October 27, 2013

1963: Giants Dominate Browns in Key Eastern Showdown

The Cleveland Browns seemed poised to take control of the NFL Eastern Conference race as they hosted the New York Giants on October 27, 1963. The Browns were undefeated at 6-0 and had looked very good in defeating the Giants at Yankee Stadium two weeks earlier. Under first-year Head Coach Blanton Collier, they had the league’s top rusher in FB Jim Brown, who was leading the NFL with 931 yards on the ground and had compiled 209 yards from scrimmage in the previous meeting with the Giants. QB Frank Ryan was also leading the NFL with a completion percentage of 62.1.

The Giants, coached by Allie Sherman, had topped the Eastern Conference in each of the last two years but, at 4-2, were in danger of falling out of contention unless they could derail Cleveland. 37-year-old QB Y.A. Tittle (pictured above) had been a sensation since arriving from San Francisco in 1961 and had a fine receiving corps led by split end Del Shofner. The veteran group of running backs included FB Alex Webster and HB Hugh McElhenny. The defense also had a well-seasoned core that was anchored by MLB Sam Huff and included such stalwarts as DEs Andy Robustelli and Jim Katcavage, DT Dick Modzelewski, cornerbacks Dick Lynch and Erich Barnes, and FS Jim Patton.

There were 84,213 fans at Municipal Stadium, the second-largest crowd for a regular season game to date in the history of the huge venue. The tone was set on the second play from scrimmage when Jim Brown fumbled after picking up seven yards and Sam Huff recovered for the Giants at the Cleveland 30. Four plays later, Don Chandler kicked a 29-yard field goal to give New York the early lead.

On the next play following the kickoff, Frank Ryan threw a pass that was intercepted by Jim Patton and the Giants again took possession in Cleveland territory. They immediately capitalized when Y.A. Tittle threw to Del Shofner for a 23-yard touchdown. Chandler added the extra point and less than three minutes into the game, the visitors were ahead by 10-0. Cleveland had run only three offensive plays.

The Browns went three-and-out on their next series and were forced to punt. The Giants, taking over at their 14, put together an 86-yard drive in 15 plays. Tittle completed seven passes along the way, two of which converted third downs, including one to TE Aaron Thomas for 19 yards in a third-and-10 situation and another to TE Joe Walton for 13 yards on a third-and-six play. Hugh McElhenny and Alex Webster ran effectively and Tittle finished the series off with a six-yard scoring pass to McElhenny. New York’s lead was 17-0 after a quarter of play.

The Browns again had to punt and once more New York responded by putting points on the board. This time the Giants moved the ball 34 yards in eight plays capped by Chandler booting a 34-yard field goal. Tittle again came through with a third down completion to keep the drive going, connecting with Shofner for 16 yards to the Cleveland 31 on a third-and-seven play.

Another short series by the Browns was followed by another New York scoring drive. Tittle completed four more passes, Cleveland was flagged for pass interference on one he didn’t complete, and Chandler kicked another field goal, this time from 33 yards. The Giants had scored on every first half possession and took a commanding 23-0 lead into halftime. The statistics were as lopsided as the score - New York had outgained the Browns by 195 yards to 35 and Cleveland had run just 20 plays.

The Giants kept pouring it on as the third quarter began. McElhenny took the second half kickoff 51 yards and they ended up with a fourth Chandler field goal, of 42 yards. The Browns still remained stymied on offense and punted, and New York remained unstoppable. The offense put together another methodical scoring drive that ended with Webster running the last two yards for a TD.

The outcome was not in doubt in the fourth quarter as the Giants finally failed to score on a possession. After reaching the Cleveland 37, Tittle’s deflected pass was intercepted. Jim Ninowski was now at quarterback for the Browns, but had no better luck at moving the team until his second series, after Chandler missed on a 44-yard field goal attempt. Ninowski threw to split end Tom Hutchinson for 70 yards and two plays later finally got the Browns on the board with a 10-yard touchdown pass to end Rich Kreitling. However, Groza’s extra point attempt was blocked by Huff. The final score was a resounding 33-6 win for the Giants.

New York had a huge lead in total yards (387 to 142) and first downs (26 to 6). The Giants sacked Cleveland’s quarterbacks four times and Cleveland turned the ball over on three occasions, to just the one late and insignificant turnover suffered by New York. The Giants only punted twice, both coming in the final period.

Y.A. Tittle completed 21 of 31 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns with one intercepted. Del Shofner (pictured at left) had 7 catches for 108 yards and a TD. Alex Webster rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and Hugh McElhenny also ran for 53 yards, on 13 attempts, while contributing a TD on his lone pass reception. Don Chandler helped out with his four field goals in five attempts.

For the Browns, Frank Ryan was successful on only one of 9 throws for a startling minus six passing yards and was intercepted once. Jim Ninowski hit on 4 of 11 passes for 120 yards and a TD with one picked off. Jim Brown was held to just 40 yards on 9 carries and had the critical early fumble. He was also ejected after getting into an altercation with New York LB Tom Scott, who was also tossed, in the game’s last minute. Tom Hutchinson, thanks to the long reception in the fourth quarter, had two catches for 97 yards to lead the club.

The Giants continued on to win their next four games and lost only once more on the way to once again topping the Eastern Conference with an 11-3 record. However, they lost to the Bears in the NFL title game, falling short for the third straight time. Cleveland won the next week at Philadelphia but then lost two straight, faltering down the stretch and ending up in second place at 10-4.

Y.A. Tittle broke his own NFL record with 36 touchdown passes and also led the league in overall passing (104.8 rating in current system), completion percentage (60.2), yards per attempt (8.6), and percentage of TD passes (9.8, tied with Frank Ryan). Del Shofner ranked third in pass receiving yards (1181) and fourth in pass receptions (64). Don Chandler led the NFL in scoring (106 points) and was third in field goals (18) and first in extra points (52).