Blanton Collier was a quiet, friendly man who showed little emotion. But his stomach had to be churning like a washing machine as the 1963 season got underway.
A former assistant with the Browns two different times, he had the daunting task of taking over as head coach and replacing a living legend in Paul Brown. Brown, the only coach the Browns had ever had since their inception in 1946 and the man for whom the team is named, was shockingly fired after the 1962 season.
Forget the fact the Browns had finished a disappointing 7-6-1 -- Brown's second-worst record in 17 seasons -- in 1962. Forget the fact the Browns failed to make the playoffs in Brown's last five seasons as coach, and that they hadn't won the NFL championship in his final seven years.
The only thing that mattered -- the only thing people remembered then, and remember now -- is that Brown had guided the Browns to the league championship game in each of their first 10 seasons of existence, through 1955. And they had won the title seven times.
Before that, he had taken Ohio State to the 1942 national championship, and made Massillon (Ohio) High School a national prep power in the 1930s.
Plus there were the many innovations Brown brought to the game.
Added together, that cast a long shadow onto Collier, but he had a plan to escape it -- at least as much as he could -- and take advantage of this great professional opportunity.
The team responded in overwhelmingly positive fashion, as the club improved to 10-4 and finished in second place in the Eastern Conference, a game behind the arch rival New York Giants (11-3). As such, the 1963 Browns became the first and only team in club history to win 10 games and not make the playoffs.
The surge began immediately, as the Browns won their opening six games for the first time since 1953. Included in that was a 35-23 decision over the Giants, who went on to capture the East for the third straight season.
They scored points in bunches during that opening stretch, averaging 34.2 points per contest.
Defensively, the Browns had limited two of those six foes to single-digits scoring, and had three games in which they had held opponents to 14 or fewer points.
Then the Browns hit a major snag. They went 1-3 over the next month, getting drubbed 33-6 by the Giants in the return march at Cleveland, being upset 9-7 by the Pittsburgh Steelers and falling 20-14 to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Browns snapped out of it with wins over the Dallas Cowboys (27-17) and Cardinals (24-10), but then an old nemesis, the Detroit Lions, stepped in to spoil the fun for good. They clobbered the Browns 38-10, effectively eliminating Cleveland from the race.
The Browns closed out the year by defeating the Washington Redskins to record their most wins since 1953.
A 40-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the Playoff Bowl, in a battle of conference runnerup teams, was nothing more than a footnote to the vast improvement the Browns made in 1963.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown set an NFL rushing record with 1,863 yards and added 12 touchdowns. A total of 13 of Gary Collins' team-leading 43 receptions went for scores.
But the real key to the offense - and really, the team overall - was the insertion of Frank Ryan at quarterback full-time. It was a brilliant move by Collier. After sharing the duties with Jim Ninowski in 1962 following his arrival from the Los Angeles Rams in a trade that offseason, Ryan really blossomed in '63. He had 25 TD passes and just 13 interceptions for a 90.6 quarterback rating.
Middle linebacker Vince Costello, who grew up in Magnolia, Ohio, just south of Canton, and safety Larry Benz paced the club in interceptions with seven each.
The Browns headed into the offseason convinced all their accomplishments in 1963 would lead to even bigger and better things in '64. They had no idea how much bigger and better it would turn out to be until they won the 1964 league championship.
There was some sadness to that 1963 season, though, as the club was still mourning the deaths of three players during the offseason.
Sixth-round draft choice Tom Bloom, a running back from Purdue, died in a car accident; veteran safety Don Fleming, from tiny Shadyside, Ohio along the Ohio River, was electrocuted while working construction in Florida; and running back Ernie Davis, who had broken all of Jim Brown's records at Syracuse en route to becoming the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, passed away of leukemia.
The Browns had traded HOF running back Bobby Mitchell to the Redskins following the 1961 season to get the rights to Davis.
|9/15||W 37-14||Washington Redskins||57,618|
|9/22||W 41-24||at Dallas Cowboys||28,710|
|9/29||W 20-6||Los Angeles Rams||54,713|
|10/5||W 35-23||Pittsburgh Steelers||84,684|
|10/13||W 35-24||at New York Giants||62,956|
|10/20||W 37-7||Philadelphia Eagles||75,174|
|10/27||L 12206||New York Giants||84,213|
|11/3||W 23-17||at Philadelphia Eagles||60,671|
|11/10||L 7-9||at Pittsburgh Steelers||54,497|
|11/17||L 14-20||St. Louis Cardinals||75,932|
|11/24||W 27-17||Dallas Cowboys||55,096|
|12/1||W 24-10||at St. Louis Cardinals||32,531|
|12/8||L 10-38||at Detroit Lions||51,382|
|12/15||W 27-20||at Washington Redskins||40,865|
|1/5||L 23-40||Green Bay Packers (at Miami)||54,921|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||252||242|
|Total Net Yards||4,856||4,126|
|Avg. Per Game||346.9||294.7|
|Avg. Per Play||6||4.8|
|Net Yards Rushing||2,639||1,651|
|Avg. Per Game||188.5||117.9|
|Net Yards Passing||2,217||2,475|
|Avg. Per Game||158.4||176.8|
|Net Punting Avg.||54/36.0||57/38.7|
Thomas recently went to his 10th straight Pro Bowl
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Central Florida product has been in Cleveland since 2014
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