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When Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, fired a legend last year, he was criticized bitterly by pro football experts—not because he had booted Paul Brown out of football, but for the manner in which he did it. "You don't fire a coach because the players don't like him," a long-established coach in the league said. "You fire him because you don't like what he has done. Hell, I can find eight players on any team who hate the coach at the end of the season. If I can't, he's a lousy coach."
But easygoing Blanton Collier, who is liked by everyone on the club from Modell down to the equipment manager, led the Browns to second place. Jim Brown (right) gave his all for the new regime and Frank Ryan and Jim Ninowski, the two Brown quarterbacks, played better than they ever had before. But even with all this euphoria, it is doubtful that Collier can move the Browns any higher than third in the Eastern Division this year.
Cleveland has, in Ryan and Ninowski, two good but erratic quarterbacks who too often are left open to the attacks of charging linebackers by a lack of blocking from the fullback spot. No club has ever had a better runner than Jim Brown, but one runner is no longer enough. Two are needed. The Brown defense—from the front line deep into the secondary—has flaws and the Brown offense is not powerful enough to make up for this deficiency. In a division where almost every club strikes through the air, the Brown air defense is not quite adequate, but some strength has been added to their air offense by the acquisition of Flanker Paul Warfield.
The Cardinals were a year and a few injuries away from an Eastern Division championship in 1963; the year is here and the injuries have passed, and it looks like St. Louis will lose to Green Bay or Baltimore in the championship game.
Only Green Bay has a deeper and better set of running backs. Last year the Cardinals lost brittle John Crow and Prentice Gautt as the season started, then came up with two almost as good runners in Joe Childress and Bill Triplett. Triplett, unfortunately, is out this year with a lung infection, but the Cardinals still have Crow, Gautt, Childress, rookie Wallis Crenshaw and Thunder Thornton—all big, quick, strong and intelligent, and also powerful blockers.
In front of them is a tough offensive line which is beginning its third year as a unit. It is young and quick, and it should do two chores well—protect Charley Johnson, the small but hardy quarterback, and open running holes. Johnson has some of the best targets in the league to throw to in Sonny Randle, Bobby Joe Conrad, Taz Anderson, Jackie Smith and rookie Bob Johnson. This is an offense that should be as good or better than the Giants' and much more versatile.
"We were the only club in the East that did not make a trade," says Wally Lemm, the Cardinal head coach. "We're set both ways, offense and defense. Of course, if you don't trade, you have to hope your players develop. Johnson, for instance, has grown in ability each year, and he hasn't reached a plateau yet. He gets better and better. There are four players we depend on to get better this year. If we win the championship, it will be because they improved."