Top Five 1960s Cleveland Browns games to watch while social distancing

We need sports more than ever, even while social distancing. We don't have live Cleveland Browns football, but we do have five great games from the 1960s.

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CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 24: Runningback Jim Brown #32, of the Cleveland Browns, runs the sweep after receiving the ball from quarterback Frank Ryan #13 during a game on October 24, 1965 against the New York Giants at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Pulling to block for Brown are guard Gene Hickerson #66 and tackle Dick Schafrath #77. (Photo by: Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

If you have been following Dawg Pound Daily's best games series, you have already had the opportunity to watch games on video from the post-1999 era Cleveland Browns, as well as the earliest videos from the 1940s and 1950s. This installment covers the 1960s.

For whatever reason there are not a lot of videos about the 1958 thru 1963 seasons, so this series will start with 1964, with some additional links to videos with Jim Brown highlights. In particular, I tried to come up with footage of the 1961 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in which Brown tied his own single-game record of 237 yards.

These videos probably exist in the NFL vaults and could surface on NFL Network, but for now the best footage in the public domain starts with the 1964 championship season, including edited versions of the "Game of the Week," which was televised every Sunday.

To set the scene for 1964, Art Modell had fired Paul Brown (too old-fashioned for the young genius) in 1963. Blanton Collier, who had been with the Browns since the inception of the team, became the new head coach. Former sportswriter Harold Sauerbrei became the new general manager. But the truth is Modell fancied himself a genius and acted as his own general manager and made his own trades.

Jim Brown was the true superstar, but ridiculously, 10 of the 11 starters on offense would have at least one Pro Bowl on their resume at some point in their careers. Right tackle Monte Clark was the only starter who never made it to the Pro Bowl. They were anchored by future Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson and tackle Dick Schafrath, who is also deserving of the Hall. John Wooten was the left guard and John Morrow was the center.

Ernie Green was Brown's running mate at halfback. They also had a rookie named Leroy Kelly as kick and punt returner. Kelly, of course, would eventually make the Hall of Fame.

Gary Collins was a talented possession receiver and Paul Warfield was a future Hall of Famer, though regarded as trade bait by Browns owner Art Modell. Warfield's best years would come in Miami. Johnny Brewer was the tight end, though later would reemerge as a Pro Bowl linebacker.

The Browns also had a rookie named Clifton McNeil, who would be traded by the Browns genius owner four years later for a draft pick. McNeil would become first string All-Pro for the San Francisco 49ers. How can a team have an All-Pro talent on the roster for four years and not realize he can play?

The quarterback was Frank Ryan, a mathematical genius who was a PhD student in mathematics at Rice University in the offseason. He would complete his degree the next year and eventually teach at Case Western Reserve University while playing quarterback for the Browns.

On defense, stars included veteran "Little Mo" Dick Modzelewski (younger brother of "Big Mo" Ed Modzelewski, who played fullback and had lost his job to Jim Brown; Little Mo later would join the coaching staff and served as defensive coordinator under Forrest Gregg). Little Mo had a resurgent season that led to a Pro Bowl that year. He was joined in the Pro Bowl by linebacker Jim Houston and defensive end Bill Glass.

Veteran left defensive end Paul Wiggin and linebacker Galen Fiss had been to Pro Bowl's earlier in their careers, but were still excellent players. Lineman Jim Kanicki never made it to a Pro Bowl, but was selected as one of the top-100 all-time Browns players by in 2012. Vince Costello was the middle linebacker and Larry Benz, Walter Beech and Bobby Franklin rounded out the secondary.

Lou Groza was no longer able to play tackle, but was still the Browns' kicker. That makes five future Hall of Famers (Brown, Warfield, HIckerson, Kelly, Groza), and 17 players with at least one Pro Bowl on their record.

You know what?  That was a very talented team.

NFL Championship: Baltimore Colts vs Cleveland Browns, 1964

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CLEVELAND - DECEMBER 27: Jim Brown #32 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball against Billy Ray Smith Sr. #74 of the Baltimore Colts as Bobby Boyd #40 and Monte Clark #73 look on during the 1964 NFL Championship game at Cleveland Stadium on December 27, 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images)

The Colts, Browns and Packers were dominant teams throughout the 1960s, joined towards the end of the decade by the young Dallas Cowboys.

The Colts undisputed leader was Johnny Unitas, he of the golden arm, and generally regarded as the best quarterback of his generation. Some might claim that he was better than Otto Graham, but as far as this fan is concerned, check in with me when he gets to the championship 10 times in a row and wins seven of them.

If this Browns team was talented, so were the Colts. They had six future Hall of Fame players on the roster that season including, Unitas, end Raymond Berry, tight end John Mackey, defensive end Gino Marchetti, halfback Lenny Moore and left guard Jim Parker.

On offense, two other offensive linemen would be in the Pro Bowl that year: center Dick Szymanski and left tackle Bob Vogel.

On defense, cornerback Booby Boyd joined Marchetti on the All-Pro team. Add to that players like defensive end Billy Ray Smith, safety Jerry Logan (who pulled down six interceptions) and Lenny Lyles, who would make it to a Pro Bowl two years later.

The Browns were pretty good at 10-3-1, outscoring their opponents by 122 points. But the Colts were that much better, at 12-2, outscoring opponents by a whopping 203 points. In fact, the Colts had scored the most points while also giving up the fewest points in the NFL. They were coached by a former Browns defensive back named Don Shula, who had the reputation of being one of the best young minds in the NFL.

On paper, there is really no way that the Browns could win. Baltimore had the best quarterback, most players in the Pro Bowl, most players headed to the Hall of Fame (although, of course, that could not have been known at the time), and they had the numbers on both offense and defense. Accordingly, the Colts were favored by seven points.

Golden Rankings has this interesting anecdote about the smugness of the Baltimore fans :

"The Browns were irritated to find that a contingent of Baltimore fans, including some members of the Colts Band, were staying in the same hotel. G John Wooten recalled what happened when he and his roommate, Jim Brown, went down to the snack bar. About fifteen of them (Colts fans) carried musical instruments. They saw us in the snack bar, and they came up to us and played taps right in front of our faces. Jim didn't say a word. He just got up and left, and I followed him. When we got away from those people, he turned to me and said, "We are going to kick the crap outta them." - via Golden Rankings

The Browns showed early on they could cover the Baltimore receivers in the cold, windy conditions near Lake Erie in late December. They were making yards and Baltimore was not. Unitas was making yards on improvised runs, which seemed damaging, but what he was not doing was finding open receivers. After the half, Lou Groza initiated the scoring with a 42-yard field goal. When Collins snagged an 18-yard touchdown pass, then the floodgates opened because Baltimore's offense just would not work on Cleveland's game plan.

The documentary (first link) has a lot of interesting information in it. It is embarrassing to admit, but this fan had no idea--none whatsoever--that Jim Brown and other African-Americans were not allowed to stay in hotels in downtown Dallas, so the team elected to stay in a more modest hotel by the airport. Times being what they were, and given that it was a highly intellectual group, there were many off-the-field discussions, not only about football but also about politics and other topics of the day. Fascinating stuff.

The second video covers highlights from the entire 1964 season, as well as regular season games from 1965.

The third video, "Anatomy of a Championship" was produced by Ed Sabol for Blair Motion Pictures, and it features Chris Schenkel as the narrator. This film company would eventually evolve into NFL Films. Classic stuff.

The Jim Brown highlights are awesome and are linked here in lieu of complete game footage from that year. For whatever reason the pubic domain does not have a lot of video of games from the  late '50s and early 1960s.

Cleveland Browns Documentary, 1964 World Championship

Cleveland Browns Team Highlights "World Champions & A Winning Tradition" 1964,1965

NFL Championship Anatomy of a Championship, 1964

Jim Brown Highlights

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Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, 1965

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HIRAM, OH - JULY, 1964: (L to R) End Gary Collins #86, runningback Jim Brown #32, quarterback Frank Ryan #13, center John Morrow #56 and runningback Ernie Green #48, of the Cleveland Browns, pose for a group portrait during training camp in July, 1964 at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio. (Photo by: Henry Barr Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

The 1965 Browns team was also a contender for a division title. In fact, why even try to make it suspenseful? The fact is, the Browns were contenders in every single year of the 1960s, without any exceptions. This game against the Philadelphia Eagles is of decent video quality and is one of the few that can be accessed via Youtube that has Jim Brown in full color. He went for over 100 yards rushing in this game and nearly made 200 yards from scrimmage.  You can see classic Jim Brown at his best.

The Philly side was just as impressive, however. They too had a Pro Bowl running back named Brown. That would be Timmy Brown, who had a great career with Philadelphia, playing for eight years and then finishing with the Colts. Fullback Earl Gros was also productive as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.

Quarterback Norm Snead was one of those guys who was talented enough, but never seemed to catch on with the right team. He played in the NFL for 16 years and had a career record of 52-100-7, which is kind of the same as a last place baseball team. He would make it to four Pro Bowls, but zero playoff appearances over his career.

On defense, a major star was linebacker Maxie Baughan, who was a nine-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro. He probably should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He can go in the same class as Clay Matthews of the Browns. Heck, give them Greasy Neale's spot. After the Browns and Paul Brown spanked him in 1950 for ridiculing the Browns, there is no way he should have been rewarded with the Hall of Fame.

The Browns were headed to the NFL Championship game again, which they would lose to the Green Bay Packers. There is a video of that game, which merges the radio broadcast to cover missing audio from the TV broadcast, but the low quality makes it difficult to watch, and the fact that the Browns did not win also does not help matters.

Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, 1965

1965 Cleveland vs Green Bay radio film merge

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Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns, 1966

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ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 1: Frank Ryan #13 of the Cleveland Browns hand the ball off to Ernie Green #48 against the St. Louis Cardinals during an NFL football game December 1, 1963 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. Ryan played for the Browns from 1962-68. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

After the Browns lost the championship to Green Bay by a score of 23-12, Jim Brown was cast for MGM's film "The Dirty Dozen," which was a war movie about 12 convicts who were assigned to assassinate Nazi targets in occupied France. The film was shot on location at a castle in France. No problem, MGM agreed to schedule the filming so that Brown would be able to return to the Browns training camp.

However, the film fell behind schedule, partly because of bad weather, which meant that Brown was going to have to miss time in training camp. Well, Arthur Bertam Modell was having none of this. Modell issued a press release, which threatened to suspend Brown without pay

Wow, that Modell was a bad, bad man, was he not?  No doubt he imagined Brown would capitulate in the face of this show of iron determination.

But Jim Brown announced his retirement. Oops.

Sportswriters took a dim view of the Browns' chances after that. The New York Times insisted that the Browns had no depth behind Brown.

"Behind Brown, Cleveland has Charlie Scales, a 5-foot-11 inch 215-pounder who carried the ball only 19 times for 72 yards last year, and Jamie Caleb, who spent most of last season on the reserve squad." - New York Times

Arthur Daley of the New York Times wrote:

"There is no other way to appraise the situation.  Jimmy Brown was their attack and it was his ball-carrying that made Frank Ryan an effective passer.  But the Brownless Brownies will sag in every attacking direction, shorn of their running strength and crippled in their passing because the aerial arm needs the ground game to give it both surprise and substance." - Daley, New York Times

William Shakespeare could not have said it any better. But what they did not realize is that the Browns had a kid named Leroy Kelly, who was at the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. They installed Kelly at halfback, with Ernie Green shifting from halfback to fullback. Kelly would deliver 1,507 yards from scrimmage (plus another 507 yards on kick and punt returns), and Green would add 1,196 yards from scrimmage. Both made the Pro Bowl, and Kelly made All-Pro as well. So much for being "shorn of their running strength."

In the video, you can see the team beginning to formulate the new running attack. Kelly and Green actually outgained the Packers' Hall of Fame duo of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. Bart Starr had a better game than Frank Ryan, and both performed well against top-notch defenses.

Even though the Browns did not come away with a W, the fact that they could play even-up with the NFL champions shows they were going to pick up where they left off. The Browns went 9-5, finishing second in the division behind the Dallas Cowboys, who were 10-3-1. Green Bay would go on to win Super Bowl I versus Kansas City.

Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns Home Opener, 1966

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Cleveland at undefeated Baltimore Colts, 1968

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MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 16: Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts Quarterback, jokes with Sam Havrilak, wide receiver, prior to the NFL game with the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl Stadium, in Miami, Florida, December 16, 1972. During the 1972 season, after losing four of their first five games, the Colts benched the 39 year old Unitas. The Dolphins defeated the Colts 16-0 in the final game of their regular season which led to their 17-0 undefeated season with their win against the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII. (Photo by Ross Lewis/Getty Images)

The Green Bay Packers were the "team of the century" while winning three-straight NFL championships. Now in 1968, it was Baltimore's turn to be the team of the century. That sounds silly, but the sportswriters really did get excited about the Colts when they started out 5-0 and outscored their opponents by 166-58. The Browns, on the other hand, had stumbled to a 2-3 record. The expectation was this game was going to be a slaughter.

Frank Ryan was no longer Frank Ryan by this time, as shoulder injuries were limiting his effectiveness. Hence Bill Nelson was getting the start. Nelson was a great leader and field general, but had several knee operations. Every time he dropped back to pass, fans had to hold their breath. But the Browns still had Paul Warfield and Gary Collins as wideouts, and Milt Morin as the tight end. Ernie Green and Leroy Kelly were the running backs, though Green was nearing the end of his career at this point.

The offensive line consisted of Dick Schafrath, John Demarie, Fred Hoglin, Gene Hickerson and Monte Clark. They were outstanding, and they had to be because no one wanted to see Nelsen get tackled.

The Browns were outstanding at defensive line with Ron Snidow, Walter Johnson, Jim Kanicki and Bill Glass.

At linebacker, the Browns had JIm Houston, Dale Lindsay and Bob Matheson, who would later have the Dolphins defense named after him, as Shula hoodwinked Art Modell into trading him for a second-round draft pick.

Amazingly, the Colts were doing all their scoring with Earl Morrall in for Johnny Unitas. In training camp, the Colts knew that Unitas was not right physically, so they went out and traded for Morrall at the end of August. Nevertheless, when they fell behind the Browns, Shula did not hesitate to pull Morrall and give Unitas a shot, despite his bum arm. Readers are invited to comment whether this was a good idea or not.

Actually, Unitas and Morrall would alternate for the next four years. In today's game, changing quarterbacks is a traumatic experience. But in the late 1960's, that was just a tactical decision if the coach felt it was appropriate. Both quarterbacks played in Super Bowl III and V and picked up Super Bowl rings (Morrall also picked up two more with the Dolphins).

Tight end John Mackey and wideout Willie Richardson were still their Pro Bowl selves.

Halfback Tom Matte (from Shaw High in East Cleveland) was called the "Garbage Man," though nobody seemed to understand why. This fan's theory is that it was because Matte was a converted quarterback, handsome, always well-dressed, a fan favorite (especially among the ladies) with a big, fat first-round draft pick contract. Defensive guys love to tease quarterbacks, and a converted quarterback would get the same treatment, even from his own team. The jabbing was that he did not get "tough yards," only "garbage yards" when the game was decided. Of course it was not true, but defensive guys like to tease quarterbacks, and Matte was probably an easier target than Johnny U.

The real meat and potatoes for the Colts were on defense, with huge Bubba Smith and Bill Ray Smith on the left side, and Fred Miller and Ordell Braase on the right side. Mike Curtis was a load at linebacker and Bobby Boyd was All-Pro at cornerback, flanked by veterans Lenny Lyles, Jerry Logan and Rich Volk.

In the video, you can see that Don Shula was one of the few coaches that took the new American Football League seriously, and he was already implementing zone coverage, bump and run, and all sorts of blitzes developed in the new league. The Colts were tactically superior to most of the other teams in the NFL.

Despite the setback to the Browns, the Colts righted the ship and finished 13-1, throwing four shutouts along the way. They would meet the Browns in the playoffs.

1968 Cleveland Browns at undefeated Baltimore Colts

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Eastern Conference Championship: Cowboys at Cleveland, 1968

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Cleveland Browns tight end Milt Morin (89) runs with the football after making a catch during the Browns 24-21 victory over the Washington Redskins on December 8, 1968 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Nate Fine/NFL)

Perhaps inspired by their huge upset victory over Baltimore, the Browns started winning. They went 8-1 down the stretch to finish with a 10-4 record and the NFL Century Division championship (in case you are wondering, no, I have no idea why the NFL chose such a dumb name for the division).

Bill Nelson proved himself to be a competent quarterback, now that he finally had a chance to play on a talented team (he had played for the Pittsburgh Steelers for five years and had gone 6-15-2 during that time). Incredibly, they were third in the NFL in offensive points with 394. Baltimore was second with 402, and the top point scorers in the NFL were the Dallas Cowboys with 431.

Gunslinger Don Meredith was fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 2,500, but game manager Nelsen was not far behind with 2,366, right behind Meredith at the fifth position. The Cowboys also were about even with the Browns in terms of rushing yards, 2,091 compared to 2,031 for the Browns. Fullback Don Perkins did most of the heavy lifting, but their running back stable also contained youngsters Walt Garrison and Dan Reeves.

The Cowboys had sensational wide receivers featuring Lance Rentzel and Bullet Bob Hayes, with 1,009 and 909 receiving yards respectively. Hayes was the one who made defensive backs pee their pants because he was as fast as an Olympic sprinter. Come to think of it, he actually was an Olympic Sprinter, and held multiple world records, including both the 100-yard and 100 -meter dash. He was literally the world's fastest human. Halfback Craig Benham was the third-leading wide receiver with 380 yards, so in other words when Meredith was going airborne he was generally throwing the ball downfield.

What separated the Cowboys from the Browns was the Doomsday Defense. The Browns were called the "Rubber Band Defense," which everybody hated. Five players made the Pro Bowl that year, including defensive linemen Bob Lilly and George Andrie, linebackers Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan, and safety Mel Renfro. They were loaded.

Okay, so now we know what was supposed to happen: a Dallas win led by the Doomsday Defense. Instead, the video shows exactly the opposite, with the Browns' defense dominating, as they managed to intercept Meredith four times. Not only that, but the Cowboys scored points on defense with a fumble return by Chuck Howley. The Cowboys' offense generated only six points when it counted. Much of the Cowboys' offense came in the fourth quarter when the game was lost and the Browns were in a prevent defense.

Next: Fill out your Cleveland Browns all-time bracket

The Browns would go on to a rematch with Baltimore for the NFL Championship. The Colts drubbed the Browns 22-10 in the NFL Championship later that year, reinforcing the notion that this was a historically great team. They would go on to what everyone presumed would be an easy victory in Super Bowl III. With all that talent on the "Team of the Century,"  WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

NFL Eastern Conference Championship: Browns at Dallas Cowboys, 1968