Issue Date: December 2006 Issue
Winning A Championship
The Cleveland Browns hadn’t been to a championship game since their 59-14 drubbing by the Detroit Lions in 1957. Not much more was expected in 1964, when the Browns faced Johnny Unitas and the 12-2 Baltimore Colts. But after a scoreless first half, the Browns struck first with a Lou Groza 42-yard field goal. On the next possession, Jim Brown scampered 46 yards to set up the first of three Frank Ryan-to-Gary Collins TD passes. Brown had 114 yards rushing in the 27-0 victory.
The main thing I remember about the 1964 NFL Championship game against the Colts is that we were huge underdogs. They were like an All-Star team at every position. To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember why we even got to have the game here in Cleveland, because they had a better record than we did. But for whatever reason, it was here. Not that anyone thought it would matter, though. There wasn’t a person around who thought we wouldn’t get killed.
I was always the kind of player who didn’t need a lot of preparation on the day of a game. So I got to the stadium as late as I possibly could that day, just like I always did. I hated to sit around and wait for a long time.
Once I got dressed, I really didn’t like to communicate with anyone, either. I just wanted to concentrate and meditate and get into my own rhythm. I didn’t want to be nice to anyone.
I was really focused, because 1964 was my eighth year in the league and, as it turns out, my second-to-last season. As much success as we’d had, Cleveland had never won the title in my time there. I was an individual player playing a team sport, and I knew people talked about me never being able to lead a team to a championship.
Like I said, nobody thought we could win - except us. We’d beaten the Colts in the past, so we felt like we could do it again. We knew what we wanted to do - run on them all day. We figured if we could do that, we’d surprise them - and everybody else.
As we sat in the locker room before the game, there weren’t any rah-rah speeches or guys screaming and yelling or anything like that. That wasn’t the makeup of our team, and it was a direct reflection on the personality of Coach Collier. Blanton was a very quiet man. He was a teacher, and we were the students. He dealt with us from an intellectual point of view. It was very calming.
Walking on the field, you could feel the electricity in the crowd. I know that sounds kind of clichÃÂÃÂ©, but it’s true. You really could truly sense the energy of all those people. We knew the only way we could keep that up was to do some great things that day.
The game was close for a very long time. I think it was scoreless at halftime. But we were doing what we wanted to do: We were running well and stopping them. Then in the second half things really started rolling for us.
When the game got out of reach for them and I knew we were going to win, I was obviously happy, but I wasn’t jumping up and down. I was a professional. I played it out and waited for the whistle to blow.
When it ended, people in the crowd really let loose. The guys on the sidelines did, too.
Honestly, I was celebrating outwardly with my teammates. But for me, winning the championship was more of an internal satisfaction. I felt I had finally gotten the monkey off my back.
It was chaos as we ran to the tunnel to get back to the locker room. There were fans all over; everyone was trying to slap you on the back. I remember as I was getting close to the tunnel someone handed me a newspaper with a big headline that said we’d won the championship. They obviously printed it before the game and luckily, we made it come true.
It was a very beautiful thing.
A lot of the team went out to celebrate together afterward. I just went home. That was more my style.
Never did I ever think that 42 years later, we’d still be talking about that as the last championship in Cleveland. No way I would’ve ever believed that. Not in a million years.
- as told to Lane Strauss