1964 NFL Champion Cleveland Browns: Gary Collins Surprise MVP

 

Did you know that the NFL had a rotating trophy in the years before the Super Bowl? How do we know this? Well in 1995 when it was determined that Cleveland was to keep the Browns team colors, records, etc., there was no championship trophy for 1964. In fact, in more ways than one, they left it in Green Bay following a loss in the 1965 NFL Championship Game. Following the 1965 season we started the Super Bowl series where teams kept a trophy to commemorate the accomplishment…but there were rings.

Yet the year before the Cleveland Browns hosted the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL Title Game. With the Baltimore Colts defense keying on Jim Brown, Frank Ryan hit surprise MVP Gary Collins #86 with 3 TD passes in a 27-0 upset. Collins 3TD receptions in a title game went unmatched until Jerry Rice had 3 in Super Bowl XXIV some 26 years later. OK that isn’t entirely true since today they use the NFC Championship Game as an equivalent to the old NFL Championship Game we have to include Preston Pearson’s 3TDs in the 1975 NFC Championship Game when Dallas beat the Rams 37-7….yet I digress

Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown gaining yardage as Lenny Lyles closes in. (Tony Tomsic via AP)

This was the last championship won by the lake. So yes Jim Brown did play for an NFL Champion during his career. The team was quarterbacked by Frank Ryan who went on to be a college professor and designed the first electronic voting system for either US Congress or the House of Representatives…the memory escapes me. He threw for, then a career best, 25TDs as he completed 174 of 344 for 2,404 yards. On a par with what Norm Van Brocklin and Bart Starr had thrown for in 1960-62 winning championships. In fact, aside from Earl Morrall’s 26TDs in 1968, this was the most for an NFL Champion QB during the 1960’s.

The Ed Thorpe NFL Championship Trophy for 1965. No one knows where the one all the teams held is.

A uniquely forgotten team amidst the slew of Green Bay Packers championship teams throughout the decade.

Brown as he had in 8 of his 9 seasons led the league in rushing with 1,446 yards and 7 scores. His punishing runs were the bludgeoning focal point of the Cleveland offense. No one knew he was just a season away from retiring as the NFL’s all time leading rusher with 12,312 yards. 

However the 3 time MVP had some help as #1 draft pick Paul Warfield turned in a rookie season for the ages. In what would be a Hall of Fame career, Warfield hauled in 52 passes for a team record 920 yards and 9 scores. He was the deep threat the team had been missing since Dante Lavelli. With Collins coming off of a 1963 where he had a team record 13 TD receptions, teams were in a quandry. Teams keyed on Brown and tried to slow #86 but the addition of Warfield made Cleveland’s offense lethal. 

Collins played on through the 1971 season yet it was this performance that was the highlight of his career. Yet take a look at his stats vs a few contemporaries:

  • Max McGee– 345 rec. 6,346 yards 50 TDs *1 Pro Bowl
  • Gary Collins – 331 rec. 5,299 yards 70 TDs *2 Pro Bowls **3 All Pros
  • Del Shofner – 349 rec. 6,470 yards 51 TD *5 Pro Bowls **5 All Pros
  • Raymond Berry – 631 rec. 9,275 yards 68 TDs *6 Pro Bowls **3 All Pros

Does he deserve Hall of Fame consideration??

Ironically, the team that bears the name of Paul Brown, won this championship without him. In a power struggle he was removed by new majority owner Art Modell and replaced by Blanton Collier. More irony can be found in the fact that in Cleveland 4 years later, the Colts got revenge shutting out the Browns 34-0 in the NFL Championship Game on their way to Super Bowl III. Then the obvious irony of losing not only their last NFL Championship appearance to Baltimore, but then lost their original incarnation as a franchise to Baltimore when Art Modell moved them there following the 1995 season.

Gary Collins snares one of his three TD receptions in the '64 NFL Title Game.

However in 1964 they were league champions and went on to defend that title in 1965 against Green Bay at Lambeau. This was also the team of the 1950s and is the only team in league history to win an NFL title in their first year in the league.

Further food for thought: What was first IRRESPONSIBLY taught to the masses as the “West Coast Offense” was the 1950s playbook of Paul Brown’s from Cleveland and taught to Bill Walsh in Cincinnati. In fact the most famous play in “west coast offense” history, the pass to Dwight Clark from Joe Montana in the ’81 NFC Championship Game, was an old Cleveland Brown play called Q-8 option and NOT sprint right option.

Think not?? Guess what the audible is in the West Coast Offense at the line of scrimmage to “Sprint Right Option?? A hand signal which is short hand for Q-8!! It started in Ohio….NOT in San Francisco. Know your history kids… Class dismissed

Thanks for reading.. please share the article.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Joe Kapp

With it being Hispanic Heritage Month, I have always found it hard to believe how Joe Kapp seems to be forgotten among Hispanic football fans. Not one time has The Chancellor met a hispanic Minnesota Viking fan or a Viking fan because of Joe Kapp. In a historic sense, Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett’s exploits are remembered more fondly and that is sad for Kapp’s contributions were just as great.

Joe Knapp Minnesota Vikings Quarterback July 20, 1970 X 15038 credit: Heinz Kluetmeier - contract

Flores was the first QB of Mexican descent that won a Super Bowl. Yet he did so as the backup to Len Dawson on the Super Bowl IV champion Kansas City Chiefs. The first Mexican-American quarterback who led his team to the Super Bowl as a starting quarterback was Kapp who was across the field for the Minnesota Vikings.

Although he spent the bulk of his career in the CFL, Bud Grant brought him down to play for him in 1967. He had won several Grey Cups and was known for being a fiery leader. That and the fact he threw some of the ugliest wobbly passes from not using the football’s laces.

In 1968 Kapp led the Vikings to the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. However they lost to the Baltimore Colts 24-14. The Colts set the NFL record that year only allowing 144 points and were lauded as the best in history. Only a loss in Super Bowl III diminished their impact. They had defeated Joe Kapp….right?

In 1969 the Vikings lost the first game of the season 24-23 to the New York Giants. Kapp didn’t start or play in that game. However he was available for the week 2 rematch with Baltimore.

The NFL record for most touchdown passes in a game has Kapp’s name on it with 7. It would take rule changes and another 44 years before Payton Manning tied this record in 2013. The Colts loss to Joe Namath’s Jets in Super Bowl III strained Don Shula’s relationship with owner Carroll Rosenbloom, this 52-14 loss broke it. The next season he would be gone to Miami where he became the NFL’s winningest coach. Joe Kapp had a hand in that.

Starting with the week 2 win over Baltimore, Kapp led the Vikings to 12 straight wins. The longest win streak in the NFL in 35 years. Keep in mind the NFL was only in its 50th season. No quarterback would win 12 straight regular season starts in the same season until Tom Brady in 2003, some 34 years later. Finishing with a 12-2 record the Vikings went on to Super Bowl IV where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7.

He left the Vikings after a contract dispute and joined the New England Patriots where he only played the 1970 season. Was he not afforded the respect of prominent white quarterbacks of the time?? Why wouldn’t they sign him?? The 1969 Vikings broke the NFL’s defensive scoring record allowing only 133 points on their way to Super Bowl IV. If Kapp stayed to lead the offense would they have made it to Super Bowl V?? Last year I did a series on the best ever defenses, where it was discovered the ’70 Vikings gave up the fewest yards per game for every defense since. Yes they would have…

  • 1970 Minnesota Vikings – #1 overall / 200.2 yds all. / 143 points given up / 28 int

Joe Kapp only played 5 seasons in the NFL but he was a trailblazer. Tom Flores was the first Mexican American starting QB with the AFL’s Oakland Raiders and was a Kansas City Chief across the field in Super Bowl IV.  Yet Kapp played with distinction and set several records on his way there. He’s a cult hero who should be celebrated for his contributions to the game. He led his teams to championship games at Cal, the CFL, and the NFL. The very definition of a champion. To complete this circle for Hispanic Heritage Month… Who was the quarterback drafted #1 by the New England Patriots in 1971 after Joe Kapp?? Some guy named Jim Plunkett…

One day I hope to walk by and see a Hispanic kid with a Vikings jersey with the number 11 on it. That would be the coolest thing. Don’t forget Joe Kapp.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Legends of The Fall: John Constantine Unitas

The name that comes to mind when it comes to quarterback – John Constantine Unitas…  I can’t remember hearing his complete name for the first time, but feel it needs to be brought up for the fans who need to know the greatness of this man. So glad they finished the documentary in 1999 before he passed. An old school American hero. The best ever quarterback conversation has this man’s name in it. Not Peyton Manning and Tom Brady where all the rules have been changed to manufacture what looks like greatness.

Unitas! Pictured in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium one last time.

Unitas! Pictured in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium one last time.

At the time of Unitas retirement, he held the record for passing yards (40,239) & touchdown passes (290). He was the first NFL quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in 1960 and once held the record for TD passes in a 12 game season with 32. In an era where the NFL game was rooted in the ground, Unitas took to the air where purists scoffed he was ruining the game. Through it all he raised quarterbacking to an art form by the way he played, his play calling ability, and field generalship in leading the Baltimore Colts. In fact, it was Unitas that invented the 2 minute drill in the most important game in NFL history…. the 1958 NFL Championship.

The ’58 NFL Championship ignited the passion for pro football for the masses as it overtook baseball for America’s heart. Lamar Hunt after this game decided to start the American Football League on the heels of this game’s popularity. A sense of irony between the AFL and Unitas’ would come to the fore later. Yet it was Unitas that became a superstar. Football had been booming with television in the 1950’s and it culminated with his championship heroics.

For an encore, when all eyes were upon him, he had his greatest season in 1959. Johnny U went 193 of 367 (52.6%) for 2,899 yards 32 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions in leading the Colts to a 2nd consecutive championship. By the way for those keeping score, this was in a 12 game season and the yardage and touchdowns were NFL records at the time. At the pace he was on, had it been a 16 game season, he would have thrown for 42 touchdowns. This was in an era where his receivers were hit everywhere on the field not just within a 5 yard contact zone. Legacy cemented.

His 47 straight games with a touchdown pass stood for nearly 50 years. After 40 of those years no one had come within 18 of that record. Drew Bees finally broke it because of all the rule changes…but if you dared to say Brees is in league with Unitas, you and I can’t talk football anymore. A final look back at his jersey retirement at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium in 1977.

In watching the HBO documentary Unitas is where I first learned the plight of former players fighting for benefits from the NFL. When the elbow injury came up I immediately yelled out “1968!” That was the year he tore the tendons that attached the lower and upper arm, causing him to sit out the season and the late Earl Morrall played in his absence. They wound up losing Super Bowl III. Unitas wound up losing the ability to fully use the right hand that made the NFL what it is today. Not only was that a travesty but the anger that swelled in me is why I back all the former player’s groups, Footballer’s Wives, Dignity After Football, and Gridiron Greats to this day.

Sports Illustated cover featuring Johnny U.

Sports Illustated cover featuring Johnny U.

Whenever the mantle of greatness at the quarterback position is cheaply thrown around, as a historian I bristle. What would Unitas accomplish playing in the rules set up today?? How much greater would he have become training all year around like today’s players?? What would his stats look like if he played where he could hardly be hit??  He dwarfs all quarterbacks without the changes. With them he would have left marks that quarterbacks would still be chasing.

Unitas and his receivers, Lenny Moore, and Raymond Berry all made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The next time someone mentions greatest ever quarterbacks, start with Unitas and work your way down.

hof-unitasJohn Constantine Unitas: May 7, 1933- September 11, 2002

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

The Soul of The Game: “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis

Back when The Chancellor of Football was first developing his love for the sport, most of the stories of great players captivated me. When it came to the savagery of Mike Curtis it was also emblazoned by this photo.

Mike Curtis nearly beheads Roman Gabriel.

Mike Curtis nearly beheads Roman Gabriel.

This sack of Roman Gabriel completely captures the visceral side of pro football. Back then you had images like these that accompanied the stories made Curtis bigger than life in the Punt, Pass, and Kick book series. Ironically the Colts during his time evolved from being known as an offensive team into a defensive one.

Baltimore rose to prominence with the 1958 NFL Championship on the arm of Johnny Unitas. Yet as the 60’s were concluding Unitas was aging and the defense came to the fore. Never was this more prevalent than the 1968 season Unitas missed with an elbow injury and the Colts defense set the record for fewest points in a season with 144. Curtis, an All Pro Outside Linebacker was one of the leading reasons why.

In the vignette you can see Curtis aggressive tackling and hitting. You saw him head hunt on several tackles. All he cared about was getting the runner down.  His intensity is what led those Colts defenses. In fact he was the leader of one of modern history’s finest defense. In my series to find out the greatest defenses in NFL history, his 1971 Colts unit came in at #6.  They allowed the 2nd fewest yards per game mark in the NFL since 1970 with 203.7 yards. With only 140 points allowed, it would have been an NFL record had the ’69 Vikings not broken their old scoring record of 144 with 133.

Led by “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis, Fred Miller, Bubba Smith,  and Rick Volk, this was a record setting defense that was overshadowed and forgotten in the aftermath of Super Bowl III. Even though they came back and won Super Bowl V. Then made it to the AFC Championship Game and nearly made it to Super Bowl VI. They once held the record for fewest points allowed in a season and by 1972 held the #2 & #3 spots. They were led by their Hall of Fame Linebacker who was definitely a Soul Of The Game defender.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL V CHAMPION 1970 BALTIMORE COLTS

When you think of the old Baltimore Colts, the first flashback that comes to mind are the black and white films with Johnny Unitas leading the team in the 1950’s. Then another thought stirs up images of Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell and the mid 1970’s version with Head Coach Ted Marchibroda. You follow-up that thought with the green and yellow Mayflower trucks moving the team to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in 1984. Yet sandwiched between the first and second of these events is the most forgotten champion in modern football history. The 1970 Baltimore Colts.

The bauble won for becoming the first champion of the post AFL/NFL merger.

The bauble won for becoming the first champion of the post AFL/NFL merger.

There are varied reasons why this team is so overlooked when you think of this franchise.  Did you know this is the only Super Bowl winner where the franchise was sold just one year later?? Before the 1972 season, Robert Irsay (Los Angeles Rams) and Carroll Rosenbloom swapped franchises.

Carroll had one of the most successful tenures as an owner in NFL history. Yet after losing Super Bowl III, one of the landmark games in league history, he lost Head Coach Don Shula to the Miami Dolphins after the 1969 season.

The last ring won by John Constantine Unitas and Carroll Rosenbloom.

The last ring won by John Constantine Unitas and Carroll Rosenbloom.

So is it ironic or part of the story that his last game as Colts owner, was a 21-0 loss to Shula’s Miami Dolphins in the 1971 AFC Championship Game?? Another twist was it was played in the Orange Bowl which had been the site of Super Bowl III.

Another reason this champion wasn’t remembered is there wasn’t a main powerful character. Yes the Colts had an aging fading John Unitas at quarterback. In 1970, he finished with a career low 51.7% completion percentage, and was the only qb to win the Super Bowl in a year he threw more interceptions (18-14) than touchdowns. He was 3 seasons removed from 11 straight Pro Bowl seasons and 5 player of the year awards.

By this time he was getting by on inspiration and finding the touch at the right time. As was the case in the first ever AFC Championship Game. Clinging to a 20-17 lead late in the 4th,Unitas had reserve WR Ray Perkins motion from the backfield and lofted a perfect sideline floater just past Raider CB Nemiah Wilson for the decisive touchdown. It was the only touchdown he threw in the game as he went 11 of 30 for 245 yards.

Super Bowl V was the first NFL championship game not played on natural grass.

Super Bowl V was the first NFL championship game not played on natural grass.

It was echoed in Super Bowl V as he went 3 for 9 for 88 yards with 2 interceptions and 1 TD before being knocked out of the game. The lone touchdown was the bizarre 75 yarder to John Mackey where the ball bounced from Colt Eddie Hinton and Cowboy Mel Renfro first. So the late Earl Morrall had to come off the bench to save the Colts season just as Unitas tried to in Super Bowl III.

The game was played at a frantic pace with 11 total turnovers in what was nicknamed The Blunder Bowl. The Colts outlasted the Dallas Cowboys, they didn’t beat them. A last second interception by Mike Curtis put them in position for Jim O’Brien to win it with a field goal 16-13.

Another reason they weren’t remembered were they were coached by the late Don McCafferty. He was the hand picked successor once Don Shula departed for Miami having been the long time Offensive Coordinator. By the time we make it to 1972 the Colts were winless in their first five games. General Manager Joe Thomas wanted Unitas benched. When McCafferty refused he was fired.

super-bowl-logo-1970Less than 1 1/2 years after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenblom was no longer the owner, John Unitas was no longer the quarterback, Don McCafferty was no longer the coach, and the magic was gone from 33rd Street in Baltimore. The romantic era starting with the 1958 NFL Championship Game win over the Giants, ended with the 1971 AFC Championship loss in Miami.

In many ways the Super Bowl V championship had a lifetime achievement feel more than a best of the league feel. Would they have won Super Bowl VI had they rematched with the Cowboys?? How different would have Don McCafferty’s legacy been had they won it? As a matter of fact, the Dolphins split their games with the Colts in 1970 and 1971. Would the Colts even make it to Super Bowl V had the Dolphins been able to get past Oakland in the ’70 playoff game??

Epilogue: Carroll Rosenbloom’s Rams won the NFC West 5 times from 1973-1978 but lost the NFC Championship 4 times. He died from a heart attack and drowned before the 1979 season when the Rams did make it to Super Bowl XIV. Which left the team to his wife…. Georgia Rosenbloom who later remarried. Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere.

Don McCafferty died of a heart attack in 1974 after he had coached the Detroit Lions for one season.

John Unitas remains one of the greatest players in NFL history and was the first to throw for more than 40,000 yards. A staple at Baltimore Ravens games well into the 2000s. Unitas passed away on Sept 11th, 2002.

Bubba Smith, the giant Defensive End  passed away in August 2011. Smith played the majority of his career in Baltimore and stated in 2007 “Super Bowl III, I still haven’t gotten over it.”

Earl Morrrall, the journeyman quarterback who was player of the year in 1968 with Unitas out. Was with the team when they lost Super Bowl III. Afterward he would duplicate his 1968 with a great performance leading the Dolphins to the undefeated season in Bob Griese’s absence. He won 2 more Super Bowls (VII & VIII) with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. Morrall died last month on April 25, 2014.

To these men I dedicate this article to… they were a champion. NFL champions for 1970.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

 

SUPER BOWL III RUNNER UP 1968 BALTIMORE COLTS

Wow Talk about shock and awe!!!

superbowliii

The Jets 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III was one of those events that defined an era. Everyone has spoken of the great accomplishment, the AFL arriving on the big stage but so few people talk about the vanquished 15-1 Baltimore Colts and Don Shula.

The loss was so devastating and embarrassing that the NFL didn’t issue a championship ring. A team that was 3hrs away from being the greatest team in NFL history received THIS WATCH when they failed to win the game…wow! Think the NFL thought highly of their championship season? Now before you ask, the answer is yes the teams that lost Super Bowls I, II, and IV did receive rings.

old-nfl-logoLet’s take you back to 1968…The Colts were motivated to win it all in 1968 because in 1967 they had the BEST record ever to NOT make the playoffs:11-1-2 including a win over the Packers who would go on to win Super Bowl II. The Rams had an identical record and won the tiebreaker for giving the Colts their one loss. The Colts were in the Western Conference and for the better part of the 60’s couldn’t unseat the Packers.

Except in 1964 when Paul Hornung was suspended for gambling, yet the Colts were upset in Cleveland in the Championship game. Yes you heard me correctly…the Packers and Colts were in the WESTERN CONFERENCE back then. So Vince Lombardi steps down and the Packers run out of steam and the Colts go 13-1 in 1968. So in TWO seasons they had only lost 2 games going 24-2-2. No regular season overtime back then hence the two ties.

super-bowl-logo-1968Like other teams I’ve mentioned, this team that DIDNT win it all was the strongest Baltimore Colts team ever. They had a defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed in a 14 game season with 144 points. They held 11 of their 14 opponents to 10 pts or less including 3 shutouts.

superbowliiiwatchThe great Johnny Unitas got hurt and Earl Morrall replaced him and became league MVP at quarterback. They had Tom Matte and Jerry Hill as arguably the best running tandem in football. Their only regular season loss in 1968 was to the Cleveland Browns who they would go on to blow out 34-0 in the NFL Championship game IN CLEVELAND. So with that it was as though they practically had an undefeated season and were lauded as the best team in NFL history.

Then came January 12th, 1969…wow!! One look at this watch shows you how embarrassed the NFL was to lose to the upstart AFL. The corporate pressures, corporate culture and such were so great that within 2 years coach Don Shula was gone. Within 4 years Carroll Rosenbloom would swap franchises with Robert Irsay (then Rams owner), become owner of the Rams, would later marry Georgia, drown and she became Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere owner of the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams. Of course this legitimized the AFL and NFL merging as well. Everyone talks about the champion but take a look across the river and pay attention to the team that loses it. The after affects can be frightening…

Would all of this have happened had the Colts WON Super Bowl III?

Epilogue: Although the Colts would go on to win Super Bowl V, how redemptive was it?