When Browns Town Was Title Town
Western Reserve Historical Society Exhibit Covers The 1964 Cleveland BrownsBy: Lexi Hotchkiss, www.LexiHotchkiss.com
Admit it, it's nearly impossible to not jump on the Cleveland Brown's fanwagon these days.
Besides the fact that we have a winning team (boom goes the dynamite), we've also got swaths of ultra-loyal fans who - for the past 49 years - have been employing the "there's always next year" mentality with a vigor that is downright infectious.
Dare we say "next year" has finally arrived?
Okay, okay. Let's not jinx ourselves.
But, chances are, you're planning on making it to a game this season. And, we've got a perfect stop on your trip that goes beyond pre-game barhopping and parking lot tailgating.
The Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship on Dec. 27, 1964. In fact, it was the last time a Cleveland professional team won an athletic championship of any sort. [Gah...that was painful to type.]
It was a pivotal season - for an underdog team - that showcased the talents of several incredible athletes who were later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (which is about 60 miles south of here).
Add to that: "The 1964 team gave a real boost to the city at a time when it needed it," Ed Pershey, Vice President for Special Projects and Exhibits at the WRHS, said. "It was a big deal."
Life was different back in 1964.
During that year, the world was still recovering from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The nation was building troops to enter Vietnam. The Cold War was a harsh reality. And, the civil rights movement was reaching a tipping point.
"It was a turbulent time in the nation's history. And, it was a trying time for many people," he adds.
This was also a time before million-dollar NFL contracts, draft day antics, the advent of the fantasy football craze and even the establishment of the Super Bowl.
The 1964 team was comprised of players who showed true grit like Lou Groza, Gene Hickerson, Leroy Kelly, Paul Warfield and, of course, the legendary Jim Brown.
The exhibit at the WRHS not only showcases the achievements of these greats, but also covers the entire 1964 season through videos, photography and artifacts.
"I think the one feature that captures the spirit of the exhibit would be the shoes that Jim Brown wore during the Championship game," Pershey said. "They still have the mud on the cleats."
Other highlights include programs and tickets from the big game; game-worn jerseys and helmets; a Championship game football signed by the team; offensive and defensive playbooks; trading cards from the 50s and 60s; and even Jim Brown's contract for the 1964 season.
While there, check out films of the actual Championship game.
"One of the films was shot by a Cleveland Browns fan who had a ticket to the game and took his home movie camera," Pershey said. "Like a typical home movie in the 60s, the focus goes in an out. But it's pretty cool to see the game from the 30- or 35-yard line."
Other films within the exhibit allow you to watch clips of the players, the coaches and Jim Brown interviewing his teammates. Interactive touch-screen kiosks let you call-up plays against various teams.
And, don't get us wrong, Brian Hoyer is one heck of a quarterback. But once you get some background on the 1964 team's quarterback - Frank Ryan - we think you'll be impressed (the guy earned his Ph.D. in mathematics while playing for the Browns).
Also on display are miscellaneous items from the legendary Municipal Stadium like a seat, ticket box, turnstile and a locker from the locker room.
"Visitors can spend at least a full hour in this one exhibit," Pershey said. "But you can spend the whole day at the Western Reserve Historical Society."
The WRHS captures the history of Northeast Ohio through its vast collections and libraries focused on everything from women's clothing during the turn of the 20th Century to the opening of the (fully operational) Euclid Beach Carousel.
Now open, 1964: When Browns Town Was Title Town is included in the admission price to the WRHS.
"The exhibit is open through February 2015," Pershey said. "But if the Browns go on - well - we may keep it up longer."
Fingers crossed, Mr. Pershey. Fingers crossed.