Cleveland Browns Magnificent Seven: Best players from the 20th century

19 Sep 1993: Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown looks on during a game between the Cleveland Browns and the Los Angeles Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The Browns won the game, 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Markus Boesch /Allsport
19 Sep 1993: Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown looks on during a game between the Cleveland Browns and the Los Angeles Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The Browns won the game, 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Markus Boesch /Allsport /
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53. . QB. (1962-1968). Frank Ryan. 7. player

The New Browns drafted Johnny Manziel, a man who was so smart that he was able to skip the last two years of college and go right to the pros, winning a grand total of two games. But the Browns won their last world championship with a quarterback who stayed in school and earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Rice University while playing with the Browns.

That would be Dr. Frank Ryan, the last quarterback (and only quarterback not named Otto Graham) to take the Browns all the way to the World Championship. School might not be a bad place for a young quarterback to hang out.

In those days, most players held a job in the offseason and played pro football during the season. Ryan’s job was a little more exciting than selling cars. While playing with the Browns he held a teaching appointment at Rice University and eventually joined the faculty of Case Western Reserve University in 1967, where he carried a full teaching load.

Like Brian Sipe, Ryan spent a long time as an understudy, spending the first four years of his career as the backup quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. The Browns never won fewer than nine games with Ryan as the starter (remember this was back in the days of the 14 game schedule). Over the five years that he was the undisputed starter, the Browns won 48 games versus 17 losses.  e led the NFL twice in touchdowns and three times in TD percentage.

Unfortunately, after winning the World Championship, Ryan suffered a severe shoulder injury in the Pro Bowl game immediately afterward. Had he not been injured, there is no telling how great he might have been. Despite the injury, he was still good enough to go to the Pro Bowl two more years, though he was noticeably off his game.

Still, Ryan lived in the shadow of Otto Graham, who was certainly the greatest quarterback up to that time. For that reason, he never got the fan recognition that he should have. Quite frankly, Browns fans, we were spoiled rotten by all that winning.

Younger fans may find it hard to believe but check this out — in 1965 the Browns lost Jim Brown to retirement and future Hall of Famer Paul Warfield suffered a season-ending injury (and by the way, the only reason Warfield is not part of the Magnificent Seven is that many of his greatest years were with the Miami Dolphins after he had been gifted to them by Art Modell, acting as his own general manager).

Even with that bum shoulder, Ryan and the Browns still went 11-3 and made it all the way to the NFL Championship, which they lost to Green Bay. The unbelievable part is that a few vocal and very spoiled fans were booing Ryan at Cleveland home games.

Nevertheless, great clarity of vision has been restored by watching the excruciating careers of recent under-achieving Browns quarterbacks. We now know that Frank Ryan was a great quarterback, and the only regret is that he was injured and the medical professionals of the day could not save his career. That is the only regret.

After getting cut by the Browns, Ryan was signed by the Washington football club. Vince Lombardi, the former Packers’ coach, had found retirement not to his liking and had decided to make a comeback with a different team. In addition to having Ryan as a backup quarterback, Lombardi used Ryan essentially like a member of the coaching staff, where Ryan applied statistics to help with game planning and play calling. That might be considered to be the forerunner of today’s “analytics.”

It’s usually better to have the smartest quarterback on your team rather than the quarterback with the strongest arm. You can be sure that the Browns were in capable hands with Dr. Frank Ryan.

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