December 13, 2017

Cleveland, the ’64 King

When Cleveland Was King

LeBron James and Johnny Manziel are giving Cleveland hope that it will finally win its first major sports championship since 1964. The smarter money at this point is on LeBron and the Cavaliers as they have a talented roster even before the addition of Kevin Love and, basketball being what it is; only a few great players are necessary to take a team from the lottery to a championship.

Mr. Manziel has a far tougher row to hoe. Even when he’s eventually named the Browns’ starting quarterback he still needs about 20 other great players around him before little number 2 makes Cleveland number 1.

Whoever does take the next title for Cleveland (oh yeah, there’s also a rumor out there that the Indians are still in the playoff race) they will supplant the 1964 Browns as the last Cleveland team to have a parade, hoist the hardware and make General Moses smile.

But what about those ’64 Brownies? How good were they?

Very.

The 1964 Cleveland Browns went 10-3-1, coached by Blanton Collier who, in his eight seasons as an NFL head coach from 1963 to 1970, all with the Browns, never had a losing season and made the playoffs five times.

On the field the Browns were led on offense by Jim Brown who topped the NFL with 1,446 yards, averaging better than 100 yards per game in the 14-game season. Brown’s 1,446 yards were nearly 300 better than his closest competition, Green Bay Packers fullback Jim Taylor. Brown also led the league in total yards from scrimmage by more than 200 yards and was tied for third that year in rushing touchdowns with seven.

He also attempted one pass and completed it, good for 13 yards and a touchdown.

Mostly thanks to Jim Brown, Cleveland was second in total offense in ’64, but was also helped by a capable quarterback named Frank Ryan who started all 14 games and threw 25 TD passes, good enough for tops in the league.

When you have the NFL’s best running back and also the league-leader in TD passes you’re probably going to be good even if your defense is terrible, but the ’64 Browns’ defense was far from terrible, ranking fifth in the league in fewest points allowed.

The ’64 Browns had All-Pros on defense in cornerback Bernie Parrish, linebacker Jim Houston, defensive end Bill Glass, kicker Lou Groza and, back on offense, guard Gene Hickerson, tackle Dick Schafrath, split end Paul Warfield, and, of course, Jim Brown in the backfield.

Other than a 23-7 loss to the lowly Pittsburgh Steelers on October 10 of that season (Jim Brown only carried the ball eight times) the ’64 Cleveland Browns handled the opposition with little shame though they did turn the ball over with alarming frequency, including a six-turnover victory against the Dallas Cowboys. Strangely, the only game in 1964 that the Browns did not turn over the ball was a 28-21 loss to the Packers on November 22.

The Browns won the Eastern Division by a game over the St. Louis Cardinals, the only other team in the East with a winning record that year and earned a spot in the NFL Championship Game against the mighty Baltimore Colts who were easily champions of the West with a 12-2 record under second year coach Don Shula and league MVP Johnny Unitas at quarterback.

The game was played in Cleveland Municipal Stadium on December 27, 1964 in 34-degree weather with mud, wind and animus. The Colts were heavy favorites.

Browns 27, Colts 0.

The game was scoreless at halftime but then in the second half Ryan connected with receiver Gary Collins for three TDs and Jim Brown, though he never scored, muddled through with 114 yards on 27 carries and also caught three passes for 37 yards.

On defense, the Browns held Unitas to just 95 yards passing and intercepted him twice.

Browns 27, Colts 0.

The Browns were awarded rings for winning the title and Jim Brown’s was later stolen and has recently been up for auction, something Mr. Brown is trying to stop.

Thirty-one years after the 1964 title game the Browns decided to move, to of all places, Baltimore, which had lost the Colts to Indianapolis a decade before.

One of the stipulations of that controversial move was that the Browns themselves actually would not move, only the coaches and players would go as the team became the Baltimore Ravens while the Cleveland Browns, the team records, trophies, etc., remained in Cleveland, dormant, until the Browns were reincarnated, as an expansion team, in 1999.

One of the things the Browns were forced to leave behind when they bolted for Baltimore was their trophy for winning the 1964 NFL title. The thing of it is, though, there really was no trophy for Cleveland to keep.

In those days the NFL used to hand out the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy, which was named for an NFL official. But that trophy was, like hockey’s Stanley Cup, handed off to a new champion each year so the next year the Browns had to give it to the Packers who still have it because after the 1966 season, in which the Packers were champs again, teams got a new trophy every year which is now, of course, the Lombardi Trophy.

The 1964 Cleveland Browns didn’t get a trophy to keep until 2004 when the NFL commissioned a brand new trophy to present to an old champion.

Cleveland still has that trophy. And is still looking for another one.

 

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith passed away last week and joined his teammate John Mackey in the great Super Bowl in the sky. His playing days were a bit before my time. I mainly remember him from Miller Lite ads. I forget if he was part of the “Tastes Great” or the “Less Filling” camp, but he’d rip the cans open.

Joe Williams here calls me Mr. Connection. I caught the bug when my buddy, the White Rhino, turned me on to the Kevin Bacon game. That’s where you name an actor and try to link him to Bacon in the fewest steps. I came up with the ultimate Kevin Bacon game earlier this year; The Diner at The Center of The Universe. It transcends the screen. Bacon played Fenwick in Diner. Barry Levinson directed it and two of the other cast members were Mickey Rourke and Ellen Barkin. Bacon’s father, Edmund, was a city planner who knew Buckminster Fuller. Levinson once roomed with Boston George Jung. Jung was a drug smuggler and was played by Johnny Depp in the movie Blow. Rourke tried his fists at boxing. Freddie Roach trained him for some of his fights. Roach now trains Manny Pacquiao. Barkin was married to Ron Perelman for a while. Perelman was a buyout artist who purchased Revlon with the help of Michael Milken’s junk bonds (or high yield, if you prefer.) The worlds of genius, cocaine, boxing, and Wall Street are all within two degrees of separation from Bacon. But one connection didn’t occur to me until last week.

The movie Diner is about young men growing up in Baltimore fifty-some years ago. One of the gang, Eddie Simmons, is getting married. Before he ties the knot, though, he wants to ensure that his bride to be has a firm grasp on Colts trivia. He makes her take a 140-question test on the team. Steve Guttenberg played Simmons. Guttenberg would go on to the Police Academy movies where he’d play Carey Mahoney. Bubba Smith played Moses Hightower in those flicks.

Smith, of course was a Baltimore Colt. He played with Johnny Unitas. Unitas had a long career and he quarterbacked the team in the famous 1958 championship game. Alan Ameche ended that game with a touchdown run. Ameche was a Heisman trophy winner and he made a big splash in his NFL debut. He had a 79-yard run from scrimmage on opening day 1955 against Chicago. Tying things together, this was the answer to one of Simmons’s quiz questions: “What was the longest run from scrimmage by a rookie in his first game?”

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension— a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Red Zone.

Trades Involving Big Name QB’s That Never Happened

It’s often mentioned that championship teams are built through the NFL draft.  It’s a fairly cliché statement, but it’s entirely true.  What’s often overlooked is that draft selections are only one aspect of the draft.  The ability of front office staffs to wheel and deal during the draft can also make lasting impacts on NFL teams.  The most impactful trades often involve quarterbacks.

There are a lot of trade rumors involving QB’s flying around draft weekend, and usually none of them end up true.  Imagine though if some of them did in fact become true.  The NFL landscape would certainly be different.  Listed below are some draft time trade rumors from the past 25 years (as reported by the major media) involving star QB’s, that never became true.

 

1983 NFL Draft – Rumored John Elway/#1 Pick Trades

Before the 1983 NFL draft, John Elway told the Baltimore Colts (owners of the NFL’s #1 pick) not to select him.  That’s because Elway wanted to play for a team located on the west coast, and if he was selected by the Colts, he insinuated he might abandon football, and pursue a career in baseball.  In the end, the Colts selected Elway, but soon after traded him to the Denver Broncos.  The rest is history.

With Elway’s strong statements before the draft, it appeared to the major media that the Colts would trade the #1 pick; thus trading the rights to select Elway.  The Los Angeles Raiders and San Diego Chargers were two teams mentioned as likely candidates to win the Elway sweepstakes.

The San Diego Chargers owned three picks in the first round, and were having difficulty signing All-Pro QB Dan Fouts to a new contract.  The Raiders had a solid veteran QB in Jim Plunkett, but Al Davis always liked to make a splash at the draft.

The Baltimore Colts were willing to trade the #1 pick/Elway to the San Diego Chargers for all three of the Chargers first round picks, but the Chargers were unwilling to give up the 5th overall selection.  Perhaps if the Chargers hadn’t signed Dan Fouts to a new contract the night before, the Chargers might have been more willing to give up that 5th overall pick.

There were a number of different rumored trade offers from the Raiders.  One scenario stated the Raiders were offering a number of top picks in the 1983 and 1984 drafts, as well as former first round selection in QB Marc Wilson.  Another rumor mentioned that the Raiders would consider trading future Hall of Fame RB Marcus Allen.  Lastly, it was also rumored that the Raiders were attempting to attain first round selections, in order to trade them for Elway.  Reportedly, the Raiders were offering RB Kenny King, G Mickey Marvin, and future Hall of Fame DE Howie Long to the Chicago Bears (6th pick) or the Philadelphia Eagles (8th pick).

The Dallas Cowboys were also rumored as being interested in Elway.  It was rumored that the Cowboys offered the Colts their top selection in the 1983 draft (23rd overall), and a number of veteran players, possibly QB Danny White and DT Randy White.

Lastly, despite Elway’s request to play for a team on the west coast, the New England Patriots were supposedly highly interested in selecting Elway.  It was rumored that the Patriots would offer the Colts their first round selections in 1983, 1984, and 1985, as well as a veteran player or another top selection.

In the end, the Denver Broncos were truly the dark horse candidate to get John Elway, and made out the best.

In hindsight, the Chargers should have traded all three first round selections for Elway.  The Chargers did pick up three solid players with their picks; LB Billy Ray Smith, RB Gary Anderson, and DB Gill Byrd.  However, none of those players had Hall of Fame careers.

The Cowboys also should have offered a bit more for Elway.  Although, if they did, I’m sure the team wouldn’t have gone through the collapse they did in 1988 and 1989; which ultimately led to the birth of a dynasty.  Who knows if it was even nothing more than a remote possibility, but the Patriots also should have made more of an effort to get Elway.

Meanwhile, it’s debatable whether the Raiders made the right decision by not trading for Elway.  The Raiders would go on to win the Super Bowl in 1983.  Without Marcus Allen and/or Howie Long, that probably doesn’t happen.   However, I’m sure the Raiders would have loved to have had Elway at QB with some of their more talented teams in the early 1990’s.

Lastly, the Colts would have been better off taking trade offers from any of the rumored trades, before actually selecting Elway.  Once they selected Elway, and he refused to play for them, their bargaining power was reduced significantly.  In the end, the Colts picked up an unproductive QB in Mark Herrmann, a talented tackle, albeit not a Hall of Famer in Chris Hinton, and a first round selection in the 1984 draft (used on G Ron Solt).

 

1987 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trades

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed QB Vinny Testaverde to a contract weeks before they would actually be able to select him #1 in the 1987 NFL draft.  This gave the Buccaneers a few weeks to shop around highly talented QB Steve Young.  Eventually, the San Francisco 49ers would pick up Young for second and third round picks.  However, the Green Bay Packers and the St. Louis Cardinals had also been in trade talks with the 49ers for Young.

After the draft, Packers head coach Forrest Gregg stated the 49ers asking price for Steve Young was too steep.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals elected to choose a QB in the draft by selecting Kelly Stouffer.

Looking back, the Packers should have realized the asking price for Steve Young wasn’t too steep.  However, they came out of it rather unscathed, with a smart draft selection of Don Majkowski, and a smart trade for Brett Favre.  The Cardinals however didn’t get so lucky.  Stouffer never played a snap with the Cardinals, refusing to sign with them.

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Steve Young Trade

The San Francisco 49ers reportedly made a trade offer to the Los Angeles Raiders, in which they were going to trade the NFL’s top rated passer, Steve Young, for the Raiders first and second round selections, and WR Tim Brown.  49ers head coach George Seifert admitted the 49ers attempted to trade up in the draft, but didn’t get into the specifics on any trade offers they may have made.

The Raiders ended up picking defensive lineman Chester McGlockton with their first round pick, and the Raiders traded up in the second round to pick offensive lineman Greg Skrepenak.

Clearly, it looks like the 49ers benefited from this trade not occurring.  Steve Young continued to be one of the best QB’s in the NFL, and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl championship in 1994.

If the trade did go through, the 49ers would have had Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and most likely future Hall of Famer Tim Brown at the receiver’s positions.  Coincidentally, the two players would be paired together as Raiders during the 2001-2003 seasons.

 

1992 NFL Draft – Rumored Phil Simms Trades

What turned out to be a rumor with no legs, the New York Giants were reportedly interested in trading veteran QB Phil Simms, so they could move up in the 1992 NFL draft and select QB David Klinger.  The San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Raiders were supposedly interested in Simms.  The Giants denied the rumor.  Simms remained with the Giants for a few more years and eventually won the starting job back.   Jeff Hostetler, the Giants starting QB at the time, would end up with the Raiders one year later.

 

1993 NFL Draft – Rumored Joe Montana Trades

If you thought the sight of Joe Montana in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform was strange, imagine how he would have looked in an Arizona Cardinals uniform, or a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform.

The Buccaneers were the original front running team to get Joe Montana.  They had a surplus of draft picks, some youthful talent, and Montana worked with Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche when Wyche was an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers.  But Montana had no interest in going to a team that wasn’t a contender, and chose against being traded to the Buccaneers.

Despite Montana’s request to go to Kansas City, it looked as if Montana would end up in a Cardinals uniform because they were offering more compensation for him.  The Cardinals were offering the 49ers their first round selection in the draft (20th pick).  At that point in the trade negations, no other team had even offered the 49ers a draft selection in the second round.

The Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Raiders also expressed interest in trading for Montana, but their type of offensive styles didn’t appeal to Montana.

Eventually, the 49ers and Chiefs came to an agreement.  The 49ers sent Montana, safety David Whitmore and their third round selection in the 1994 draft.  In return, the 49ers received the Chiefs first round draft pick (18th overall).

You can’t really fault the Buccaneers or Cardinals for not getting Montana.  Montana wanted to go to the Chiefs, and when the Chiefs offered enough compensation, a deal was made.  The Buccaneers and Cardinals were merely curious bystanders.

 

1995 NFL Draft – Rumored Mark Brunell Trades

In 1995, Mark Brunell wasn’t a household name; however some NFL teams recognized his talents, and were willing to take a chance on him.  The team Brunell played for, the Green Bay Packers, already had a talented and young QB on their roster in Brett Favre.

The Philadelphia Eagles actually had a deal in principle made with the Packers for Brunell, under the stipulation that they would be able to sign Brunell to a long term contract.  Brunell and the Eagles never reached a contract agreement, and the Eagles agreement to send their second and fifth round selections to the Packers fell through.

The St. Louis Rams were also reported as a team interested in Brunell.  In the end, the Jacksonville Jaguars sent their third and fifth round picks to the Packers for Brunell.

If the Eagles had been able to sign Brunell, it would have changed the franchise.  Brunell came into his own during the 1996 playoffs; during a time when the Eagles were struggling to find a suitable QB to lead their talented roster.

 

2010 NFL Draft – Rumored Ben Roethlisberger Trades

Coming off another off-season embarrassment relating to their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger, it was rumored that the Pittsburgh Steelers were interested in trading him.

It was reported that the Steelers offered Roethlisberger to the St. Louis Rams as a way to attain the #1 pick in the draft.  However, the Rams had no interest in the trade, and selected QB Sam Bradford.

The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders were also mentioned as possible trading partners with the Steelers for Roethlisberger.  The Steelers confirmed they had spoken to the Raiders about Roethlisberger, but denied speaking to the Browns.

 

One final note: If there is a big name QB with trade rumors attached to his name, it appears that the Oakland Raiders will always be interested.  Every QB on this list, with the exception of Mark Brunell, was of interest to the Raiders.

 

Andrew McKillop runs the sports research blog SportsDelve.com.

Let’s Get It On

Alex Karras was an Iowa Hawkeye. He almost won the Heisman in 1957.  This is rare for a lineman.  Only one other lineman came in second in the voting.  That was John Hicks of Ohio State in 1973.  The year before, Karras helped lead the team to its first Rose Bowl.  They went 9-1 in the Big Ten.  But if you’d ask Alex, his biggest college win was the season finale in 1956 versus Notre Dame.  Iowa beat them 48-8.  The Karras clan grew up not far from Notre Dame and they hated them with a passion.  That 1956 Notre Dame team won only twice.  Nonetheless, all purpose back Paul Hornung was the Heisman winner.  1957 was also a year that Chevy pumped out a classic.  Ford may have outsold Chevy that year, but hot-rodders would later revere the Chevy.  And Jimmy Hoffa took over the Teamsters that year.  George Meany responded by kicking the International Brotherhood out of the AFL-CIO.  Robert F. Kennedy was out to get Hoffa after serving as lead counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management.

 

Vince Lombardi couldn’t get a head coaching job in the college ranks.  He felt administrators were prejudiced against an Italian like him.  So he became the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants.  The pros were having some fun of their own.  In 1958, the championship game went to sudden death for the first time and the Colts beat New York on Alan Ameche’s TD.  It has been called the Greatest Game.  What impact did it really have?  Well, Lamar Hunt wanted to own a sports team.  He couldn’t decide between baseball (in Branch Rickey’s proposed Continental League) or football.  He wound up starting his own league.

 

Jack Kemp was on the Giants taxi squad in 1958.  He was cut after the season then washed out of the Canadian Football League.  He was going to hang up his cleats, but Hunt’s AFL opened for business the next year and Kemp got another chance.  Rosey Grier did play in that game along with Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff, Charlie Connerly, and others.  And although New York lost the title game, the coordinators went on to head coaching jobs.  Tom Landry returned to his home state of Texas to take over the expansion Cowboys.  Lombardi went up to moribund Green Bay.

 

Ernie Barnes didn’t have the pedigree of such college stars as Hornung, Karras, or Cannon.  He was a fat, unathletic kid who liked art until a gym teacher inspired him to take up football.  He was good enough to get drafted by the Washington Redskins.  They repudiated the pick when they found out he was black.  The Redskins wouldn’t integrate until RFK forced them to.  Forget the morality of that policy for a moment.  Barnes played for a historically black college.  Prejudice is one thing.  Stupidity is another.  He would wind up on the Chargers along with Jack Kemp and the two would become friends.

 

Karras went on to the Detroit Lions and had a great career despite losing a year due to a suspension for gambling and only appearing in one playoff game.  He was a jack of all trades.  He tried his hand at the shot put, wrestling, and acting.

 

George Plimpton was Walter Mitty with a typewriter.  He practically invented participatory journalism.  Plimpton wrote Out of My League about facing an all-star baseball lineup.  In 1963, he went to the Detroit Lions training camp to play Jack Kemp’s role of last string quarterback.  The result was Paper Lion.  Karras was on that team, but he was suspended for gambling.  The previous preseason, Karras rode back to Detroit from a game in Cleveland in a party bus with gangster Anthony Giacalone. This led to an NFL investigation into player gambling that wound up in fines for his teammates who bet on the title game and suspensions for Karras and Paul Hornung.

 

Jimmy Hoffa was put away in 1964, thanks, in part to the testimony of Edward Grady Partin.  He was a baaad man.  Partin helped tamper with a jury that acquitted Hoffa.

 

After their glory days, the Giants fell on hard times and their players dispersed to other teams.  Sam Huff went to Washington.  Rosey Grier joined the Fearsome Foursome frontline in LA that included Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, and Deacon Jones.  Jones had a mean head slap, which, before the league outlawed it, befuddled opposing o linemen.  He also coined the term quarterback sack; like he was looting the defeated city of Johnny Unitas.  He also sang R & B with a band called Nightshift.  They would go on to become War and would sing about society and politics with a funky beat.

 

In 1968, LBJ declined to seek another term and the race for the Democrat nomination was wide open. RFK decided to run, but Sirhan Sirhan assassinated him after the California primary.  Rosey Grier was his bodyguard.  Grier, decathlete Rafer Johnson and George Plimpton wrestled Sirhan to the ground.  Plimpton was an old college chum of RFK.

 

One of Karras’ Lion teammates was Lem Barney.  Barney and Mel Farr befriended Motown star Marvin Gaye.  Gaye was depressed by the death of his duet partner Tammi Terrell and decided that he wanted to become a wide receiver.  No word on whether or not he was inspired by Plimpton.  He got Barney and Farr to help him work out and beef up.   The pair of Lions wound up singing backup on “What’s Going On.”  Gaye wanted to become more relevant and recorded that song against the wishes of studio head honcho Berry Gordy.

 

Meanwhile, Barnes’s football career ended quietly and he returned to painting.  His work was described as neo-Mannerist.  He had an exhibition called The Beauty of the Ghetto, which was hosted by Jack Kemp along with Ethel Kennedy.

 

Ben Davidson was the first mustachioed football player and this was years before the Oakland A’s became the Mustache Gang.  He did some acting.  He appeared in the football game at the end of the movie M*A*S*H.  CBS would adapt it to television after their rural purge of such comedies like Green Acres and The Andy Griffith Show.  They were looking for more seriocomic shows.  Gary Burghoff was the only actor from the movie cast who reprised his role in the TV show.  Alan Alda got the lead part as Hawkeye Pierce.  He broke through by playing the role of Plimpton in the movie adaptation of Paper Lion.

 

Besides, M*A*SH, CBS also added some shows by Norman Lear to their lineup.  Most notably, All in the Family looked at the blue collar Bunker family from Queens.  It spawned some spin-offs like The Jeffersons and MaudeMaude begat Good TimesGood Times introduced America to Jimmy Walker.  (I had a “Dyn-O-Mite” t-shirt as a lad.)  The show featured a painting by Ernie Barnes called “Sugar Shack.”  Marvin Gaye liked it so much that he’d go on to use it for the cover of his album I Want You.

 

Epilogue

Karras would appear in Blazing Saddles and later on in the sitcom Webster.

 

Jimmy Hoffa was last seen in 1975.  Word is that Anthony Giacalone killed him.  There used to be whispers that his body was in the end zone of Giants Stadium.

 

Edward Grady Partin died in 1990.  One of his honorary pallbearers was Billy Cannon.  Cannon was the 1959 Heisman winner and would later go to federal prison for counterfeiting.