In two tries against Colts, Browns beat the odds once 1964 team shut down high-powered Baltimore

Title games

November 10, 1995|By Drake Witham | Drake Witham,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The odds are against Cleveland in its latest football battle with Baltimore, but that's nothing new. Twice in the 1960s, the Baltimore Colts were heavily favored when they traveled to Municipal Stadium to play the Browns for the NFL title.

It was two days after Christmas in 1964 when the Colts, loaded with Hall of Famers, took the field. Second-year coach Don Shula, with John Unitas at quarterback, Lenny Moore at halfback and Raymond Berry at wide receiver, had guided the Colts to a 12-2 record. The defense was every bit as good.

"We'd been reading all week about how Baltimore was going to lick us," said kicker Lou Groza.

"We weren't given a ghost of a chance," said Paul Warfield, a Cleveland rookie in 1964. "But the game turned out to be everything we hoped it would be."

Warfield points to one play that turned the game in Cleveland's favor. Facing a third down in the first quarter, Unitas threw a swing pass to Moore, who was met by linebacker Galen Fiss.

"Fiss single-handedly knocked him off his feet. That inspired our defense," Warfield said. "It was the type of play that ignites a team."

With 79,544 fans jammed into Municipal Stadium on a bitterly cold day, ignition was all the Browns needed. Both offenses sputtered in the first half, and Groza broke the scoreless tie in the third period with a 43-yard field goal. He said he didn't think that lead would hold up.

"This wasn't going to be the type of game that you win, 3-0," Groza said. "The Colts had a high-scoring offensive machine with Johnny Unitas, but he didn't have time to prepare."

Fiss and defensive tackle Jim Kanicki hounded Unitas, and the Browns offense started to come around after Groza's field goal.

"What happened is perhaps the greatest runner who ever played got going," Warfield said of teammate Jim Brown.

Brown broke off a 46-yard run that set up a Frank Ryan-to-Gary Collins 18-yard touchdown pass. Then, just before the end of the third period, Ryan again found Collins, this time for a 42-yard touchdown pass. Collins would catch one more touchdown pass, a 51-yarder, as the defense focused on Brown and put double coverage on Warfield. Groza added another field goal as the Browns coasted to a 27-0 win and their fourth NFL championship.

"It's funny we beat Baltimore and now we're going to Baltimore," said Leroy Kelly, the Hall of Famer from Morgan State who, as a second-year running back, was limited to returning kicks in the '64 game. He was the Browns' star running back when Baltimore returned to Cleveland for the NFL title game in 1968.

It was again a frigid December day with a packed stadium, but this time a trip to the Super Bowl was on the line. The Browns had started the season slowly, but went into Baltimore in October and upset the Colts, 30-20, before 60,238 at Memorial Stadium.

"That really got us going," Warfield said. The Browns won their next seven games and beat Dallas in the playoffs to reach the NFL title game.

It was another outstanding Shula team, though not as good as the 1964 squad, according to Warfield. The oddsmakers again had the Colts as heavy favorites, and this time they were on the money.

Earl Morrall and Tom Matte had replaced Unitas and Moore. The game was again scoreless in the first quarter, but Baltimore exploded for 17 second-quarter points. The Colts offensive line was dismantling the Browns defense, and Matte ended a 10-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Colts linebacker Mike Curtis intercepted a Bill Nelson pass on the Browns' next drive, giving Baltimore the ball on the 33-yard line. Three plays later, Matte scored from 12 yards out.

"We didn't play that well, but what was more indicative of the outcome was how well they played," Warfield said.

Matte added his third touchdown run in the third period and the Colts tacked on 10 more points in the fourth period for the 34-0 victory. Two weeks later, they lost in Super Bowl III to Joe Namath's Jets.

"I still can't believe they were unable to beat the Jets," Warfield said. "Any one of four NFL teams could have beaten the Jets, but it was just their day."

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