November 1, 2010

1959: Jim Brown’s 5 TDs Overcome 4 Unitas TD Passes as Browns Beat Colts

The November 1, 1959 game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium featured a showdown between the defending NFL champion Colts and their great quarterback, Johnny Unitas, and the Cleveland Browns with dominating FB Jim Brown. If anything, both players exceeded expectations.

The Browns, under the guidance of the highly innovative and successful Head Coach Paul Brown, were 3-2 coming into the contest. They had just missed winning the Eastern Conference in ’58, and a big part of their success was the 6’2”, 230-pound fullback from Syracuse. Jim Brown (pictured above) had exploded on the NFL in 1957, leading the league with 942 yards rushing and setting a new single-game record of 237 yards along the way. In 1958, he ran up 1527 yards, breaking Steve Van Buren’s single-season rushing record by 381 yards (he also broke the AAFC record of 1432 yards set by Spec Sanders in 1947).

The Colts, led by Head Coach Weeb Ewbank, had won the NFL championship in an epic contest over the Giants in ‘58 and were off to a 4-1 start as they sought to defend their title. Unitas was the centerpiece of a talented offense and had thrown touchdown passes in a record 30 consecutive games entering the contest against the Browns. Baltimore also had a solid defense that would be keying on Cleveland’s fullback – mammoth (6’6”, 284-pound) DT Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb commented that he had been “waiting a long time to get my hands on that Cleveland cat.”

There were 57,557 fans on hand as the teams matched field goals in the first quarter, Lou Groza connecting first for Cleveland from 16 yards and Steve Myhra booting a 23-yarder for the Colts. However, Jim Brown got things rolling for the Browns in the second quarter as he took a pitchout, ran off tackle, shook Colts safety Ray Brown off without breaking stride 30 yards downfield, and continued for a 70-yard touchdown.

The Colts came back to tie the score on a three-yard TD pass from Unitas to HB Lenny Moore, but Brown ran up the middle for a 17-yard touchdown to give Cleveland a 17-10 lead at the half.

Brown extended the Cleveland lead to 24-10 in the third quarter with a three-yard run, and also reached the end zone on a one-yard plunge after Unitas had responded with an eight-yard TD pass to flanker Jerry Richardson.

The Colts again closed the gap to seven points in the fourth quarter when end Raymond Berry scored on a 10-yard pass from Unitas to make it 31-24. But Brown plowed in from a yard out for his fifth touchdown of the game, and while Unitas threw a fourth TD pass of five yards to end Jim Mutscheller, it was the Browns winning the game by a 38-31 final score.

Baltimore gained the most yards (426 to 397) and had more first downs (28 to 22), but while the Colts defense was unable to contain Brown and Cleveland QB Milt Plum made clutch passes on third down to extend drives, the Browns defense shut down the Baltimore running game (45 yards on 19 carries) and stopped the Colts inside the ten yard line on four occasions.

Jim Brown ran for 178 yards on 32 carries, with all five touchdowns coming on the ground. Milt Plum completed 14 of 23 passes for 200 yards with no TDs, and while two were intercepted, 11 of the completions for 147 yards came on third down plays.

For the Colts, Johnny Unitas (pictured at left) went to the air 41 times and had 23 completions for 397 yards with four touchdowns against three interceptions. The loss negated outstanding performances by Raymond Berry, who caught 11 passes for 156 yards with a TD, and Lenny Moore, with 5 receptions for 115 yards and a score.

Weeb Ewbank sought out Brown after the game to shake his hand and say “Jimmy, you’re even greater than we heard you were. You played a wonderful game out there today.” A frustrated “Big Daddy” Lipscomb told reporters, “I’m still waiting to get my hands on that cat.”

In discussing his performance, Brown said, “Actually, the way I played today didn’t have anything to do with my ability. We had good play selection and most of the time I was going through gaping holes opened by our line.” Few, if any, in attendance would have agreed that Brown’s ability had nothing to do with it.

“Jim Brown was tremendous and Milt Plum did a really fine job,” summed up Paul Brown.

The loss dropped the Colts behind the San Francisco 49ers in the Western Conference, but, after losing the following week at Washington, they recovered to win five straight and closed out the regular season back atop the conference with a 9-3 record. They defeated the Giants once again for the NFL Championship. Cleveland won two more games before losing three straight (two of them by a single point) and finishing in a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference with Philadelphia at 7-5.

Jim Brown had 737 yards rushing following the big performance against Baltimore and led all NFL rushers once again in 1959 (as he would for eight of his nine seasons) with 1329 yards on 290 carries (4.6 avg.), including 14 touchdowns.

Johnny Unitas, with the four TD passes, had 17 for the year thus far and his consecutive game streak stood at 31, on the way to an eventual all-time record 47. For the ’59 season, he led the NFL in pass attempts (367), completions (193), yards (2899), touchdowns (32 – a record at the time), and percent of TD passes (8.7). He was named league MVP by The Sporting News and UPI, and received the Bert Bell Award from the Maxwell Club.