Echoes Across Forty Years

On a day when the Browns last championship team was saluted before kick-off, the current team played like champions themselves. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but it seemed like more than that. Frank Derry offers his thoughts on yesterday's convincing Browns victory...

Those of us old enough to remember the 1964 NFL Championship Game between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Colts know that, on paper, the Browns were not as talented as the Colts that year.

But when the final gun sounded on that brisk December afternoon, it was the Browns on the winning end of a 27-0 score, thus bringing yet another World Championship to Cleveland

At the time, it really didn't seem like that big of a deal. This might come as quite a shock to the under-40 crowd, but football titles in Cleveland were quite common during he team's first 15 years of existence.

As you probably know, the Browns were the World Champions in 1950, 1954 and 1955, plus they had been in the title game many other times. The great Paul Brown had put together one of the greatest franchises in the NFL.

Then along came Art Modell as the new owner of the team in the early ‘60s; out went Brown as head coach and soon the dynasty started to crumble.

But even with the change in ownership and in head coaches, most of us never imagined that 40 years later, we'd still be waiting for the next championship.

FORTY YEARS! That's two generations.

Many of the players from the '64 Championship team were on hand on Sunday to watch the new Cleveland Browns open the 2004 season against the old Cleveland Browns … the Baltimore Ravens … at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

And, while much has changed over those 40 years, one thing was the same on Sept. 12, 2004 as it was on Dec. 27, 1964 … on paper, Baltimore was the clear favorite. Many people, including this columnist, think the Ravens will defend their AFC North crown.

But once again, much like in '64, when the final gun sounded, the Browns were on top, this time by a convincing 20-3 score.

And much like the '64 Championship Game, the Browns dominated this contest in every facet  … offense, defense, special teams and coaching.

Those of us who predicted dire things for the '04 Browns were left eating crow as Butch Davis's team played probably its most complete game during his era as head coach.

And I'd have to guess that even those fans who came into the season wearing rose colored glasses, predicting great things despite last year's 5-11 record, had to be surprised with the total domination, particularly in the second half when the Browns turned a 3-0 deficit into a 17-point victory.

For the first two quarters, it appeared the new-look Browns, who had lost the previous three season-openers under Davis, were more concerned about field position than trying to score. Quite frankly, it's not the most exciting form of football, but it was effective as the offense struggled to find itself.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia, in his first start for the Browns, still is a long ways from being totally comfortable with the offense. Thus the key to his first-half performance was that he didn't make any stupid mistakes. And aside from a few too many penalties, no one else did, either. No turnovers … no easy touchdowns for the Ravens' offense … and no long runs by Jamal Lewis.

Quite frankly, the Ravens' offense is not very potent under the direction of second-year quarterback Kyle Boller. If Lewis, who ran for 500 yards against the Browns in two games last year, is shut down, then you can pretty much figure the Ravens' offense will be shut down.

Thus, defense and special teams were the name of the game in the first half for the Browns. 

 Lewis, who managed just 57 yards in the game and averaged less than three yards per carry, was swarmed upon every time he touched the ball.

"Last year, he had two big games against us," cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said. "We just took it to heart and we came out prepared to do anything to stop the run or the pass."

Defensive lineman Kenard Lang said Lewis has been on the minds of the defensive players ever since Lewis had 205 yards in the Ravens' 35-0 romp last Dec. 21.

"We couldn't wait to get back on the field," Lang said. "We wanted to redeem."

And redeem they did, much to the delight of the sellout crowd.

Meanwhile, Boller had little success through the air. The defense had him running for his life several times and aside from talented tight end Todd Heap, who caught nine passes for 86 yards, no Ravens receiver really was a serious threat, including former Brown Kevin Johnson.

One of the few times Boller tried to go deep, defensive back Anthony Henry stepped up and a made a huge momentum-changing interception.

Henry had just missed an interception, which likely would have gone for a touchdown, earlier in the game. This time, the Ravens were driving for the potential tying score after Quincy Morgan had put the Browns up 10-3 with a 46-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter as he capitalized on a blown coverage by talented Ravens safety Ed Reed, who rarely makes such mistakes.

"I ran the slant route and the DB (Reed) jumped hard when Jeff (Garcia) made the pump fake," Morgan said.

The Ravens looked like they might come right back and tie the game.

Boller spotted Johnson on a go-route down the right side. Henry, who was an interception machine with 10 as a rookie in 2001, had tight coverage on Johnson and made a beautiful pick on the 7 yard line.

"That was a great momentum-breaker," Davis said. "They (the Ravens) were putting themselves in position to potentially get seven points. Any time you can make a play that takes points off the board, it is a big play."

Soon thereafter, Garcia again took advantage of another blown coverage by the Ravens and hit Andre Davis for what could have been a 93 yard touchdown. However, Davis tripped over his own feet on the Ravens' 42, thus the Browns had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by old reliable Phil Dawson.

Dawson, as usual, was perfect, hitting a pair of field goals.

Even more impressive was the performance of Derrick Frost. In his first game replacing veteran punter Chris Gardocki, Frost averaged 45 yards on seven kicks and the Ravens returned six for a whopping five yards.

"Our special teams were a huge factor today," Butch Davis said. "They truly kept them (the Ravens) bottled up, kept them on a long field."

And so, as Week One of the 2004 season came to an end, the Browns not only found themselves tied with Pittsburgh for first place in the division, but also with confidence that they can end a 40-year drought of World Championships in Cleveland.

One game might not make a season. But it can sure make for a lot more excitement in a city where titles have been as a rare as unicorns for far too long.

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