Galen Fiss Remembered Cleveland

As Browns fans who have been keeping up on the news know, the Cleveland football community lost Galen Fiss on Monday night. The terrific Browns linebacker recalled his days in Cleveland in this 2003 magazine article...

Browns LB Galen Fiss passed away Monday night at the age of 75. The OBR remembers Fiss by looking forward to attending.

Galen Fiss reached the pinnacle of his career when the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964 -- and finds it astounding that Cleveland hasn't experienced such joy since.

"It really is hard to believe or comprehend," Fiss said of the Browns not winning another title in 38 years after being football's dominant team throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s.

His play at linebacker was a big reason for the team's continued success in the team's second decade. In their first 10 years (1946-56), the Browns went to their league's championship game every season. Fiss joined the club in 1956, when it had its only losing season (5-7) until going 4-10 in 1974.

He missed only five games over 11 years with the team, accumulating 13 interceptions and twice being selected to play in the Pro Bowl.

"The big rivalry then was with the (New York) Giants," Fiss recalled. "We really went at it in every game. They usually were the team that kept us from going to the playoffs and we didn't like that very much."

Between 1956 and 1964, Cleveland's only playoff game came against those Giants after the clubs finished tied for the Eastern Conference's best record at 9-3. The Giants prevailed, 10-0. The Browns went 9-4 and three of the losses were to New York.

That all changed in 1964, when Cleveland thrashed the Giants 42-20 and 52-20 in their two meetings and won the East.

"We had a lot of good teams, but in 1964 it just sort of all came together for us," Fiss recalled. "That season, that one game against Baltimore for the championship, I guess you would have to say that was the highlight of my career. We were underdogs in that game because the Colts really were a great football team. But we were, too, and I'm not exactly sure why people made us such underdogs."

Perhaps it was because Baltimore had scored the most points in the NFL and allowed the fewest, though the Browns' 415 points were just 13 fewer than the Colts. Cleveland's 293 points allowed were the fifth fewest in the NFL, but 68 more than Baltimore had given up in the regular season.

"We were a pretty good team, too," Fiss said. "For one, we had the best running back in the game in Jim Brown. Frank Ryan was a tremendous quarterback, too. He did an excellent job for us. I guess everybody looked at the Colts with all their great players and figured we couldn't keep up with them, but we had a good day. Everybody on our team played well. To beat a guy like Johnny Unitas, that's what has to happen and it did."

One play by Fiss, who was the team captain, helped turn the momentum in the Browns' favor early in Cleveland's 27-0 win. Hall of Famer Unitas flipped a swing pass to Hall of Famer Lenny Moore, who had Hall of Famer Jim Parker and Pro Bowler Bob Vogel out in front blocking. Fiss fought through Parker and Vogel and hit Moore with a crunching tackle.

As a two-sport star at the University of Kansas, Fiss had been nicknamed "Earthshaker" because of the punishment he delivered despite being only 208 pounds. He also was a fullback on offense and considered a rugged blocker.

"Yeah, I guess I liked to hit people -- especially when it went my way," said Fiss, now 72, when asked about his style.

"Just the other day, I was listening to some tapes of that game against the Colts. I had not heard them in years. I had forgotten that my grandson had them."

But he hasn't forgotten fond memories of his time in Cleveland.

"I don't know what it was like elsewhere, but I loved Cleveland because the fans really made a fuss over you and you were part of them, part of the city," he said. "It was a loving relationship.

"The old stadium was a great place to play. It had a lot of history. But I think the new stadium is just fantastic. It's a great place to watch a game and serves a great purpose."

Drafted in the 13th round in 1953 by the Browns, Fiss didn't come to Cleveland to play until 1956. Instead, he was on the organizational roster of another Cleveland pro sports team -- the Indians. He played one season as a catcher for Fargo, N.D., in the Northern League where a teammate was the legendary Roger Maris.

"I played both sports in college, but never really thought about liking one or the other," Fiss said. "It just so happened the Browns' contract offer after that one year in the Indians' organization was just better for me, so I signed with them.

I enjoyed that one year in baseball. "Roger was a great, great player and a very nice man. I stayed in touch with him through the years. We both lived in Kansas City for awhile. It's too bad that such a nice man was taken from us at such a young age."

Maris, who got to the majors in 1957 with the Indians and hit 61 homers for the New York Yankees in 1961, died in 1985 at age 51.

Fiss admitted he was apprehensive about joining the Browns, who were coming off a 38-14 victory over the Rams in the NFL Championship Game when he reported to his first NFL training camp.

"I was real nervous, actually a little frightened because I just didn't really know what to expect," he recalled. "Paul Brown took care of that right away. He roomed me with (Hall of Fame offensive lineman) Mike McCormack. I knew Mike from my days at Kansas and he showed me the ropes, made me feel comfortable. I owe a lot to Mike for that."

Fiss had another legendary roommate in college, too -- basketball player Dean Smith, who carved out a Hall of Fame career as North Carolina's hoops coach. Smith and Fiss were teammates on the Jayhawks' baseball team.

And Fiss was instrumental in getting one of Smith's assistants, Roy Williams, to take over the Kansas basketball program in 1988. Fiss, a member of the school's athletic board of directors and its president in 1980-81, was one of those interviewing prospects for the prestigious job.

Williams was reluctant to leave North Carolina and flat out told the committee of his love for that area. He told the story to Sports Illustrated soon after getting the job: "I saw Galen Fiss with big 'ol tears rolling down his face and he blurted out 'Roy, I want you to know this doesn't make me think any less of you at all. It makes me think more of you. Nobody can love Kansas any more than I do and I know that you could love it like that, too. I want that kind of person as our coach.' "

That helped Williams decide to take the Kansas job.

"I do love the University of Kansas," Fiss said. "I grew up in a little town of about 400 in the southwest portion of the state. It was a dream to go to Kansas and I was fortunate to have done so."

But he also cherishes his time with the Browns and looks forward to every reunion with former teammates or Cleveland fans.

"We've got a big Browns Backers event planned here in Kansas City when the Browns play here this year (Nov. 9)," Fiss said. "Vince Costello is organizing it and I'm really looking forward to that."

McCormack, Jim Houston and Paul Wiggin are other Browns scheduled to attend the festivities.

"I love getting together with former teammates because we really had a special time in Cleveland," Fiss said, adding that he is particularly excited about the prospect of the 1964 team getting together for a reunion next year.

"The new management of the team has talked about putting something together and they can count me in right now," he said. "It's been a long time."

It has been a long time, but the memories are just as strong for Fiss and thousands of Cleveland fans who certainly  would not have believed back then that it would be the Browns' last league title for at least 38 years.

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