His voice was dominant when Cleveland was a championship town and we hung on his every word as our hearts stopped and started again when the Kardiac Kids gripped us all.
For three decades, starting in 1961 and ending in 1984, Gib Shanley's strong, steady and crystal clear voice brought us Browns football. To many fans, Shanley was Browns football. "It was a great ride," he said.
Shanley was 29-years-old and working as the news and sports director for WOHO radio in Toledo. The station was located in the middle of a cornfield with nothing for the eye to see but four large radio towers. "In the wintertime," laughed Shanley. "It looked like we were in Antarctica." Following the 1960 Browns' season, the radio play-by-play job came open. Shanley was encouraged by a friend in Cleveland to apply. He did, with one very big challenge. Shanley was the voice of Toledo football and basketball. "But," he recalled, "I couldn't find any of my University of Toledo football tapes." So, Shanley called the general manager at WGAR radio in Cleveland. WGAR was the flagship station of Browns football. "I told him that I couldn't find any football tapes," Shanley said remembering the conversation. "The GM said, well what do you have. I said I've got basketball and he said send that. So I did." Two weeks later, Shanley got a letter from the general manager stating "as you know, the Cleveland Browns are a football team and you sent us a basketball tape." The WGAR General Manager had no doubt forgotten his conversation with Shanley. Gib was determined though. He grabbed a crowd noise record, went into the studio at WOHO and made up a football game. "I just made it up," he said.
Shanley never thought he'd get the job.
"I have no chance," Shanley remembered thinking as he sent the tape off. His shot at the job though cost him only the postage it took to send the tape in the mail. It was money well spent.
WGAR called Shanley at his home in Toledo on a Friday afternoon and told him he was their guy. They wanted him to be the next voice of the Browns. "I was numb," he said. "Finally, I asked, when do you want me there?" It was late May in 1961 and Shanley had to pack his bags and be in Cleveland within two weeks. He drove a Fiat at the time. It had four doors. The passenger door had to be wired shut. "That's how bad it was," Shanley recalled speaking about his financial state. His last year in Toledo he made $8,800. His first year with the Browns he made $12,500. "I thought," Shanley laughed, "what do I do with all of this money? Obviously I got a car."
Shanley started work on June 10th, 1961. The general manager at WGAR took him to Municipal Stadium to meet with Browns' owner Art Modell and Head Coach Paul Brown in the owner's office. Modell, at that point, had owned the Browns for only a couple of months. So, his presence in the room didn't make Shanley nervous. Brown's presence did. Paul Brown was a legend in Ohio. He'd won mythical state championships at Massillon High School and a national championship at Ohio State in 1942. He organized the Browns as a professional football team in 1946 and had led them to four AAFC championships and three NFL championships by 1960. Brown was sitting, in a straight chair, when Shanley walked in the room that day. "He kept rocking back and forth, back and forth as we were talking," Shanley remembered about Brown. "Then, he fell backwards. Paul Brown fell right over backwards," said Shanley. "What do you do when God falls off his chair," Shanley asked. "I didn't do anything. Finally, Art looked at Paul and said, you okay? Paul said yea, I'm okay. So," Shanley continued, "when people asked me how my meeting went with Paul Brown I told them he fell for me right away."
When the meeting was over, Modell took Shanley out into the stadium. At the time, Shanley wore very thick, black rimmed glasses. "I had terrible eyesight," said Shanley. Art and Gib looked down on the field. Modell turned to Shanley and said "can you see the field?" Shanley looked out, turned to Modell and replied "what field?" Then they both laughed.
A Near End
After Shanley's first year in the booth, Art Modell tried to replace him. "I guess he didn't think I did a good enough job," said Shanley. Modell wanted to hire Bob Neal, who had been the Browns play-by-play voice from 1946-to1951. Neal, however, was doing Cleveland Indians games at the time and Indians General Manager Gabe Paul wouldn't let him do both. "Otherwise," said Shanley, "I would've been out. If it hadn't been for Gabe Paul, I probably never would've done the Browns again."
Learning from the Greatest
The Browns held training camp at Hiram College. Shanley spent every week at camp. He slept at camp. He did his WGAR sports reports from there too. "Paul Brown invited me into the team's film sessions at night," said Shanley. "He wanted me to see what the team was trying to do. He wanted me to understand. Well," Shanley continued, "the first night Brown and the coaches spent 20 minutes on one play, 20 minutes! They kept stopping the film, taking it back and forth, back and forth. I'm thinking to myself, let's move along. They didn't and I never went back," laughed Shanley.
The practice field was Shanley's classroom. "Paul would allow the media, which amounted to four of us, to stand behind the offense and watch the team practice. You could see what they were doing and why they were doing it. You could learn by just listening and watching and Paul allowed us to do that," Shanley pointed out. "I learned more about football in those first few years than all the years of my life."
Coming Monday: Gib talks about some of his favorite Browns memories...