Though it was televised nationally and shown in Cleveland, most Browns fans probably didn’t see it. They were already fast asleep.
But the ones who were able to stay awake 49 years ago tonight, on Aug. 15, 1964, to watch a preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams that didn’t begin until 11:15 p.m. local time, were glad they did. They got a preview of things to come for both that memorable Browns season and also a soon-to-be star.
Rookie wide receiver Paul Warfield caught three touchdown passes in his first pro game to lead a supercharged Browns offense in a 56-31 preseason victory at the Coliseum. It’s still the most points the Browns have ever scored in a preseason game.
Warfield, the Browns’ first-round pick in the 1964 NFL Draft, had missed the team’s 26-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers the week before in the preseason opener because of his participation in the College All-Star Game against the defending league champion Chicago Bears. But the product of Warren (Ohio) Harding High School and Ohio State, and now a Pro Football Hall of Famer, made his presence felt against the Rams by catching scoring passes of 27, 11 and eight yards.
It was described by Browns beat writer Chuck Heaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer as “as sparkling a pro debut as the National Football League has seen in many a year.”
Warfield’s running mate at wide receiver, Gary Collins, caught touchdown passes of 27 and 17 yards.
Quarterback Frank Ryan completed 13 of 18 passes for 267 yards and four scores in just one half. With nothing left to prove, he was lifted from the game at halftime with the Browns comfortably ahead 35-3.
Back-up Jim Ninowski came on and threw two touchdown passes, including a 91-yarder to wide receiver Clifton “Sticks’ McNeil.
The game against the Rams -- and the following two preseason contests, 42-7 and 35-14 wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions, respectively -- provided a glimpse of just how strong offensively the 1964 Browns would be during the regular season. They scored 415 points, still a team record, en route to winning the NFL championship. That’s despite the fact they played just a 14-game schedule.
The Browns, who averaged 29.6 points per game, routed the arch rival New York Giants twice, 52-20 and 42-20, blew past the Philadelphia Eagles 38-24 and defeated the Lions 37-21.
Then in the league title game, they took apart the NFL’s stingiest defense during the regular season in a 27-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts.
Collins grabbed three touchdown passes from Ryan to lead that victory. He finished the regular season with eight scoring receptions, second-best on the team to Warfield, who had nine along with a club-high 52 catches overall.
Ryan led the NFL with 25 touchdown passes.
The passing game, along with the running of Jim Brown and Ernie Green, made the 1964 Browns offense tough to stop, a fact that was evident that late night in Los Angeles.
This Day in Browns History is sponsored by Cleveland Clinic.