Eastern Conference Championship: Cowboys at Cleveland, 1968
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.
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?