No championship was won, and there was not a fantastic finish.
Yet the Browns’ game against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 24, 1963 at Cleveland Stadium was one of the most memorable in team history.
As it turned out, the least significant part of the game is that the Browns won, 27-17, improving their record to 8-3 and putting them into a first-place tie in the Eastern Conference with St. Louis and New York after the Cardinals topped the Giants, 24-17.
Normally, that would have been the headline in Cleveland, but not on this day. There were much larger forces at work.
The nation was going through one of its most historic and saddest periods as people mourned the death of President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated in Dallas just two days before. As the game was being played, 300,000 people watched as the president’s flag-draped casket was taken on a horse-drawn caisson from the White House to the Capitol Rotunda to lie in state. His funeral was slated for the next day.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle made the tough decision to go forward with the weekend’s games as scheduled. The AFL did the same. Rozelle would later say it was one of the biggest regrets of his career.
The crowd of 55,096 at the home finale was eerily quiet and subdued. Cheering for any play of significance by the Browns -- even their three touchdowns -- was at a minimum.
It was as if the fans didn’t know how to act, or if they should even be there. Their uncertainty was understandable, for no one had ever experienced football and a national tragedy trying to co-exist.
The fact the Browns were playing the team from the city where Kennedy had been shot only served to add to the bewildering aspect to the day.
For the record, the Browns took the opening kickoff and marched 73 yards in nine plays for a touchdown on Frank Ryan’s 11-yard pass to wide receiver Gary Collins.
After one-time Brown Sam Baker kicked a 20-yard field goal for the Cowboys, Lou Groza hit a 24-yarder to make it 10-3 after one quarter.
The Browns led, 13-10, at halftime on Groza’s 10-yard field goal and a 20-yard scoring run by Amos Marsh.
There was no more scoring until the fourth quarter, when the Browns got two touchdowns on safety Ross Fichtner’s 36-yard interception return and Ryan’s 16-yard pass to Collins, to make it 27-10, thus sealing the deal.
That was Collins’ 10th touchdown reception of the year, breaking Dante Lavelli’s team record.
This Day in Browns History is presented by Cleveland Clinic.