When the Browns rolled past the New York Giants, 52-20, on Dec. 12, 1964 in a nationally televised Saturday afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, they did more than simply clinch their first Eastern Conference title since 1957.
They also ended years of frustration, chasing away a lot of demons with the victory in the next-to-last game of the year.
In each of the previous six seasons, whenever the Browns were on the cusp of doing something special, there stood the rival Giants in their way.
And every time, New York had successfully blocked their path.
In 1958, when the Browns needed only a victory over the Giants at New York in the regular-season to capture their second straight Eastern Conference title, the Giants won, 13-10, to force a first-place tie and then beat Cleveland in a special playoff a week later to advance to the NFL Championship Game.
In 1959, when the Browns needed a victory at Yankee Stadium in the next-to-last game to remain in contention with New York, the Giants prevailed, 48-7, dealing Paul Brown the worst regular-season loss of the NFL portion of his Browns coaching career.
In 1960, when the Browns finished 8-3-1 and 1½ games behind champion Philadelphia in the East, they could look back to a 17-13 mid-season loss to the Giants at Cleveland, when they failed to hold a three-point second-half lead, as one of the reasons they failed to close that small gap on the Eagles.
In 1961, when the Browns needed a late-season win over the Giants at Cleveland to remain in the conference race, New York cruised to a 37-21 victory, sealing the Browns’ fate and doing much to propel itself to the Eastern crown.
In 1962, when the Browns were out of the race in what turned out to be Brown’s last year as coach and merely wanted to assure themselves of a winning record when they met the Giants at Yankee Stadium in the next-to-last game, New York won, 17-13, dropping the Browns to 6-6-1 and forcing them to win the next week at San Francisco – which they did -- to finish above .500.
In 1963, when the Browns raced out to a 6-0 start under new coach Blanton Collier, including a 35-23 win at New York, it was the Giants who burst the bubble, roaring to a 33-6 triumph at Yankee Stadium en route to finishing 11-3 and in first place in the conference, one game ahead of Cleveland (10-4).
Midway through the 1964 season, the Browns had forced the Giants into six turnovers and routed them, 42-20, at Cleveland, scoring 28 fourth-quarter points to break open the game. The Browns beat the Giants in every way, scoring one touchdown defensively and two on special teams.
As impressive as all that was – it was the Browns’ most lopsided win over the Giants since a 62-14 shellacking in 1953 – it still wasn’t enough.
The Browns needed to do even better than that – and to do it at Yankee Stadium, where, no matter the situation or how good or bad the Giants were, they always managed to dig in their heels and become just that much tougher to beat. Sure, the Giants were having all kinds of problems, as they were en route to a last-place finish of 2-10-2, but if they could derail the Browns – or at least postpone their conference title celebration – then their season wouldn’t be a total loss.
For if the Browns were defeated, then they would have to go to St. Louis the next week and face a Cardinals team that had tied them 33-33 at Cleveland in Week 2. The Cards were en route to finishing 9-3-2 and just a half-game behind the Browns (10-3-1) in the East, so Collier’s club didn’t want to have to try to do that.
It was all right there for the Browns to grab, and they took care of business – in a big way.
After falling behind, 7-3, briefly at the start of the second quarter, they came back to lead 24-7 at halftime and then 45-7 after three quarters, recording their most lopsided victory ever over the Giants at New York, and their most one-sided triumph overall since 1960.
Quarterback Frank Ryan was the catalyst, setting a team record – that has since been tied by four other players – by throwing five touchdown passes, and running for another score on a 13-yarder. He was near-perfect with his passing, going 12-of-13 overall for 202 yards with no interceptions. In fact, if quarterback rating is the measuring stick, then Ryan really was officially perfect with a 158.33 mark. He would share the team record with Otto Graham and Brian Sipe in that regard, but a player has to have a minimum of 15 attempts to be considered.
This was no mirage, as Ryan was on his way to throwing 25 TD passes for the second straight season and leading the league in such for the first time. He topped the NFL two years later with a then team-record 29 TD passes.
And, of course, 15 days after he dissected the Giants, Ryan would do so to the mighty Baltimore Colts in the NFL Championship Game, turning in his most memorable performance by throwing for three TDs in helping lead a stunning 27-0 win.
Two of the scoring passes against the Giants went to running back Ernie Green (one yard and 25 yards), and one each to his backfield mate, Jim Brown (eight yards), and wide receivers Gary Collins (11) and Paul Warfield (eight). Warfield, the team’s first-round pick in the 1964 NFL Draft out of Warren (Ohio) Harding High School and Ohio State, had five receptions for 103 yards overall.
The Browns passed for six TDs in all, setting a team record (since tied), as back-up Jim Ninowski got into the act, throwing a 27-yarder to the tiniest player on the team, 5-foot-10, 165-pound Walter “The Flea” Roberts, in the fourth quarter to close the team’s scoring.
The Browns were so scintillating with the passing attack that virtually no attention was given to the fact that the great Jim Brown, seemingly always the focus of these historic battles with the defensive-minded Giants, had a fine day, rushing for 99 yards in 20 attempts and averaging nearly five yards per try.
It would be the same thing two weeks later when Brown rolled for 114 yards but was overshadowed by Ryan and Collins, who combined on all three TD passes against the Colts.But Brown didn’t care either time. He was anxious to fill in the one gap on his Pro Football Hall of Fame resume by winning an NFL title, and beating the Giants at Yankee Stadium helped him to do that.