October 13, 2010

1963: Jim Brown Gains 209 Total Yards to Propel Browns Over Giants

The October 13, 1963 matchup between the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants at Yankee Stadium was a key showdown in the race for the Eastern Conference crown. The Browns, under new Head Coach Blanton Collier, were off to a 4-0 start while the Giants, winners of the conference the previous two seasons, had a 3-1 record.

The big story in Cleveland during the previous offseason had been the firing of Head Coach/GM Paul Brown, who had been an innovative and winning coach since the club’s founding in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946. However, the team had not won a title since 1955 and some players on the talented club – most notably star FB Jim Brown – bridled under Brown’s strict coaching methods. Young owner Art Modell also clashed with the legendary coach, and finally dispatched Brown and elevated Collier, a long-time Browns assistant who had returned after a hiatus as head coach at the University of Kentucky. Collier brought a more relaxed style to coaching the team, and the players responded with the strong start.

Head Coach Allie Sherman’s Giants were a talented veteran team seeking to win an NFL championship – something the club hadn’t done since 1956 despite making it to the title game four times in the previous five seasons – before time ran out. QB Y.A. Tittle had directed the offense brilliantly in the previous two seasons since coming to New York in a trade with the 49ers, and the defense was regularly among the best.

As was to be expected in a game between these teams, the contest was intensely physical. The Giants scored first when CB Dick Lynch intercepted a pass by Browns QB Frank Ryan and ran 47 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. However, Cleveland came right back with an 11-play drive that culminated in a one-yard scoring leap by Brown.

The Giants responded with an 11-play drive of their own that covered 75 yards and was helped along by two personal foul penalties on the Browns. FB Alex Webster plowed into the end zone from a yard out to regain the lead for New York at 14-7.

In the second quarter, a poor 11-yard punt by Cleveland’s Gary Collins gave the Giants good field position, but they settled for a 25-yard Don Chandler field goal. DB Jim Shorter returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to midfield and the Browns followed up six plays later with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to split end Rich Kreitling. The score was 17-14 in favor of the Giants at halftime.

Jim Brown had a relatively quiet first half, by his standards, carrying the ball 13 times for 47 yards as the Giants defense – in particular MLB Sam Huff – keyed on him. But he broke loose in a big way early in the third quarter when Ryan tossed a screen pass to him and the great fullback sped 72 yards for a TD. The Browns were ahead for the first time at 21-17.

Before the third quarter was over, Brown struck again with a 32-yard touchdown run that all but nailed down the win for Cleveland. While the Giants scored once more on a 14-yard pass from Tittle to HB Phil King in the fourth quarter, the Browns countered with Ryan connecting once again with Kreitling for an 11-yard TD. The final score was 35-24.

Cleveland piled up 340 total yards to New York’s 211. Of that total, Jim Brown accounted for 209 yards as he gained 123 on 23 carries with two TDs and 86 on four pass receptions and another touchdown (he was the team’s leading receiver as well as rusher). Frank Ryan completed 12 of 16 passes for 169 yards with three touchdowns and the lone interception. HB Ernie Green contributed to the Browns’ total of 210 rushing yards with 69 on 12 attempts.

“It was a very rough game,” said Brown afterward. “No, I wouldn’t say dirty. I think they were just a little overanxious.” Sam Huff summed up Brown’s performance when he said “if he had run any harder, he’d have killed one of us.”

Y.A. Tittle was harassed throughout the game by the Cleveland defensive line but completed 17 of his 31 passes for 178 yards with a TD and none intercepted. Split end Del Shofner led the Giants with 5 catches for 54 yards. New York gained just 72 yards on the ground, with FB Joe Morrison leading the way with 38 yards on 9 carries.

The Browns remained undefeated for one more week before being dominated by the Giants in the re-match in Cleveland, 33-6. New York lost just once more the rest of the way and again came in first in the Eastern Conference with an 11-3 record; they lost the NFL title game to the Chicago Bears. Cleveland tailed off in the second half of the year and finished in second place at 10-4.

After just five games, Jim Brown had 787 yards rushing and went on to break his own single-season rushing record with 1863 yards on 291 carries (6.4 average per attempt) with 12 touchdowns. As the game against the Giants showed, he could also be effective as a receiver out of the backfield and added 268 yards on 24 catches with three TDs. He was named NFL MVP by UPI and the Newspaper Enterprise Association and received the Bert Bell Award.

Frank Ryan (pictured at left), in his seventh NFL season and second with the Browns, made great strides at quarterback. The fourth-ranked passer in the league (second by the current rating system, at 90.4), he ranked third in touchdown passes (25) and was tied for first with Tittle in percentage of TD passes thrown (9.8). He was also one of the most intelligent quarterbacks in the game – the product of Rice University earned a Ph.D. in mathematics.