Although no one knew it at the time, the 1962 season would be Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Paul Brown's last with the team named for him, the Browns.
Or at least if they knew it, they didn't express so publicly.
Brown was unceremoniously fired in the ensuing offseason after irreconcilable differences with new young team owner Art Modell, who had purchased the club in March 1961.
Firing Paul Brown? Might as well take a wrecking ball to the Terminal Tower, while you're at it, or pave over the area making up Edgewater Park.
Brown wasn't just a football coach. He was much bigger than that. He was, like the Terminal Tower and Edgewater Park, part of the fabric of the community -- a landmark, as it were. When people thought of Cleveland and football, they thought first of Brown, not the Browns.
He really was bigger than the team itself.
Sadly, Browns' final season couldn't be more successful. The Browns finished just 7-6-1, the second-worst record of his 17 years with the club -- the first 17 years of the club's existence.
The fact the Browns did not do better lies largely in the quarterback position. Milt Plum, who had been 30-16-2 in four seasons since he took over as the starter in 1958, got into a squabble with Brown over play calling -- Plum wanted to call his own plays, and Brown was not about to turn that duty over to anyone -- and was dealt to the Detroit Lions following the 1961 season.
Efficient and accurate, just the kind of quarterback Brown liked, Plum had won the NFL passing title in 1960 with a club-record 110.4 quarterback rating.
He was replaced by Jim Ninowski, who had come in the deal with the Lions after originally starting his career in Cleveland, and Frank Ryan, who was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams.
Ryan would blossom the following year upon being named the full-time starter, and eventually lead the Browns to the NFL title in 1964, while Ninowski would prove to be a capable backup to him.
But in 1962, Brown couldn't decide on a starter and instead used them both almost equally -- with mixed results. They had 17 TD passes and 15 interceptions, and the offense was sporadic.
The lack of a downfield passing game can be found in the fact Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown led the club in receptions for the first - and only - time in his nine-year career. He had 47, good for five touchdowns, also best on the team.
The Browns beat up twice on both the Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Cardinals, winning those four games by a combined score of 148-49, but the offense scored 17 or fewer points in eight of the other 10 contests. A humbling 45-21 loss to the second-year Dallas Cowboys didn't help matters, either.
On the other hand, the Browns split with the New York Giants, who would go on to win the second of their three straight Eastern Conference championships. The Cleveland victory was a 17-7 decision at home in the opener, providing a lot of hope that this was going to be the Browns' year.
As evidenced by their final record, it was an up-and-down season for the Browns. They never won - or lost - more than two games in a row. One of those two-game losing streaks followed that win over the Giants in the opener.
And just when it seemed the Browns might make a late-season run at the Giants after winning two in a row to improve to 6-4-1, they promptly lost two straight to the Cowboys and New York (17-13).
But what doesn't show up in the standings is how much the Browns suffered from the effects of a trade they had made earlier that year. They dealt running back Bobby Mitchell to the Washington Redskins to get rookie runner Ernie Davis, the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner. Paul Brown's idea was to have two big backs with Davis and Jim Brown, ala the Green Bay Packers with Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.
But Davis, who had broken most of Jim Brown's rushing records at Syracuse, became ill with leukemia and never played a down with the Browns, passing away the following year.
Meanwhile, Mitchell, who had proven to be a budding star in Cleveland, went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Redskins. In fact, he scored the game-winning TD late in the fourth quarter in week 2 in his first trip back to Cleveland.
Instead of winning 16-10 and, with the opening win over the Giants, getting off to a fast 2-0 start, they were left at 1-1 wondering what might have been.
It was that kind of season for the Browns.
Looking back, it seems only fitting that Paul Brown's last game as coach of the Browns was a 13-10 win at San Francisco in the 1962 regular-season finale, for it was the 49ers who were the chief rivals of Brown's clubs right from the start in 1946 in the fledging All-America Football Conference.
|9/16||W 17-7||New York Giants||81,115|
|9/23||L 16-17||Washington Redskins||57,491|
|9/30||L 7-35||at Philadelphia Eagles||60,671|
|10/7||W 19-10||Dallas Cowboys||44,040|
|10/14||L 14-36||Baltimore Colts||80,132|
|10/21||W 34-7||at St. Louis Cardinals||23,256|
|10/28||W 41-14||at Pittsburgh Steelers||35,417|
|11/4||T 14-14||Philadelphia Eagles||63,848|
|11/11||L 9-7||at Washington Redskins||48,169|
|11/18||W 38-14||St. Louis Cardinals||41,815|
|11/25||W 35-14||Pittsburgh Steelers||53,601|
|12/2||L 21-45||at Dallas Cowboys||24,226|
|12/9||L 13-17||at New York Giants||62,794|
|12/15||W 13-10||at San Francisco 49ers||35,274|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||252||263|
|Total Net Yards||4,306||3,924|
|Avg. Per Game||307.6||280.3|
|Avg. Per Play||5.5||4.9|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,772||1,940|
|Avg. Per Game||126.6||138.6|
|Net Yards Passing||2,534||1,984|
|Avg. Per Game||181||141.7|
|Net Punting Avg.||45/40.1||56/38.6|
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