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."
The Voice of Three DecadesIt was a December day, the last game of the 1961 season. The Browns were set to play the Giants in New York eight days before Christmas and Gib Shanley got a gift not even Santa Claus could have ever delivered.
"My first big thrill, really big thrill," said hanley, "was when we played the Giants at Yankee Stadium." Shanley was a Yankee fan as a boy. "I couldn't wait to get to the Stadium and stand in the batters box," said Shanley. Yankee Stadium was set up for a football game that day but home plate was still there and when Shanley found it he stood in the left-handers batter's box. "Oh my God," he said to himself. "Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig stood here. I looked out into the outfield and just imagined."
Blanton Collier was the head coach of the Browns from 1963-to-1970. Shanley liked him. He liked him a lot. "Before his first game I went to wish him good luck," said Shanley recreating the scene, "Blanton put out his left hand and said to me your left hand is closer to your heart. He was that kind of man."
When Collier retired, Shanley and a few others got the coach a plaque. It showed two left hands shaking.
OOn Monday mornings during the season, Shanley would always go to Collier's office to record the upcoming week's radio shows and he remembers being greeted in one of two ways. "If the Browns won on Sunday," Shanley said, "Blanton would always say Good Morning! If the Browns lost, he would only say Morning." Why? "Well," shrugged Shanley, "I suppose in his mind there was nothing good about it."
Gib Shanley called four NFL Championship games in his career. The NFL Championship was the Super Bowl before there was a Super Bowl so Shanley got to work his craft at the highest possible level.
Here are some of his memories of each championship game:
December 27th, 1964, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland
Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Colts
"I wasn't exactly optimistic about the game," remembered Shanley. "The Browns were 13 point underdogs and the Colts had Johnny Unitas at quarterback." The Browns and Colts were tied 0-0 at halftime. In the second half, Browns Quarterback Frank Ryan threw three touchdown passes to wide receiver Gary Collins and the Browns won the Championship 27-to-nothing. "That was my most memorable game," said Shanley. "It stays with you because we won and because it (a championship) doesn't happen very often." Today, Shanley still wears the ring that the Browns gave him following the 1964 Championship Season. Why? "Well, for one," he said, "I wouldn't know what else to do with it" and then he laughed out loud. "Really," he added, "I look at it every once in awhile. It's sports history and it brings back good memories."
January 2nd, 1966, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin
Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers
It was the day after New Years in Green Bay. The field was dry when the teams went to bed the night before the game. "Overnight, a blizzard hit," Shanley recalled. "We woke up to snow everywhere. Everybody was late getting to the game because of the snow. They brought in helicopters to hover over the field hoping to dry it out. It just made it mud." The Browns lost 23-to-12 to the Packers.
December 29th, 1968, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland
Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Colts.
The Browns lost 34-to-nothing to the Colts in front of 80,628 fans at the Stadium.
"It was never close," Shanley simply said.
January 4th, 1970, Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota
Cleveland Browns vs. Minnesota Vikings
"The field was completely frozen," said Shanley. "Walter Johnson got frost bite on his hands." Johnson was the Browns starting left defensive tackle. "There was nobody tougher than Walter Johnson," said Shanley. "It was so bad though, when we got to the airport to go home, you could hear Walter screaming. They were afraid he was going to lose his fingers." The Browns lost to the Vikings 27-to-7.
The Kardiac Kids
Close your eyes and listen for the building, pulsating sound that a crowd makes when a football game hangs on one play. Now hear Gib Shanley's voice as he says "Oh boy, here we go again."
Welcome to the fall of 1980. Brian Sipe is at quarterback, Dave Logan and Reggie Rucker are split out wide to the right and left and Newsome is tight at right end. The Pruitt's are in the backfield and Sam Rutigliano is on the sideline.
"The most fun I ever had," said Shanley about the 1980 season. "Every game, practically, was decided in the last two minutes or in overtime." Thirteen of the 17 games the Browns played during the Kardiac Kid season went down to the final moments. "They never quit," said Shanley. That Browns team lived on the edge and died on the edge. Shanley has always been a simple, straightforward man and his call of the final play that season, when Sipe was intercepted in the endzone by Oakland Raider defensive back Mike Davis was true to form. "That's it, it's over" were his words. "It was such a letdown," remembered Shanley. "We were all holding on, waiting for the climax and then it was over."
Gib Shanley was born and raised in Shadyside, Ohio, a small town along the Ohio River. Today, he's 71-years-old and over the years, through all the glory, all the big-time settings, Shanley has never forgotten where he's from. "You've never been to Shadyside have you," he asked. Then he chuckles. "That's why I go back often. I'm just a little town bumpkin and some of that never gets out of your system."
Just like your calls Gib. Browns fans all over the world can never get them out of their system either.