I love asking fans how they came to root for their favorite teams. Geography often plays a part. Growing up in Northeast Ohio my family bled
If you ask when
I started thinking about this when I borrowed a book from the library a couple weeks ago called
Sound like any team you know? With training camp more than a week away and WFNY readers hungry for football stories, we asked Terry Pluto if we could give you a few excerpts from
When Paul Brown went shopping for a training site, he thought of one thing: isolation.
He thought of trees.
He thought of a small college in a town that wasn’t even a dot on the map.
He thought the only light at night should come from the moon.
When Paul Brown heard about
Then someone told Brown, “The town is dry.”
No bars. Heck, no restaurants—just one store with a small snack bar. The closest place to buy a beer was ten miles away in a small town called Garrettsville.
So it was to Hiram that Paul Brown took the Browns every summer, and it was in Hiram that they assembled under Blanton Collier to start the 1964 season.
Like his mentor, Collier loved Hiram. He relished its serenity. He knew this was a place where players would be forced to pay attention to football; they had just each other and their thoughts. Long before “getting away from it all” and “learning about yourself” reduced this experience to meaningless psychobabble, the Browns were almost using Hiram as a retreat.
“In Hiram, there was one gas station,” Jim Brown said. “We slept in these little beds in tiny rooms that were the girls’ dorms. There was this big hill down from the dorms to the practice field. I remember trudging up that hill after practice. You’d go through two workouts a day, then walk up that hill—it felt like
Jim Brown saw tremendous signs of unity in that 1964 training camp.
He watched Bernie Parrish holding special film sessions for defensive backs. He saw John Wooten and Dick Schafrath leading the offensive linemen on long runs and short sprints, watching those elephants nearly drown in their own sweat. He knew that it would pay off; he knew that if he broke through the line of scrimmage, as he headed downfield Gene Hickerson or Wooten would be out there in front, knocking some defensive back into oblivion.
“That’s what made our line so great,” Brown recalled. “These guys would throw a block at the line of scrimmage, then they’d get up, run 10 or 20 yards down the field, and nail someone else. It was common for Hickerson and Schafrath to throw three blocks on one play.”
Schafrath came up with an idea called “the healing towel.” It was a towel he brought into the huddle, a towel soaked in ice water.
“As the game went on, it got pretty grungy,” he said. “We’d suck on it to get the water. We’d use it to wipe off the sweat. We’d use it to stop bleeding, to get mud out of our eyes. That was why it was the healing towel; we could use it for almost anything.”
The Browns’ offensive line seemed never to rest under that unrelenting July sun in Hiram. Assistant coach Fritz Heisler would scream, “Don’t stop. Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of salt.”
They invented a play called “Mash to It.”
“It meant we’d give the ball to Jim,” Schafrath said. “Then we’d just mash the guy right in front of us. No strategy. Just block the hell out of the closest guy and let Jimmy run the ball. The defense really couldn’t prepare for it, because it was so simple it confused them.”
When the Browns were only a few yards from the end zone, this became one of their favorite plays.
Quarterback Frank Ryan would sometimes ask key players for input in the huddle. The receivers favored a pass play. The backs wanted to run. Then Schafrath or Wooten or Jim Brown would scream, “The hell with it, just Mash to It.”
And they did.
This was exactly the spirit that Collier wanted. He’d give the players the structure, he’d work on their individual skills, he’d get them in shape, he’d prepare them for the plays the opposition would employ. But in the end, it came down to the players. They had to make key decisions. They had to knock the other guys on their butts. They had to believe in the system and themselves.
The best way to do that was to let the players feel they were creating that system, that their voices were heard.
In 1963, Collier saw some of that happen—but some players acted as if they had been released from prison. While some were still convinced they were weighed down by the strategic ball-and-chain that was Paul Brown’s philosophy, others took advantage of Collier’s light hand, pushing freedom a bit too far.
By 1964, they were learning what it took to be champions, and to play for Blanton Collier. And the groundwork for this championship season was being laid down at Hiram.
Collier made a couple of shrewd moves to bolster his roster.
When it came time to make their top pick in 1964, everyone wanted Paul Warfield. Interestingly, Paul Brown was the first to suggest that the Browns keep an eye on the running back from
For his $82,500 each year, Paul Brown was still listed as vice president, but all he did was turn in a few scouting reports. Having coached at
After Warfield, the other significant draft pick in 1964 was Leroy Kelly, who was picked in the eighth round from
“I had never been to
Kelly flew from
Kelly did just fine going from
That was trouble.
Kelly watched the steel mills and stores out the window turn into chickens and cows. The gray skies of the inner city were now country blue. He was going to Hiram, wherever Hiram was—and few people on the bus were sure. No one else was headed there. Even the driver wasn’t sure where Kelly should get off. So the driver and Kelly guessed—and guessed wrong.
They overshot Hiram by a couple of stops. Kelly had to sit in a gas station in the middle of nowhere for three hours waiting for the bus coming in the opposite direction.
This time, he walked off the bus at the one gas station in Hiram. He grabbed his bags and walked down that huge hill to the football field and the gym. There he saw Blanton Collier.
“Well, Leroy, it’s almost five o’clock,” said Collier, looking at his watch. “If nothing else, you made it in time for supper.”
Welcome to the Browns for this scared young man who later would replace Jim Brown and find his way to
Collier also signed a free agent from
No one believed it.
The Flea earned his nickname because he was small and fast, especially on kickoff and punt returns. He was spotted by a Browns scout named Sarge McKenzie, an old Army buddy of Paul Brown’s who lived on the West Coast. Sarge didn’t think Roberts was an inch over 5¢7² or heavier than 150, but he clocked the kid at 9.6 in the 100-yard dash. He saw him play nearly every down at
Collier said fine, “We’ll take a look at him.”
No one even drafted Roberts. He didn’t rate a plane ticket to
After a few practices, Collier was very glad he had taken Sarge McKenzie’s word. “That Roberts is like a fox terrier running around the legs of an elephant,” he said after watching the rookie return a few punts for long yardage, leaving bigger men facedown in the dirt as they literally fell for his fakes.
A few days later, Collier was calling Roberts “a rabbit in a wheat field.”
“Excerpted from the book Browns Town 1964 © 2003 by Terry Pluto. All rights reserved. This text may not be reproduced in any form or manner without written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.”
For more information about the book- http://www.grayco.com/cleveland/books/28728
To Purchase the book- http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1886228728/clevelandbooks
Publisher’s web site- http://www.grayco.com
Terry Pluto’s web page- http://www.terrypluto.com