NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Big Red Ambush

12 Dec

It’s week 15 on the NFL schedule, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to the mid-1960s for a match between 2 teams that play on this week’s schedule, the Cleveland Browns and the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals were based in St. Louis back then, and the Browns were still toiling in old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, where this game was played. It was September 26, 1965, the second game of that season for both clubs. The Browns, of course, were coming off a championship they had captured the previous year in 1964, while the Redbirds had finished second behind the Browns in the Eastern Conference. St. Louis had a bit of a chip on it’s shoulder as it had finished 9-3-2 in ’64 to Cleveland’s 10-3-1, but had tied and beaten the Browns in their 2 head-to-head meetings. The Browns were quarterbacked by Frank Ryan, who had become a local hero by leading the team to the title the previous year, while the Cardinals’ signal caller was an interesting and underrated player of that era, Charley Johnson. Johnson was an intelligent man, a total opposite of the Neanderthal stereotype players had back then. He worked on his academic pursuits while simultaneously playing in the NFL, earning masters and doctorate degrees in chemical engineering.

As far as this game went, Johnson hit Willis Crenshaw for a 78 yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter in what was an omen of things to come. Cleveland got a field goal from Lou “The Toe” Groza and a 13 yard Ryan to Gary Collins TD pass to take a 10-7 lead, but the rest of the second quarter belonged to Johnson and the Cardinal offense. In what was a career performance, Johnson led his club to four touchdowns before halftime, including 3 scoring passes. He hit Sonny Randle twice for touchdowns and hooked up with Bobby Joe Conrad for another, with Bill Triplett rushing for the other TD. The onslaught left the Cardinals with a 35-10 lead at the half. Cleveland managed another Groza three-pointer to start the second half, but Johnson was red hot on this day and continued the massacre. By the time the third quarter was over, he hit Randle again and Billy Gambrell for touchdowns to run his passing TD total to 6, one short of the NFL record for a single game. With the game well in hand, Johnson didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter.

In what was typical of the style of play of the time, Johnson’s 6 touchdown throws came from a total of only 11 completions on the day, in 19 attempts. Randle caught 7 of those for 198 yards and his 3 touchdowns. The Cardinal defense was no slouch in this game either. Jim Brown got his 100 yards, 110 to be exact, but the Big Red defense intercepted Ryan and his replacement, Jim Ninowski, 6 times. The 49-13 rout wasn’t indicative of how either team’s fortunes would go in the remainder of the 1965 season. Although they got revenge on this day, the Cards would win 4 of their first 5 games, then collapse to finish 5-9, second from the bottom in the conference. Cleveland rebounded to win the East again and advance to another championship game, losing on a muddy field to the Green Bay Packers.



Charley Johnson calls the signals for the Cardinals

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