Owl: Long Before the Grudge...

Back in 1964, Blanton Collier made Art Modell look like a smart young man...

It's ravens week (Let's keep it lower case) and that means it's time to crank up the grudge-o-meter.

Just turn it off for the next minute or so, okay? Forty-one years ago when the Browns ruled the National Football League Art Modell wasn't such a bad guy. Now he is a (finish the sentence with your own word).

Modell bought the Browns for $4 million in 1961 and in 1964 delivered Cleveland its last major sports championship, a 27-0 spanking of the Colts two days after Christmas 41 years ago. One of the film clips preserved from that day in Cleveland Municipal Stadium shows Modell walking through the locker room shaking hands with his players. He was young and handsome, with thick black hair. He was one of Cleveland's most eligible bachelors.

Of course, even then Modell had his detractors. Just as most readers of BerniesInsiders will never forgive Modell for abruptly moving his franchise to Baltimore in 1996, many fans were still angry in 1964 because Modell fired Paul Brown in 1963. Some remain angrier with him for that than they are for him moving the team, especially since the Browns are back, and especially since the ravens are crashing. Now that's a grudge of the first order.

But to hear Modell recall the championship season, the Browns never would have won the title had he not fired Brown and hired Blanton Collier.

"There was tremendous pressure on Blanton and me," Modell said from Baltimore. "I was very proud of that team. The 1964 team will always have a special place in my heart. I love those guys very much.

"I adored Blanton Collier. They threw the mold away when they made him. He might have been one of the great football coaches in NFL history."

Okay, we're supposed to hate Modell until the day after forever, but a championship is worth relishing, even this long after it happened, so let him tell the story, because the big part of this story is Blanton Collier. Modell is the conduit.

Modell said Collier never got the recognition he deserved because the Browns won only one championship with him as head coach. But Collier was Paul Brown's loyal assistant on all four championships the Browns won in the All-American Conference. He was on Brown's staff in the first four seasons in the NFL. He helped mold Otto Graham into a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Collier was coaching the University of Kentucky when Modell bought the Browns. He returned as an assistant under Brown in 1962, giving Modell only one season to observe him. But Modell knew, from that season plus from what he learned about what Collier had done as Brown's assistant from 1946-53 and at Kentucky that Collier was the man he wanted.

"Blanton was the brains behind Paul Brown, make no mistake about that," Modell said. "Some people said the championship team was Paul Brown's team. It wasn't. It was our team. Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield came in the '64 draft.

"It all came together. It was a wonderful year for me and sort of a vindication for changing coaches. People looked upon me differently than as some wild kid from New York City that came to town to wreck their team."

Collier was a gentleman who had paid his dues, just as Romeo Crennel has.

The National Football League was not the television spectacle in 1964 that it is today. There was no "We'll be right back with the championship trophy presentation after these words from our sponsors." The game ended, and that was that.

Also unlike today, the NFL had no blackout rules. The game was not televised in the Cleveland area. Fans drove to Erie, Pa. and points south to watch the live telecast if they did not have a ticket. Most fans listened to Gib Shanley and Jim Graner call the game on WERE-AM 1300.

"They replayed the entire game, including commercials, the next night on Channel 8," Modell said. "It had one of the biggest audiences in the station's history at the time. I watched it in my apartment. I sat there watching every second of it."

I hope you enjoyed the retelling of the championship. Now go turn the grudge-o-meter back on.


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