NFL Nation: Frank Ryan

JFK Remembered: 50 years later

November, 21, 2013
Frank Ryan followed his usual pregame routine on Nov. 24, 1963.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback always strolled the field a few hours before kickoff, before the crowd arrived.

“I would see what an empty stadium looked like,” said Ryan, 77, recently from his home in Vermont.

That day, two days after the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas, Ryan said his stroll took him around the field and ended when he found himself sitting on the edge of the bench.

“Wondering about life,” Ryan said.

Then he looked and saw a phone on the bench. Whether it was the emotion of the week and the moment, or whether it was impulse, Ryan cannot say. But he reached for the phone and convinced the stadium operator to put a call through to his wife, Joan.

“She wouldn't have quite left yet,” Ryan said. “The operator challenged me a bit for calling from the bench, but she put it through.

“Joan was watching TV, and when I called, she had just witnessed the assassination of the person [Lee Harvey Oswald] who shot the president.”

Ryan wondered what was happening in the world. His feelings were the same as everyone’s that weekend -- a combination of shock and grief and near disbelief. Those emotions carried both players from Friday through Sunday, a game Jim Brown described as “very strange” and nearly surreal.

Adding to the atmosphere was the fact the Browns were playing the Dallas Cowboys, the team almost embarrassed to be identified with the city where the horrible event had happened.

A bellhop refused to carry the Cowboys' bags at the team hotel the night before, and the Dallas players were reluctant to even admit they were from Dallas when they ate dinner in small groups.

Browns owner Art Modell had urged Pete Rozelle not to play the games two days later, but Rozelle went ahead. Modell hired as many off-duty police officers as he could to provide extra protection.

“The game was certainly subdued,” Ryan said. “There’s always a certain amount of noise when things are happening, but that game definitely didn’t have the sort of zing it normally would have.”

A crowd of 55,096 was present, but that was small for the Browns, who defeated the Cowboys 27-17. Modell made sure the stadium announcer never referred to the Cowboys as “Dallas.” Introductions were bypassed, though Joan Ryan remembered the Cowboys being booed a little more lustily than normal.

But Brown, 77, also can’t say he would have preferred not to play.

“Sitting around wouldn't have made a difference to me,” Brown said. “I respected the president. That was within me. It wasn’t to be demonstrated. I went with the decision.”

The conflicting emotions of two teams were stark. Dallas players have always said they played a game with their minds completely elsewhere. The Browns shared the grief of a nation, but they played. Because they had to.

“All I can say,” Brown said, “is it was a very difficult week.”

Rex Ryan puts a bounty on Rob Ryan

November, 10, 2010
BEREA, Ohio -- New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has pulled a Reggie Dunlop.

Like Dunlop, the coach of the Charlestown Chiefs in the classic comedy "Slap Shot," Ryan has announced through the media a bounty on an upcoming opponent.

And the target is his twin brother.

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireCleveland's defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was the target of Jets coach Rex Ryan's trash talking.
Ryan had Cleveland Browns reporters roaring in his conference call here to preview Sunday's game and a showdown with Cleveland's defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan.

The brothers are notorious trash talkers, and when asked what the latest update was in their war of words, Rex Ryan said he was ready to escalate.

"It's going to be more physical on Sunday," Rex Ryan said. "There's a rumor floating around there's been a bounty placed on his head. I don't know. ... All right. Let's be honest. There is a bounty on his head. There's no question.

"I'm a little concerned with our guys bouncing off of his belly. If they run into [Browns head coach Eric] Mangini, that would be fine. Would I have placed a bounty on Mangini? I would have, but he's so small right now that it'd be hard to hit that kind of target."

Mangini has lost a noticeable amount of weight this year through diet and exercise. Rex Ryan had lap-band surgery in the offseason. Rob Ryan, well, it doesn't look like he has done much in that regard.

Rex Ryan did offer some earnest comments about his younger brother (by five minutes).

"He's one of the most creative coaches in the league, probably the most on defense," Rex Ryan said. "I think him and Mangini together, that's a pretty good tandem right there. That's a tough group right now. They're flying around. They're doing all kind of different things, multiple fronts, multiple coverages, blitzes. It's great to see and tough to go against."

Rex Ryan joked about Mangini's elusiveness regarding his starting quarterback. It's pretty obvious Colt McCoy has the job after consecutive victories over the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, but Mangini is acting as though the position remains up for grabs.

"I don't know if [McCoy's] going to be the starting quarterback this week," Rex Ryan said. "Because I think there's a good chance Frank Ryan will be the quarterback this week."

Frank Ryan (no relation) last quarterbacked the Browns in 1968.

Best Browns Team Ever: 1964

June, 23, 2010
Notable players: RB Jim Brown, WR Paul Warfield, K Lou Groza, G Gene Hickerson, RB Leroy Kelly, QB Frank Ryan, LB Jim Houston.

Analysis: Jim Brown and Paul Warfield in the same offense.

Does any more need to be said?

[+] EnlargePaul Warfield
Malcolm Emmons/ US PresswirePaul Warfield averaged 17.7 yards per catch during his rookie season in 1964.
Often you hear Cleveland fans longing for the glory days, and this group led by Brown and Warfield -- perhaps the two best to play their respective positions -- tops the list.

This team was ahead of its time. Cleveland, which finished 10-3-1 in 1964, scored more than 400 points in an era when that was extremely difficult. For perspective, only eight teams scored more than 400 points in 2009 with two more regular-season games (16) and numerous advancements in the NFL game.

Brown, 28 and in his prime, rushed for 1,446 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. He averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game. Warfield, then a 22-year-old rookie, had 920 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, as he was a key figure who helped revolutionize the vertical passing game. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch in '64, a stat that would still be impressive today.

To further prove Cleveland's dominance, they won the NFL Championship, 27-0, over the Baltimore Colts. The high-powered offense with Brown, Warfield and Ryan (25 touchdown passes) at quarterback was too advanced. Cleveland scored 30 points or more in half of its games that season.

Brown, Warfield, Groza, Hickerson and Kelly -- who was a rookie kick returner in '64 -- are all Hall of Famers from this group.

Most impressive win: As mentioned earlier, Cleveland's 27-0 rout of the Baltimore Colts was the exclamation point of the '64 season.

Both teams had an amazing collection of talent. But Baltimore Hall of Famers such as quarterback Johnny Unitas, running back Lenny Moore and tight end John Mackey were stifled by Cleveland's defense, which forced four turnovers. Brown rushed for 114 yards for Cleveland and Ryan threw three touchdown passes in the blowout win.

Research room: Groza had one of the most interesting careers in football history. He played 22 years in Cleveland and arrived as an offensive lineman. He made the Pro Bowl nine times as a left tackle and also played some right tackle, center, defensive tackle and kicker during his career. Groza was the kicker for the '64 team at age 40. He made 22 field goals and all 49 extra-point attempts.

Sudden retirement: Following the championship in '64, Brown would play one more season before suddenly retiring to pursue a movie career.

Brown rushed for an astounding 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final season. Most of Brown's rushing records have been broken. But he's widely considered the best running back of all time.

Honorable mention:

1950: Another elite, championship team stacked with talented players such as Otto Graham and Marion Motley. This Browns team would give the '64 group a run for its money. But not having Warfield or Brown on this squad makes the difference.

1953: The Browns, again led by Graham at quarterback, ran off 11 consecutive wins before losing a meaningless final regular-season game. But Cleveland lost to the Detroit Lions, 17-16, in the NFL Championship for a disappointing end to an otherwise dominant season.

1986: This team is best known for falling victim to "The Drive" led by quarterback John Elway of the Denver Broncos. Elway orchestrated a 15-play, 98-yard drive in Cleveland to force overtime and Denver eventually won the game, costing a talented Browns team a shot at the Super Bowl. One year later, a chance at revenge against Denver in the AFC title game was thwarted by "The Fumble."