The best No. 13 for the Cleveland Browns has a ring and a Ph.D.
The countdown to the 2020 NFL season is upon us. With 13 days remaining until the Browns season opener, we continue the countdown by celebrating the best Cleveland Browns player to ever wear number 13: Frank Ryan.
Frank Ryan, who was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, was brought to Cleveland to be an insurance policy. In 1962, the Browns decided to move on from starter Milt Plum and hand the reigns over to the newly acquired Jim Ninowski. After Ninowski suffered a broken collarbone at the hand of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventh game of the 1962 season, Ryan stepped in led the Browns to a 41-14 landslide victory.
Ryan would go on to hold the job of starting quarterback for the next five seasons for the Browns. In two of those seasons, Ryan would lead the league in touchdown passes. During his time as the starting quarterback, the Browns would make the playoffs three times and play in the championship game twice.
In fact, Ryan is the last quarterback to win a championship for the Browns. In 1964, Ryan led the NFL with 25 touchdown passes as well as touchdown percentage with 7.5%. When the lights were the brightest, Ryan was at his best. In the 1964 championship game, Ryan went 11 for 18 and threw three scores in the second half to lead the Browns to a 27-0 win over the Baltimore Colts.
Ryan’s 1964 campaign landed him a spot in the Pro Bowl. However, during the Pro Bowl Ryan would suffer a nasty shoulder injury after being tackled by multiple players. In spite of the injury, Ryan would go on to lead the Browns back to the championship game the following year. This time around, Ryan and the Browns were defeated in the championship game by the Green Bay Packers. Although his numbers dipped from the previous season, Ryan was again rewarded with another trip to the Pro Bowl in 1965.
One of Ryan’s biggest accomplishments also came in 1965 when he earned his doctorate from Rice University and officially became Frank Ryan Ph.D. Ryan balanced his two careers flawlessly. It was important for him to be viewed as a regular football player, even though he would teach math at Case Western while still playing for the Browns.
In 1966 Ryan would have the best individual season of his professional career as a quarterback. Ryan threw a league-leading 29 touchdowns and once again led the entire NFL in touchdown percentage with 7.6%. The Browns would narrowly miss the playoffs with a 9-5 record, but Ryan would make his third straight, and final, Pro Bowl appearance.
Although Ryan’s individual numbers were down in 1967, he managed to lead the Browns to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Browns were shellacked by the Dallas Cowboys 52-14. The following year, Ryan would lose his job as the starter after only three games and a 1-2 start. His time as a starter in Cleveland had ended, but Ryan would go on to play two seasons as a backup in Washington before calling it a career.
Ryan started 76 games for the Browns and compiled a 52-22-2 record. Ryan’s 134 touchdown passes rank him second all-time in team history and his 7.6% touchdown percentage in the highest in team history. In 2005, Ryan was inducted into the Browns Legends Program.
Frank Ryan went from afterthought to NFL Champion to Doctor, and he is the best player to wear number 13 for the Cleveland Browns.