For years during the 1950s and early 60s, games between the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants were often battles for control in the NFL Eastern Conference. The meeting on October 25, 1964 was different, however, in that while the Browns were contending once again with a 4-1-1 record, New York had fallen on hard times and was at 1-4-1.
Cleveland was coached by Blanton Collier for the second year and coming off of a 10-4 second-place finish in ’63. FB Jim Brown, in the eighth season of his career, remained the key player on offense, but QB Frank Ryan (pictured above) had emerged as a capable field general and there was an impressive new target available for his passes in rookie split end Paul Warfield.
Head Coach Allie Sherman’s Giants had won three straight conference titles, but age and injuries had caught up to the team. QB Y.A. Tittle, whose passing had fueled so much success, had just turned 38 and was taking a beating. Other offensive stalwarts such as FB Alex Webster and flanker Frank Gifford were injured. The defense was missing MLB Sam Huff, who had been dealt to Washington in a controversial deal, as well as DT Dick Modzelewski, who was proving helpful to the Browns.
There were 81,050 fans in attendance at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium for the latest installment in the fierce rivalry. In the first quarter, the Giants struck first with a drive that covered 63 yards in 13 plays. Y.A. Tittle completed two passes and HB Dick James finished it off with a one-yard touchdown carry. Don Chandler missed the extra point attempt, but New York was ahead by 6-0.
Defensively, New York was proving surprisingly effective at stopping the Browns, in particular keeping Jim Brown in check. The home team finally got on the board midway through the second quarter when rookie HB Leroy Kelly returned a punt 68 yards for a TD and Lou Groza added the point after. The Giants had an opportunity to score again before halftime, but after covering 60 yards in seven plays, Tittle’s pass into the end zone was picked off by CB Bernie Parrish. Cleveland maintained the 7-6 halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, LB Galen Fiss intercepted a pass to give the Browns possession at their 40, and six plays later Frank Ryan threw to Paul Warfield for an 11-yard touchdown. Groza booted the point after to put the home team up by 14-6. New York responded with a five-play series that covered 80 yards. HB Steve Thurlow tossed an option pass to flanker Aaron Thomas for 33 yards and Tittle surprised the Browns by rolling out and carrying the ball for a seven-yard touchdown. Chandler made good on the point after and the third quarter ended with the Browns clinging to a narrow 14-13 lead.
The situation changed dramatically early in the fourth quarter. The Giants regained possession in their territory due to an interception, but Cleveland DE Paul Wiggin picked up a fumble by Dick James and returned it two yards for a touchdown. Groza’s conversion lengthened the Cleveland lead to 21-13.
Five plays into the next New York series, LB Jim Houston intercepted a Tittle pass and returned it 44 yards to the New York 31. Jim Brown ran 22 yards to the nine and from there Ryan threw to flanker Gary Collins for a TD, Groza again adding the extra point. On the ensuing kickoff, HB Clarence Childs fumbled and backup FB Charlie Scales (pictured at left) grabbed it in the air and ran 23 yards for yet another Cleveland touchdown. Groza converted once more and, within the period of four minutes and 24 seconds, the Browns had scored 21 points and the once-close contest was now a 35-13 runaway.
New York put rookie QB Gary Wood in the game, and he passed to FB Ernie Wheelwright for a 20-yard TD. With the conversion, the score was narrowed to 35-20, but that was the last gasp for the Giants. Relieving Ryan, QB Jim Ninowski tossed a pass to TE John Brewer for 41 yards and hit Brewer again for an 11-yard touchdown. Groza’s PAT ended the scoring as the Browns won by a final tally of 42-20.
New York had big leads in total yards (426 to 225) and first downs (23 to 15). The Giants even out-rushed Cleveland by 166 yards to 97, but they also turned the ball over six times, which proved disastrous in the fourth quarter, to three turnovers by the Browns.
Frank Ryan completed just 8 of 17 passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns while giving up three interceptions. Jim Brown, who was 90 rushing yards short of 10,000 for his career coming into the game, was held to 56 yards on 12 carries. John Brewer led the Browns with four catches for 80 yards and a TD.
For the Giants, Y.A. Tittle was successful on 19 of 31 throws for 177 yards with no TDs and three interceptions. In relief, Gary Wood was three-of-three for 44 yards and a touchdown. Ernie Wheelwright (pictured at right) rushed for 94 yards on 20 attempts and also had 5 pass receptions for 68 yards and a score. Split end Del Shofner also had five catches, for 31 yards, while Aaron Thomas gained 83 yards on his four receptions.
The Browns won their next three games on the way to a 10-3-1 record that topped the Eastern Conference, and they upset the Baltimore Colts for the NFL Championship. New York won the next week but didn’t again the rest of the way, ending up in last place at 2-10-2.