One of the key events that led to the Browns winning the 1964 NFL championship occurred Oct. 28, 1962 in a 41-14 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers before 35,417 at Pitt Stadium.
With his team ahead, 7-0, on a 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Vince Costello of Magnolia (Ohio) High School and Ohio University, Browns quarterback Jim Ninowski suffered a season-ending separated shoulder when he was sacked by 6-foot-6, 284-pound tackle Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb on the third play of the second quarter.
Though he was just one of seven passing for 16 yards that day before getting hurt, Ninowski was having what would turn out to be probably his best season in the NFL. He had completed just over half of his passing attempts, going 87-of-173 (50.3 percent) for 1,178 yards and seven touchdowns with eight interceptions.
With Ninowski out, Brown went to Frank Ryan, who had arrived in an offseason trade with the Los Angeles Rams. Ryan ended up having the best year of his career to that point as he finished 1962 with the Browns, completing 112-of-194 passes (57.7) for 1,541 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions. It marked the second year in a row in which he had led the NFL in fewest interceptions. He also had seven in 1961, but with just five scoring passes.
Blanton Collier, who had been an assistant under Brown on the first eight Browns teams from 1946-53 before leaving to become coach at Kentucky, returned to Cleveland and rejoined the staff in 1962. After the season, Brown was dismissed and Collier was promoted to coach.
And while to the naked eye, there didn’t seem to be a tremendous amount of difference between Ryan and Ninowski, especially when what they did in 1962 was factored into the equation, Collier had other ideas. He had a keen eye for talent and as such he was able to develop a pecking order between the quarterbacks after having watched them each serve as the starter for essentially half a season.
Collier picked Ryan as his full-time starter in 1963, and he proceeded to set a club record with 25 TD passes. The following year, Ryan threw for 25 scores again and then added three more in the league title game -- all to wide receiver Gary Collins in the second half -- in the memorable, 27-0 upset of the Baltimore Colts.
So it all worked out very well for Ryan, Collier and, of course, the Browns.
Ryan gave evidence that day in Pittsburgh of what was to come. Using the remainder of the second quarter to get into the flow of things -- the Browns still led, 7-0, at halftime -- he got going in the second half, throwing two touchdown passes as Cleveland outscored the Steelers, 34-7, to build a commanding, 41-7 fourth-quarter lead.
Ryan finished 11-of-18 passing for 144 yards and the two TDs with a pair of interceptions, helping the Browns amass a 354-205 edge in total yards.
This Day in Browns History is presented by Cleveland Clinic.