Sep 21, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns helmet on the field before a game against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Coming off the first opening-game loss in franchise history, the 1955 Cleveland Browns headed west for a Week 2 matchup with a familiar foe in the San Francisco 49ers.
Cleveland and San Francisco first faced each other in 1946 as charter members of the All-America Football Conference. The Browns held a 9-3 edge over the 49ers, including a win in the final game of the AAFC – the 1949 title game.
But one of those three losses to the 49ers was an historic one.
On Oct. 9, 1949, the Browns traveled to Kezar Stadium having not lost a game in almost two years – an unbeaten streak of 29 consecutive games. But the 49ers put a quick end to that streak, scoring 21 points in the first quarter and another 14 in the second to take a 31-21 lead into the half. The Browns would turn over the ball six times during the game, and allow 507 yards of total offense as San Francisco quarterback Frankie Albert threw for five touchdowns and running back Joe Perry had 156 rushing yards.
The loss, one of just four the Browns would suffer while dominating the league, was so bad that head coach Paul Brown reportedly threatened the jobs of everyone on the team during the plane ride out of San Francisco. Whether that is true or not, the Browns responded the following week by beating the Los Angeles Dons, 61-14.
The Browns would exact a measure of revenge three weeks later in the rematch, beating the 49ers by a score of 30-28 in a game that would look familiar to football fans of today. The two teams combined for almost 900 yards of offense – including almost 500 passing yards.
“It was a tough, dogged fight and my hat’s off to you,” Brown told the players according to Jonathan Knight’s 2008 book, Classic Browns. “I’ve had this game inside me for two weeks. Believe me, I was worried, but you did a great job.”
So the teams were familiar with each other when they once again took the field at Kezar Stadium on Oct. 2, 1955, and Cleveland quarterback Otto Graham led the Browns to a familiar outcome.
Graham scored Cleveland’s first touchdown on a one-yard run, the first of five Browns’ touchdowns on the day, as he led the Browns to a 38-3 win that, at the time, was the worst beating in franchise history for the 49ers. It also marked the first time since the 1950 season that the 49ers failed to score a touchdown.
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According to the game story in The Plain Dealer, things were so bad that the “crowd of 46,150 Kezar Stadium fans booed loudly and lustily at the feeble 49er offensive efforts. Y.A. Tittle, veteran quarterback, was the butt of most of the booing. He finally was taken out midway in the final quarter.”
The Browns had 357 yards of offense, including 200 on the ground as Ed Modzelewski, in his first year with the Browns after being out of football for two seasons due to military service, scored two rushing touchdowns, while the defense held the 49ers to just 139 yards of offense and eight first downs.
The 1955 season would turn out to be the best one for Modzelewski, who passed away this past February at age 86, as he rushed for 619 yards during the championship season. He would play five seasons with the Browns, gaining 1,097 yards while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He retired following the 1959 season after seeing his playing time cut drastically by the arrival of Jim Brown in 1957.
“Ed was well liked and a very popular guy on the team,” former teammate Paul Wiggin told The Plain Dealer following Modzelewski’s passing. “He was such a great person and competitor. Something can be said about having guys like that on your team. It’s not just about talent because you also win with guys who are a strong locker room influence. And he certainly was.”
The win that day against the 49ers evened the Browns record at 1-1 on the season and was the first in what would ultimately become a six-game winning streak that would help jumpstart the team’s championship run.