Today In Sports History: The Cleveland Browns Are NFL Champions

By Michael Vesci
Dec. 27, 2018

That is right, the year was 1964 and the Cleveland Browns were not the laughingstock of the league as the team beat the Baltimore Colts by a final score of 27-0 to win the NFL Championship on this day in sports history. This would be the last time Cleveland saw an NFL Championship come to their city. But fear not, the Browns have made it back to the playoffs 15 times since their championship in 1964, although none of them have yielded a Super Bowl appearance, making Cleveland one of four teams to never make it to the big game. In the years since their championship, the Browns have produced a winning record in 19 of their last 50 years and have a chance to make it 20 in their last 51 with a win this Sunday. But this is not about the unfortunate history of the Browns (even though the team is showing signs of being on the upswing), this is about their accomplishment during the 1964 season.

After finishing off a regular season in they finished 10-3-1, Cleveland earned themselves a spot in the NFL Championship since they finished half a game up on the St. Louis Cardinals. In the other conference, the Baltimore Colts finished with an astounding record of 12-2 to earn a date with the Browns on that December 27th day. The game pitted quarterback Johnny Unitas from Baltimore and Frank Ryan from Cleveland which saw the Colts as a seven-point favorite heading into the matchup. With light snow falling from the sky in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, both teams struggled to gain any momentum and work their way into opponent territory in the early going. That was until the Colts had a chance to put some points on the board early in the second quarter, but the 27-yard field goal attempt by Lou Michaels never happened after holder Bob Boyd was forced to reach for the ball and was tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Baltimore had another shot later on in the second, but Unitas was picked off on a deflected pass by Vince Costello and the game went into halftime tied at zero.

But then the Cleveland Browns came out in the second half and began to dominate the Colts. It all started after Baltimore was forced to punt and difficult winds made it harder to kick the ball deep, giving Cleveland good field position to start their drive. Although the Colts were able to slow Frank Ryan and the offense, kicker Lou Groza connected on a 43-yard field goal attempt to put the Browns up 3-0 in the third quarter. But this was only the start for Cleveland as they forced another Baltimore punt and began to march down the field again. It was led by fullback Jim Brown who rushed the ball down the sideline and deep into Colts' territory. Next, it was Frank Ryan who hit Gary Collins with an 18-yard touchdown pass to put the Browns in front 10-0 now.

Yet again, the Cleveland defense backed up Baltimore deep in their own territory and forced another punt. Two plays later, the Browns were back in the end zone as Ryan connected with Collins again for a 42-yard touchdown pass to give Cleveland a 17-0 lead and heading into the fourth quarter the Browns had the ball back after a fumble by halfback Lenny Moore. Ryan marched his team down the field to the Colts' one-yard line before Baltimore's defense stood tall and forced Groza to kick a 10-yard field goal. Another Colts punt put the Browns in position to add more points to the scoreboard and they would do just that. For the third time that day, Ryan hit Collins for another touchdown pass and this time it a 51-yard strike to give Cleveland the 27-point advantage. That would be all she wrote as the Cleveland Browns were NFL Champions with a 27-0 victory over Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts.

At the end of the day, Johnny Unitas finished 12-for-20 with 95 passing yards and two interceptions, he also rushed for 30 yards on six carries as well. His opposition, Frank Ryan, finished 11-for-18 with 206 passing yards, three touchdown passes, and one interception. The lead rusher for the day was Jim Brown who carried the ball 27 times for 114 rushing yards and tacked on another three receptions for 37 receiving yards. But without a doubt, the man of the day was wide receiver Gary Collins who hauled in five receptions for 130 receiving yards and three touchdown grabs. Browns fans could rejoice as their team was on top of the NFL world and while they have not been there since then, perhaps the arrival of Baker Mayfield will change things in coming years.

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