NFL Championship: Baltimore Colts vs Cleveland Browns, 1964
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.