the result of playing football at the youth, prep, college, and professional levels.
The Browns hired Cribbs as a special teams coaching intern in the summer of 2018. He had members of Cleveland’s special teams unit do a drill he had invented called the “Cribbs Drill,” which focused mainly on tackling.
Cribbs confessed to Cleveland.com’s Dan Labbe that it was hard for him not to play despite retiring three years earlier. Nevertheless, coaching helped him cope with that longing. He also got satisfaction from seeing his players learn from his coaching.
While some ex-players dread coaching long hours, Cribbs doesn’t.
“My coach has to send me home and my wife sends me back here,” Cribbs told Labbe in June 2018.
Before getting the Browns special teams intern coaching job, Cribbs enrolled in Baldwin Wallace University’s MBA program.
Cribbs has also served as a Browns analyst for Cleveland TV station WKYC, per Cabot.
Josh Cribbs became a member of the Cleveland Browns Legends Class of 2020 along with wide receiver Webster Slaughter.
Cribbs told Holder in 2015 that his worst habit was leaving his plate on the dinner table after he eats. His wife had been trying to teach their kids how to clean up after themselves.
Most of the time, Cribbs said he would pick up his plate only after his wife had reprimanded their children for leaving theirs on the table.
Josh Cribbs loves listening to 1990s R&B and gospel music. His favorite singers include Jagged Edge, Marvin Sapp, and Jodeci, per Holder.