The Cleveland Browns were once known for their quarterback play, and while many may not realize it, Frank Ryan was one of the best in the league at the position.
It has been more than 50 years and counting since the Cleveland Browns last won an NFL championship.
And while it may seem that the franchise has been searching for a quarterback for just as long, that particular quest only stretches back to 1993.
Fans who have only been exposed to the likes of Trent Dilfer, Robert Griffin III, Charlie Frye and the rest can be excused if they believe that bad quarterback play and the Cleveland Browns have always gone hand in hand.
But up until the recent incarnation of the Browns, the franchise was known for its quarterback play, dating back to the team’s very first quarterback, Hall of Famer Otto Graham, who went to 10 consecutive title games, winning seven, during his 10-year career. (New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady can play until he is 60 and will never match Graham’s championship streak).
Graham, who still holds the franchise record for career touchdown passes, gave way to the likes of Milt Plum; Bill Nelsen; Brian Sipe, who holds most of the team’s passing records that are not under Graham’s name; and Bernie Kosar, the last great quarterback to wear the Orange and Brown.
"Frank Ryan made three Pro Bowls, but All-Pro status was blocked by a couple of guys named Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. His career was cut short by injuries suffered in the first of those three Pro Bowls. The Colts accused Ryan of running up the score in the 27-0 championship rout of 1964. A Colts defender delivered some payback in the all-star game. Ryan needed surgery and was in constant pain for the rest of his career. Yet he still led his team to the playoffs three more times."
"There have been many better quarterbacks than Ryan in NFL history. But none accomplished more than Ryan while receiving less acclaim. By being overshadowed by Brown, achieving his greatest success just before the dawn of the Super Bowl era and getting stuck behind the Tom Brady and Peyton Manning of your grandfather’s generation, Ryan earned the title of the NFL’s All-Time Most Underrated Player."
Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fifth round of the 1958 NFL Draft, the Browns acquired Ryan during the summer of 1962 and he took over the starting job midway through the season after quarterback Jim Ninowski was injured.
In his five full seasons as the Browns starting quarterback, Ryan led the club to two championship games, had the team in contention for two others, and led the Browns to the playoffs in 1967. He also made the Pro Bowl from 1964 to 1966.
He also led the NFL in 1966 with 29 touchdown passes, and his 2,974 passing yards that season stood as the Browns’ single-season record until Brian Sipe threw for 3,793 yards in 1979.
Ryan’s 29 touchdown passes in 1966 is still the second-most in franchise history, and he sits fourth on the all-time franchise list in passing yards (13,361) and third in touchdown passes (134).
It seems hard to believe that, 53 years later, Ryan remains the last quarterback to lead the Browns to a championship. Of course, we never would have believed that the team would still be looking for a quarterback 24 years after Kosar threw his last pass for the Browns, either.
While a large portion of Browns fans, and an even greater portion of NFL fans, have no idea who Ryan was, it is nice to see him get some national recognition.