A lot of the players on the Browns' 1965 team said they thought it was better than the '64 squad when they met in 2004 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the latter club winning the NFL championship.
Indeed, the two teams are close - very close - when they're compared. It's just about a dead heat, in fact.
But the one main difference is that the 1964 squad won the league title. It did not fall short of its ultimate goal, unlike the '65 club, which lost to Green Bay 23-12 in the championship game.
Another difference between the two teams is that the 1964 club had some magic about it, whereas the one in '65 did not. And when you're splitting hairs between clubs, that counts for something. It really does.
It's evidenced in the fact that the 1964 team, except for one time (a 28-19 road loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the next-to-last game that could have clinched the Eastern Conference crown), won the contests it had to win. And the Browns exorcised some demons in doing so.
They swept the season series from the arch rival New York Giants, the team that split with them the year before en route to edging out Cleveland by a game to win the Eastern crown. And both of the victories were convincing - 42-20 at Cleveland and 52-20 at New York in the regular-season finale to enable the Browns to earn the conference title. Those were just the fourth and fifth wins by the Browns over the Giants in 15 games dating all the way back to 1957.
The Browns put a 37-21 pasting on the Detroit Lions, whose 38-10 upset win in the next-to-last game of the 1963 season all but ruined Cleveland's chances of capturing the conference championship. It also represented the first regular-season triumph - and just the second victory of any kind - by the Browns over the Lions in 10 games dating to 1952.
Though the Pittsburgh Steelers were bad at the time, the Browns' 30-17 victory over them was significant as well. That because the Steelers had stunned the Browns 23-7 at Cleveland just three weeks before, with Pittsburgh's John Henry Johnson rushing for 200 yards, the most ever by an opponent against the Browns at the time.
Then, to cap off that memorable 1964 season, there was the 27-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts in the NFL title game. The Colts, after a 12-2 regular-season mark (much better than the Browns' 10-3-1 record), were double-digit favorites in the game and were stacked with players who would go on to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Plus they had throttled the Browns 36-14 at Cleveland two years earlier in the teams' last meeting. Many of the players from that game were still with their respective teams.
With all that stacked against them, then, nobody thought the Browns could win -- nobody, that is, except the Browns themselves.
Not only did the Browns triumph, they did so with an exclamation point on the end, totally dominating the game after a scoreless first half.
The Browns, who scored 415 points in the regular season, or an average of 26 per game, had an explosive, balanced offense. They could beat teams with the run - Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown was his usual super self, rushing for 1,446 yards and seven touchdowns, while Ernie Green added seven rushing scores. And they could beat teams with the pass - quarterback Frank Ryan threw for 25 TDs with 19 interceptions, rookie Paul Warfield had 52 catches and nine TDs, fellow wide receiver Gary Collins had eight scores among his 35 grabs, and Brown and Green combined for 61 receptions and six TDs.
The defense gave up some yards and points on the year, but it had ability and it made plays when it had to, as evidenced by the way it completely shut down - and shut out - the mighty Colts. In fact, even though Ryan's three TD passes to Collins stole the headlines, the biggest single play of the day was actually turned in by a defensive player, Galen Fiss.
With all of his teammates on the other side of the field after being completely fooled by a screen pass from Johnny Unitas to fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer Lenny Moore in the first half, the outside linebacker knifed his way through several blockers to make the tackle. Otherwise, Moore would have easily sped for a 77-yard score, breaking the scoreless tie and possibly jump-starting Baltimore's high-powered offense.
As it was, that's the closest the Colts came to a TD all day. Unitas, Moore, Hall of Fame wide receiver Raymond Berry and the rest never got untracked.
So while the 1965 Browns team, in terms of talent, might have been better, the one in '64 had the better finish and earned its place in NFL history.
And that's what counts.
|9/13||W 27-13||at Washington Redskins||47,577|
|9/20||T 33-33||St. Louis Cardinals||76,954|
|9/27||W 28-20||at Philadelphia Eagles||60,671|
|10/4||W 27-6||Dallas Cowboys||72,062|
|10/10||L 7-23||Pittsburgh Steelers||80,530|
|10/18||W 20-16||at Dallas Cowboys||37,456|
|10/25||W 42-20||New York Giants||81,050|
|11/1||W 30-17||at Pittsburgh Steelers||49,568|
|11/8||W 34-24||Washington Redskins||76,385|
|11/15||W 37-21||Detroit Lions||83,064|
|11/22||L 21-28||at Green Bay Packers||48,065|
|11/29||W 38-24||Philadelphia Eagles||79,289|
|12/6||L 19-28||at St. Louis Cardinals||31,585|
|12/12||W 52-20||at New York Giants||63,007|
|12/27||W 27-0||Baltimore Colts||79,544|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||255||275|
|Total Net Yards||4,486||4,722|
|Avg. Per Game||320.4||337.3|
|Avg. Per Play||5.6||5.3|
|Net Yards Rushing||2,163||2,012|
|Avg. Per Game||154.5||143.7|
|Net Yards Passing||2,323||2,710|
|Avg. Per Game||165.9||193.6|
|Net Punting Avg.||49/38.1||57/34.4|