BengalszoneBilly Posted January 1, 2008 Report Share Posted January 1, 2008 How could something that started out as Paul Browns pure love for the game of football turn out with what we have now? Well after reading this I have a better understanding. Especially why Mike Brown doesn't feel the need for a GM, and he keeps it a tight, family run organization. I know it's a longer read here than most guys, but it's really worth the time. Here's Part I...Bengals and Good-Bye to Coaching - Paul Brown When I stepped back onto the sidelines as head coach of the Bengals in 1968, it felt as if I had never been away. It was as if six years had vanished in an instant. There they were: the feelings of tension and anticipation as I waited to run onto the field with my team before the game...the rumble of the crowd...the almost-involuntary actions of the players as they slapped and prodded one another in their final acts of preparation...the backdrop of goal posts, scoreboard and white chalk lines over the green field...the black-and-white striped shirts of the officials...the air of anticipation as our kicking team ran onto the field-nothing had changed. I was a bit more excited and exhilarated because I had lived for the moment when all of this would return to my life, but once I dispatched the first play into the game, it was just as it always had been- a chess game between ‘him’ and me, a never-ending battle to do the right thing at the right time for the greatest possible number of times. There was one difference, though, the plays might have been correct, the strategies sound and the desire total, but this team wasn’t the Browns, or the Buckeyes, or even the Massillon Tigers. It was the Cincinnati Bengals, a group of green and growing young men- hardly more than college team- together for just two months, still learning to know and like each other and trying to become skilled in a system that had once been used by far more talented and experienced players. For all that, however, we won three games-the most ever by a first-year expansion team in the NFL- and I was very satisfied with our efforts and our achievements. We had begun to grow, our players maintained a respect for each other and they stayed together through some tough times. No one ever let me down or gave up in any game, and that is all any coach can ask. There were no surprises or disappointments for me in that first season. In fact, what Vince Lombardi had told me two years before was true-it was easier to build a team than have to maintain one as contender. In Cleveland we had never enjoyed the luxury of a patient and gradual approach to becoming a championship team. Mike and I took the eight-page merger agreement, boiled it down to a concise report and presented it to each of the AFL owners. In it, we listed five points we felt would be most crucial to our case:1. A financial summary of the visitor’s share of the gate receipts for all twenty-six teams, which showed the AFL teams, took home one-third less than the NFL teams.2. A chart of AFL and NFL stadium seating capacities, which showed that only two AFL teams ranked in the top half.3. Proof that NFL teams had a better average season ticket sale.4. Home ticket sale attendance and receipts from rivalries within the NFL, which gave that league the edge.5. Television ratings showing the NFL’s games had consistently higher ratings because its terms were in the larger markets and reached more homes. When we went to Palms Springs for our meeting, no one said too much to me until Gerry Phipps, the owner of the Denver Broncos, asked me to walk along with him the day before the meetings opened and spell out all my points in detail. He seemed very interested in my thinking and invited me to join a group of AFL owners at dinner that evening; again I laid out our arguments. When I had finished, Phil Iselin of the New York Jets said, “You’re right, and I’m sticking with you.” With Phipps and Iselin in my corner, and the other AFL owners began to come around, and we succeeded in stopping the stampede within our own league. Soon we had the AFL owners solidly lined up behind us, and it was time to tackle the NFL. I stood up at our meeting and said,” We will find out legally just what our position is regarding the specific performance clause in the merger agreement.” The word legally was like a stick of dynamite, and the meetings were hurriedly adjourned, to convene again in early May in New York. In the meantime, the NFL owners knew they had to come up with a presentable plan. In the time between the meetings, many of the owners rethought their positions and realized it had to be a 13-13 split, instead of the 16-10. The question was; How? They had my original realignment proposal, but the AFL owners, still proud and feisty after their league’s Super Bowl victory and their successful fight to force a merger with the NFL, still wanted to retain as much of their league’s identity as they could and felt that three of the NFL teams must join them, rather than have their own teams scattered about. When the meetings reconvened in the first week of May, the deadlock continued. Finally, the commissioner sent both groups of owners into separate meeting rooms at the NFL headquarters on Park Avenue and convened his now-famous “locked door” marathon bargaining session, which eventually lasted more than forty hours. Those rooms were something to behold: People slept on chairs and on the floor, no one shaved, collars rumpled, ties went askew or were discarded altogether and tempers got shorter as each exhausting hour passed. Each team had to keep its own voting member present at all times, but since Mike and I both had voting power, we took turns getting some rest at our hotel, which kept us fresh and our mental resources sharp, so our position never weakened. Some of the others had to endure the hardship of living in one room for nearly two days. My most vivid memory of that time was Lamar Hunt sleeping on the hallway couch-a white flower across his chest that someone had placed there. The pressure was on the NFL to come up with a solution. Art Modell was adamant that his team and some other old-line NFL teams would not move. “It would emasculate the NFL if the Browns were to leave,” he stated publicly. However, Al Davis of Oakland finally came up with the answer, which was that the three teams that came into the AFL’s group paid for moving-and when the price was put at $3 million, Pittsburg and Cleveland, I was told, were the first to volunteer. The fact that they switched together also made it more palatable because they were natural rivals. Commissioner Rozelle then proposed the St. Louis Cardinals as the third team, but with $3 million at stake, there was no dearth of volunteers, and when we suggested the Baltimore Colts, the Colts snapped at the opportunity. “Have you ever seen a barracuda?” I joked. The three teams were presented to the AFL owners, and in less than ninety minutes we had our alignments worked out and the commissioner’s approval. It seemed almost pro forma when Pete brought representatives from the three teams into our owners’ meeting so we could review the setup and hold a formal vote for its consent-and then, to our surprise, Al Davis suddenly turned around and voted against it. It seems he wanted to have a veto over the ultimate realignment form for the entire league. Since unanimous consent was required, we suddenly had no agreement. The uproar was enormous, fueled by tempers tight from nearly forty hours without sleep. Al’s reasons made absolutely no sense to the rest of us, so after going to the NFL meeting to explain what had happened, I contacted Commissioner Rozelle, his top aide, Jim Kensil, and Art Rooney to see if we couldn’t find a way to break the impasse. After careful discussion, we came up with a plan we thought could work. When the session reconvened, Lamar Hunt, who had used Al Davis for his proxy the first time around, this time spoke for himself and voted “yes” for the alignment. Then, instead of Davis, Wayne Valley, another owner of the Raiders, took control-and he too voted affirmatively. It was unanimous, a total victory, particularly for the commissioner, who had been on the spot to deliver an equitable solution that everyone-owners, fans and networks-could accept. The end results of the 13-13 merger are evident today in the sport’s tremendous prosperity, as well as in the success of our own franchise. We are in the same division as Cleveland and Pittsburg, and our games against each other bring in the biggest crowds of the season. Under the fourteen-game schedule format that began in 1970. Our fans got to see NFL teams, as promised, including the Browns and Steelers every year, the Colts every other year and three other NFL opponents. Under the new sixteen-game format, half our games are against former NFL teams. In the meantime, the American Conference has also become the dominate force in the NFL during the seventies, and the problems and ill feelings that existed among the owners when this agreement was being hammered out all have been set aside long ago and are now the subject of good-natured jokes. Meanwhile, merger or not, we had another football season coming up. Our draft in 1969 had brought us some tremendous players, including our top pick. Greg Cook, a quarterback from the University Of Cincinnati. I had seen him play several games at UC and couldn’t help noticing his physical talents-quick feet, a fine throwing arm for both long and short passes and superior all-around athletic skills. He also had that indomitable quality that all great quarterbacks possess-like Otto Graham, he instilled so much confidence in his teammates they believed he could find a way to win. Greg had tremendous exuberance when things were going well, and when they weren’t, he made no excuses. He was totally unflappable in tight situations-could stand and face the fiercest pass rush without flinching-but he also had enough mobility to roll out of trouble and still keep his pass play alive or take off and run for whatever yardage he could monster. He was the first young quarterback I had been able to select and have confidence in since we had picked Y.A. Title in 1948. When Greg played in the College All-Star game against the New York Jets that summer, he was selected as the most valuable player. His coach in that game was ironically Otto Graham. We had to battle to get Greg, however. A friend of mine tipped me off that the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League were so interested in getting him that their owner and coached had chartered a plane and were flying into Cincinnati in hopes of signing him. I was in New York attending a league meeting, but this was an emergency situation so I had one of our assistants coaches bring him to me, so I could discuss a contract on the spot. Things progressed rapidly, and Greg signed before returning to Cincinnati. The Canadian League people never did see him; after waiting several hours in an apartment, they gave up and returned home. I knew we were pressing a bit in 1969, when we elected to allow a rookie to be our starting quarterback, but he had such outstanding qualities I didn’t consider it an inordinate risk. Furthermore, his passing skills would allow us to begin building our passing game, something we had not been able to do in our first season, so though I knew he would make mistakes, we tied our future in him. It was then, in the cruelest of misfortunes that a series of injuries cut him down. His first injury came our third game of the season against Kansas City when he was sandwiched between Willie Lanier and Bobby bell and hurt his shoulder. He recovered from within a month, however, and finished the season with some fine performances as our starting quarterback even winning the honor of rookie of the year. Then in the off season pickup basketball game, he went up for a rebound with both arms, someone grab his right arm and pulled it back and the rotor cuff muscle in his right shoulder was damaged beyond reclamation. He again hurt his shoulder playing water polo, and though we finally sent him to Cleveland for surgery to try to repair the torn muscle, Greg was never the same after that. He did develop a good throwing motion again, but his other skills became rusty. I think too, that he had lost confidence and could not face trying to succeed with diminished skills. He left our training camp a couple of times without a word to anyone. On each occasion I’d find a note under my door in the morning, telling me that he just couldn’t go on anymore. Cook was not the only a great player to come from that draft. Our first eight choices all played for us that season, including linebacker Bill Bergey, our second pick on the recommendation of my son Robin, who had seen him play several times in Arkansas. Ken Riley, a defensive back who is still with the Bengals, was a sixth round pick, while our seventh choice, Royce Berry, played for us for seven years and became our defensive captain. Two other players, wide receiver Speedy Thomas and guard Guy Dennis, each spent four years with us, helping us widen the foundation that became the bulwark of our future success. We also obtained kicker Horst Muhlmann, the team’s all-time leading scorer in a trade with Kansas City after Hank Scharm decided he could not displace Jan Stenerud. When we went to training camp that summer of 1969, we had no linking of what would happen to Cook, and our mood was upbeat. We knew we could win some games with a great young quarterback; we had improved our kicking with Muhlmann and our defense with Bergy, Berry and Riley; and we still had the spirit and determination that had carried us through our first season. In our opening meeting, I told the players, “We’re no longer an expansion team. We might be the newest team in professional football, but we’re grown-up now”. I don’t think our players really understood that fact until Cook, in only his third game, directed us to a 25-13 victory over the Steelers in the preseason. Pittsburg, with Chuck Noll in his first year as head coach, threw blitz after blitz at Greg, but he seemed to beat them all. When he followed that with a victory over Denver in our final preseason game, our guys finally believed we had no reason to take a back seat to anyone in pro football. None of us was prepared, though, for the death of Frank Buncom, our starting right linebacker, the night before our season opener against Miami. Only twenty-eight years old, he died in his sleep at our hotel in Cincinnati. It was not a football related death-in fact, I told that Frank’s father died in the same manner-but it was a terrible ordeal for our players to overcome, and we played with a heavy heart, though well enough to defeat Miami. I told later that week the victory was the three hundredth of my career. We also won our next two games, including a 24-19 victory over Kansas City, despite Cook’s injury. For the second time our players carried me off the field after the win, and a few days later I received a letter from President Richard Nixon, in which he said: “I’ve been a fan of Paul Brown since the days of the Browns-Rams championship games….. A football season in much like a political campaign, it takes a lot of work to develop a winning spirit. The Bengals made it through the primaries with flying colors. While I have to remain impartial, you can be sure I shall be following the action in the days ahead…. Those days pretty much depended on Cook’s shoulder regaining its strength, and after sitting out two games, he came back and led us to a whopping 31-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders, the defending AFL champions. The following week he put on a tremendous show as we tied the Houston Oilers, 31-31, thanks to Muhlmann’s 18-yard field goal in the final twenty-two seconds. Greg had been the whole show, on third and thirty, he ran a quarterback draw for 30 yards and a first down, and then passed 14 yards to Crabtree to set up Muhlmann’s tie-making field goal. That was our final thrust of the season, though. We finished with a 4-9-1 record-and I was picked AFL coach of the year. I certainly appreciated the honor because it helped solidify our team for the next year: for competition in the realigned National Football League’s American Conference, for our sparkling new stadium….and, for the first time ever, for our game against the Cleveland Browns.We actually played the Browns three times in 1970, but our first one, in the preseason at Riverfront Stadium, was the one that caught everyone’s imagination. We had flooded with ticket orders, in fact, ever since the first announcement of the game in 1968. It was no secret how intense I felt about the game, though not as much as later in the year, for regular-season meeting, but I tried to keep everything as normal as possible during our workouts at training camp. I never said a word about making any special efforts on my behalf because many players had been young teenagers when I had left the Browns, and it would have been silly for me to have tried to make this a crusade. Nevertheless, every player on that team has told me there was something special about our practices then. When we started the 1968 season, I hoped very much that we could avoid the glare of the public limelight and the attendant pressures which often caused even experienced teams to falter. That didn’t happen, however. Our very first game was scheduled for national television by NBC because the network had committed itself to an early-season game, and none of the other teams in the AFL wanted it. Only three games had been scheduled that first weekend in September 1968, and I always felt they decided to throw us to the wolves against a team of proved quality. I even called Julian Goodman, NBC’s president, and explained, “We’re just an expansion team, and we’ve been together for only a few weeks. We don’t have a sporting chance in this game, and I’m afraid your network will get a black eye that could damage your image for the rest of the season” “I understand your plight,” he told me, “and I sympathize with you, bit there is nothing we can do about it. The league made the schedule, and we must accept whatever game they give us for that date. I couldn’t change it even if I wanted to.” “If we embarrass you and your network then, you’ll know I was concerned beforehand and warned you about it,” I said. He thanked me, but nothing changed, and even though we wouldn’t share in the television receipts, we had to be a party to this scheduling. I was less worried about NBC’s fate than about what might happen to us should we play badly and be embarrassed on national television. It was a difficult way to start, but it was just one more thing that went with being an expansion team. As it turned out, we were not embarrassed and, in fact, plated the Chargers to a standstill for nearly three-quarters of the game. We started Dewey Warren at quarterback because John Stofa, our only experienced passer, was injured. Dewey was a crowd pleaser because he had a certain swagger about him that made it appear he was exceeding his talent level. This quality, plus our deepgut determination, and the Chargers’ failure to take us too seriously made the game closer than it should have been. Our offense took the opening kickoff and marched for a touchdown, with Paul Robinson going the last seven yards and we left the field at the half with a 10-10 tie. We still trailed only 17-13 deep in the second half, when the Chargers finally broke open the game with a pair of touchdown passes by John Hadl, and we lost, 29-13. I was pleased with what I had seen, “You gave everything that you had,” I told our players afterward. “I thank you for your effort. It’s a real credit to you. You played a team that all of us knew outmanned us, but your still young, and your future is ahead of you. Let’s not be discouraged in losing; just let us get ready to fight the next game.” Those players took my words to heart because we astounded everyone and won our next two games, including our home opener against Denver. We certainly didn’t sneak up on them, as we had the Chargers, because the Broncos had barely beaten us in the preseason game. We went against each other just as fiercely this time, and the score was tied, 10-10, as the last quarter began. Then, after making a first down on a fourth-and-inches play. Stofa threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Warren McVea. It was a true team effort because Rod Sherman, one of our flankers, who had to miss this game because of an injury, had told McVea that one of the Broncos’ defensive backs usually took the first fake by a receiver. Sure enough, McVea gave him a quick move and then sped into the clear for Stofa’s pass. A few minutes later Paul Robinson came out of the game to replace a lost shoe, and while he was lacing up, his replacement, Essex Johnson, ran 34 yards for our last touchdown. When the game ended, I was hoisted onto the shoulders of my players and carried off the field. In the locker room, our captains presented me with the game ball, and the whole day was made even more special because Katy was there, and the victory was hers, too. The Buffalo Bills came to Nippert Stadium the following week, and Al Beauchamp and Charley King each returned second-half interceptions for touchdown that brought us from behind for a 34-23 victory. The biggest play of the game was a broken double reverse play, in which Stofa was hand the ball to one of the running backs, who would then hand it to McVea. Stofa missed the first handoff, kept going with the ball until McVea came along and then handed him the ball himself. The play’s different look seemed to confuse Buffalo and Warren scampered 80 yards far a touchdown that gave us an early lead. We had to rely on plays like these to shake up defenses because we were not strong enough yet to control the game. During the year we would pull out all the stops, even throwing our triple-pass flea flicker from the end zone-and completing it for a first down. We used everything and anything. We lost to the Broncos, 10-7, the second time we played them that season, but I remember that game for another reason-all of us narrowly escaped death on our return flight to Cincinnati. We were forced to land at Des Moines, Iowa, for a short time because bad weather had temporarily closed Cincinnati’s airport and, as we were ready to take off, another plane landed ahead of us. Instead of turning off the runway, however, the other plane just stopped. We were already under way, and our pilot had to pour on the power to get us above the stopped plane. Years later, when hundreds were killed in a similar situation at Tenerife, in the Canaries, I thought back to that moment in Des Moines and how close we had come to a similar catastrophe. Our season was a series of “near misses” because the following week, when we played Miami and lost, 24-22, a missed 19-yard field goal by Dale Livingston at the end of the first half turned out to be the difference. I had always taken those field goals for granted when Lou Groza was our kicker in Cleveland and often hadn’t even bothered to watch because they were so automatic. They weren’t automatic anymore. As it was, we almost got a tie because Warren’s touchdown pass to Bob Trumpy brought us within two points of the Dolphins at the end of the game. The AFL had its two-point conversion rule at that time, and Warren’s pass for the two points was batted around in the air between receivers and the defensive backs until finally fell incomplete. The rule has since been eliminated, but I thought it made the game more interesting for the fans. We also sandwiched an exciting game against Kansas City between our losses to Denver and Miami and forced the Chiefs’ great defense into a pair of goal line strands to preserve a 13-3 victory. Our losing skein ultimately reached seven before we defeated the Dolphins, 38-21, on a blistering hot day in Miami for our third victory. One of our last games of the season was against the Patriots in Boston, where John Kissell, who now worked in the recreation department in Nashua, New Hampshire, and his wife met us at our hotel. “Who’s officiating the game?” he asked me. I told him, and he said, “You’re going to get screwed. Boston’s coach plays poker with those guys once a week”. Sure enough, when Boston missed an easy field goal in the game, the officials ruled that we had twelve men on the field-that never showed on our films-and they made it on the second try. It seemed that every time we got something going that day, we were penalized. After the game I met John and his wife, and he said, “What did I tell you? I knew it was going to happen.” He certainly had, so after viewing the films and seeing how many nonpenalties had been called, I called the league office and protested strongly enough so that the situation was never repeated. That first season had brought me back to where I belonged, but sadly, it was Katy’s last because she died very suddenly of a heart attack the following April while undergoing surgery in California. Suddenly I was alone because I never thought she would die. The first thing I thought was, “I must take her home”, and we arranged for her burial back in Massillon. That was home, the one place, above all else, I felt she would have wanted for a final resting place. I go back each year and tend her grave site, and afterward I often go over to the Massillon stadium and sit and replay the grand moments we experienced during our years living there. It renews my spirit and brings me close again to a person and place I loved so much. In the midst of this sudden ordeal, the future of professional football was being decided, and I was right in the middle of the struggle-the “blueberry in the milk”, as someone described my role. In the spring of 1969 the final plans for aligning the AFL and NFL were being hammered out because the merger had to be implemented by the start of the 1970 season. Instead of adhering to the terms of the original sentiment for retaining their own identities, meaning the NFL would keep its sixteen teams and the AFL its ten. That was not what we had been promised when our franchise had been awarded, however, and my lawyer-son, Mike, and I pointed to the provision of the “specific performance” clause and insisted that the real merger of both leagues be spelled out there. The clause stipulated a unified schedule of regular-season games between teams from both leagues, recognizing factors of geography, natural rivalries, stadium size, would have common scheduling, share equal television revenues and have the same chance in building through the draft. Otherwise, we weren’t giving our fans all we had promised when our franchise was born. The sentiment against the realignment, however, seemed to have the somewhat neutral support of Commissioner Rozelle, who was willing to go along with what the majority of the owners wished. The NFL owners were content with the status quo because they had the big television markets, their sixteen teams had an edge in numbers in drafting the future stars and they knew they could get only stronger while the AFL teams got weaker. On the other hand, many in the AFL went along because the Jets’ victory over Baltimore in the Super Bowl only a couple of months before had given them a false sense of independence and strength. I refused to go along with either of them, and though many of my friends among the NFL’s owners tried to convince me to change my position, I never wavered and insisted that the terms of the original merger agreement be honored. It was a long, bitter and sometimes lonely struggle, and because these matters reached deep into the pocketbooks of every owner, it produced some of the bitterest infighting professional football had ever endured. To win the fight, I knew I first had to convince the AFL owners that they were not really getting what they paid $18 million for three years earlier, when the merger agreement had first been drawn up. Consequently, I wrote a memo to their realignment committee-Ralph Wilson, Lamar Hunt and Bill Sullivan-and said: We can understand the AFL’s pride in the Super Bowl victory. Nevertheless, financial facts, not pride, should be considered. The AFL/NFL agreement is specific on realignment and it calls for a thorough mixing of present AFL clubs in order to evenly distribute the financially weak franchise among the strong. I can see keeping as much of a vestige of the league as possible, but I am fighting for my franchise. Simple inter-league play does not create new divisions or groupings. What I want to emphasize is that we’re open to any alignment that gives everybody an equal shot at victory and profits. I’ll guarantee you one thing: If the leagues retain their present identities, the NFL will continue to control the major TV markets and the AFL franchise never will be worth as much. I don’t blame some of the NFL clubs for wanting to keep their cozy little four-team groupings, But at the time of the merger, when everyone was afraid of going under, the AFL paid dearly. I don’t want to ruin the effect of the Super Bowl. There will always be a Super Bowl, no matter how it’s arrived at……..But if you leave the merger, and allow the NFL to keep sixteen teams, and AFL to retain ten teams, the NFL will always be stronger simply because it will have sixteen of every twenty-six draft picks. I then presented my own plan my own plan for realignment, which split both leagues into four divisions. One included the New York Jets, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Detroit.; the second contained the New York Giants, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, Minnesota, Green Bay and Boston; the third, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Denver, Kansas City and St Louis; and the fourth, Oakland, San Diego, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami. That arrangement kept together geographic rivals and teams with equal TV value, as well as those that paid comparable receipts to visiting teams. I pointed out that I wasn’t against designating two leagues “American” and “National” if that helped preserve the Super Bowl, but I urged everyone not to worry about lessening the impact of that game. It would be world championship no matter what the leagues were named. The strong feelings for this first game were evident everywhere. The Browns arrived at their hotel in downtown Cincinnati to find the lobby dressed up with rug resembling a football playing surface; the assistant managers attired in the striped shirts and white knickers worn by, complete with yellow flags hanging from their pockets; all the waitresses wearing numbered football jerseys; and continual showings of football highlight films in the lobby. It was a combination of college homecoming game and Super Bowl to Cincinnati fans; my friends in Cleveland have told me the intensity there was nearly as great, with one exception: Everyone in Cincinnati knew where his loyalty lay; in Cleveland the feelings for the home team’s former coach were also quite strong. I tried to be as nonchalant as I could on the night of the game, and though I knew that eight years had passed since I had last coached the Browns and that only four players still remained from my 1962 team, it was a jolt walking onto the field and seeing those brown jerseys, white arm stripes, solid orange helmets and white pants. My first thought was: “They certainly look familiar.” I could not help recalling where those colors had come from and how much of my heart and my life had been invested in those suits. Of course, it was all business once the game began, and we did not start well, as we fell behind, 14-0, in the first quarter. After Jess Phillip’s touchdown had narrowed the score, however, Ken Avery recovered a fumble by Leroy Kelly, and in two plays, Sam Wyche drove across to tie the score. Then we went ahead, 17-14, at the half, when Bergey’s blitz of Bill Nelson caused an interception by Ken Riley and set up Muhlmann’s field goal. The Browns tied the game shortly after the third quarter began, but when Avery blitzed Nelson again, the wobbly pass was intercepted by Royce Berry, and he returned it for a touchdown. Wyche passed Chip Myers early in the fourth quarter for our final touchdown, and we came away with a 31-24 victory, though our defense had to battle to the end to keep the Browns from scoring. After the game Bob Johnson handed me the game ball, and I was touched, but I knew that, no matter how much I relished that moment, the two regular-season games against the Browns would be more important. In the first of them, before nearly 84, 000 fans in Cleveland, we led, 20-16, going into the final quarter, before the Browns scored two touchdowns and beat us, 30-27. I was disappointed, but even more disappointed when an incident regarding me and Blanton Collier was misrepresented. Standing on the field before the game, I pointedly told Collier that win or lose, I would go directly to our dressing room when the game ended because of a league directive designed to avoid an increasing number of nasty incidents by fans on the field after games.“If there are any congratulations to be tendered, I’m offering them now”. I said very specifically.Collier, of course, was deaf, and I don’t know whether he heard me, but I do know that TomGray, our equipment manager, who had come over to say hello to him and was standing nearby, Told me later he had heard every word. Immediately after the game Collier complained that he had walked onto the field to shake hands and I had gone to the dressing room, and some of the Cleveland media made a big deal about it, insinuating that I obviously still harbored ill feelings about our past association. That made me look bad, even though I tried to explain, and I still feel I was undeservedly criticized for something that was clearly not my fault. There was no problem later that year, when we met back in Cincinnati, however, and when I ran off the field following our 14-10 victory, I took off my hat and waved it to the crowd-something I don’t even remember doing-because I was so exhilarated at our victory over a team with better talent and deeper resources. I can’t recall our team’s ever fighting harder against great odds than in this game. The turning point was our first defense’s stopping the Browns inside our 10 yard line in the first quarter and forcing them to kick a field goal for a 10-0 lead when a touchdown might have pushed the game out of control. We scored twice in the second half, keyed by Willie Lee Jone’s sack of Mike Phipps that began our comeback, and our defense battled for its life to hold that lead. One of my friends told me afterward that I looked as if I were eighteen years old the way I ran off the field, and I told him, “That’s exactly how I felt.” I confess to having tears in my eyes when our players handed me the game ball for the second time. Playing Cleveland three times, and winning twice in front of our fans, would be enough for any season,, but 1970 was a monumental year for us in other ways as well .It started out with the players being forced to stay out of training camp because of a labor dispute, and it finished in the American Conference play-offs.We bridged those two extremes without Greg Cook, but with the gritty job of quarterbacking by Virgil Carter, and with the fine defense by our new players, Mike Reid, Lamar Parrish, Ron Carpenter, Nick Roman, and Sandy Durko. Reid was our first round pick and though he was bothered by injuries during his rookie season, he was out-standing. A very emotional player and highly motivated to excel, though he did not like to practice. Reid, next to Bill Willis, was the fastest defensive lineman for the length of the football who ever play on our teams. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Join the conversation
You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.