When they returned to Cleveland in 2004 for the 40th anniversary celebration of their NFL title, members of the 1964 Browns said something surprising.
They pointed out they thought their 1965 team was even better than the one in '64.
That's a debatable point, obviously, but one thing is for sure: There's considerable evidence to substantiate the players' claim.
With an NFL-best 11-3 mark, the 1965 club finished just a shade better than the '64 team (10-3-1). And, like they had in 1964, the Browns went back to the NFL Championship Game. Only this time, they lost 23-12 to the Green Bay Packers in the last title contest held before the advent of the Super Bowl.
It would be the first of three straight NFL crowns for the Packers, who went on after the later two titles to capture victories in the first two Super Bowls as well.
With his partner at wide receiver, Paul Warfield, the 1964 rookie sensation, missing almost all of the season with a broken collarbone, Gary Collins stepped up and led the Browns with 10 touchdown receptions, just less than half of the team's total of 23.
Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, in what would turn out to be his final year before his unexpected retirement in the offseason, rushed for 1,544 yards, 98 more than the year before, and exceeded his TD total by 10 by scoring 17 times.
The Browns had a stretch in which they won nine of 10 games, something the 1964 team didn't come close to matching. And whereas the 1964 team needed to capture its regular-season finale to clinch the Eastern Conference title, the '65 Browns claimed the championship with several weeks left, which explains why they were clobbered 42-7 in the next-to-last game by a Los Angeles Rams team that finished last in the Western Conference at 4-10. The Browns rested a lot of their starters and were just trying to get out of that game with no injuries. They went through the motions.
Thus, the Browns could have very easily been 12-2. However, there was no such explanation for the Browns' only other one-sided loss, a 49-13 home decision to the St. Louis Cardinals. Although the Cards finished tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for next-to-last place in the East at 5-9, they were arguably the Browns' fiercest rival throughout the entire 1960s.
Other than those two games, though, the Browns just kept piling up the wins. They were challenged at times, winning six games by eight points or less.
Maybe the most satisfying victory was a 27-24 decision at St. Louis in the regular-season finale. Although it didn't really mean anything in the standings, it did allow the Browns to extract a bit of revenge for the 36-point the loss Cards had handed them.
Quarterback Frank Ryan, who had thrown 25 TD passes in both 1963 and '64, had just 18 in 1965 with 13 interceptions. His yardage was down considerably, too, to 1,751, as was his rating (75.3).
An interesting side note from the 1965 season occurred during the 27-17 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the only blemish in that aforementioned nine-victories-in-10-games stretch. Parts of the movie, "The Fortune Cookie," starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, were shot during that game.
The Browns' fortunes, though better in many respects than in 1964, still didn't net them a league title.
|9/19||W 17-7||at Washington Redskins||48,208|
|9/26||L 13-49||St. Louis Cardinals||80,161|
|10/3||W 35-17||at Philadelphia Eagles||60,759|
|10/9||W 24-19||Pittsburgh Steelers||80,187|
|10/17||W 23-17||Dallas Cowboys||80,432|
|10/24||W 38-14||at New York Giants||62,864|
|10/31||L 17-27||Minnesota Vikings||83,505|
|11/7||W 38-34||Philadelphia Eagles||72,807|
|11/14||W 34-21||New York Giants||82,426|
|11/21||W 24-17||at Dallas Cowboys||76,251|
|11/28||W 42-21||at Pittsburgh Steelers||42,757|
|12/5||W 24-16||Washington Redskins||77,765|
|12/12||L 7-42||at Los Angeles Rams||49,048|
|12/19||W 27-24||at St. Louis Cardinals||29,348|
|1/2||L 12-23||at Green Bay Packers||50,852|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||257||265|
|Total Net Yards||4,398||4,712|
|Avg. Per Game||314.1||336.6|
|Avg. Per Play||5.3||5.4|
|Net Yards Rushing||2,331||1,866|
|Avg. Per Game||166.5||133.3|
|Net Yards Passing||2,067||2,846|
|Avg. Per Game||147.6||203.3|
|Net Punting Avg.||69/41.9||69/34.9|