Unsung Players: Isaac Curtis Breakout 1973 Season

One of the unsung players I remember growing up was Isaac Curis of the Cincinnati Bengals. It was 1981 and the Bengals were looking to upgrade their receiving corps when they selected wideouts David Verser and Cris Collinsworth with their 1st & 2nd round selections. What of the incumbent starter Isaac Curtis??

It made me go back and look at who he was and I learned about what happens as a player ages.  I remember reading his exploits and had come across his performance as a rookie many moons ago and saw it on film once. Recently I found Curtis’ rookie season in my video archives and wanted to share them.

When you think of rookie sensation receivers some will think of Odell Beckham, Jerry Rice, Randy Moss or some old timers will bring up Paul Warfield or “The Catawba Claw”… one guy forgotten about?? Isaac Curtis

In a season where only 1 receiver crossed 1,000 yards (Harold Carmichael) Curtis broke out with one of the eras greatest rookie seasons. He amassed 49 receptions for 849 yards and 9 TDs yet broke huge plays for Cincinnati. Five of his scores were from greater than 40 yards out and 3 of those over 70 yards. Those are Randy Moss-esque for that era.

Take a look:

Cincinnati won the AFC Central however fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Dolphins in the divisional playoffs which curbed the impact historically. However players were the only voters for the Pro Bowl back then and they voted him in as a rookie and the next 3 years. Quarterback Ken Anderson became a two time passing champion and joined his deep threat in the pro bowl in ’75 & ’76.

What was lost was the offense fashioned by Bill Walsh under Paul Brown became one of the most efficient in history.  However Curtis was their long range weapon in the Ohio bred “West Coast offense.” In 4 of his first 6 years he led the Bengals in receptions & in 4 of those seasons he led Cincinnati in touchdown receptions.

Curtis played on through the 1985 season finishing as the Bengals career reception leader with 416. He was also Cincy’s career recption yardage leader ( 7,101 yards) and touchdowns (53). Thirty four years after his retirement he still ranks in the top 5 in all 3 team categories.

These stats may not get Isaac Curtis to Canton but he definitely deserves to be in the Bengals “Ring of Honor” as one of the team’s greatest players. That 1973 breakout was equal in impact and stature to the ’64 debut of Hall of Famer Paul Warfield. A few more bounces of the ball in playoff appearances in 1973 and 1975 may be the only difference why we’re not talking about Curtis in a Gold Jacket. An unsung great.

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1964 NFL Champion Cleveland Browns

64 Bowns ringDid 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

Jim Brown about to collide with Lenny Lyles during the '64 NFL Title Game.

Jim Brown about to collide with Lenny Lyles during the ’64 NFL Title Game.

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

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. They were coached 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 of the Browns 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.

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 Packers. 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. It started in Ohio….NOT in San Francisco. Know your history kids… Class dismissed