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With some 45 seconds to play in the first half at Yankee Stadium last Saturday, the Cleveland Browns convinced themselves, the New York Giants, 63,000 damp spectators and the rest of the National Football League that they are, indeed, the best football team in the Eastern Division.
At the critical moment the Browns were leading the New York Giants 17-7, but they had not yet established a clear superiority over the last-place team. They had only partially demonstrated all the qualities which brought them the championship: a sturdy, sometimes spectacular running attack predicated upon the genius of Jim Brown, a strategic air command based on accurate, probing short passes combined with the threat of one of the league's best long-passing attacks and a spongy defense that absorbed rather than stopped enemy offenses—a tactic which all season has resulted in impressive statistics and unimpressive scores for Cleveland opponents. Up to this point the Browns had seemed tense, even apprehensive, and one remembered that this was a club which had in another year blown the championship to the Giants in the season's closing moments.
But then Frank Ryan, the tall Cleveland quarterback who has gotten prematurely gray in the service of the Browns, wrapped up the title for his team and dashed the hopes of the second-place St. Louis Cardinals with one brilliant play. The Browns had taken possession of the ball at the Giant 48-yard line on an interception by Vince Costello. The pass may have been the last Y. A. Tittle will ever throw in pro football. Ryan called for a time-out and went over to the sideline to discuss the situation with Coach Blanton Collier.
" Warfield thinks he can beat Webb on a double Z out," he said. "I'd like to call it."
"Fine," Collier said. "I think it will work."
A double Z out is a pattern in which Paul Warfield, the superb rookie end, fakes in and breaks out, and then heads up-field and fakes in and breaks out again.
"Webb had been playing me pretty tight," he said later. "I knew if I got by him I could outrun him. On this play I broke to the outside and started up-field. He just stood there, so I broke the pattern and kept going instead of faking again. I didn't know if Frank would pick up the broken pattern or not, but I had a good lead on Webb and I didn't want to lose it."
Ryan picked up the broken pattern easily and lofted a high, featherlight pass which Warfield caught on the Giant 10-yard line and carried to the one before he was stopped. Ryan passed to Ernie Green for the touchdown seconds later, and the Browns had, for all practical purposes, won the title. They scored another 28 points in the second half, but the game-breaker was the long pass to Warfield.
The Cleveland offense was uncomplicated, and designedly so.
"We cut the offense down to the barest minimum," said Collier, the scholarly coach of the Browns. "Frank has a tendency to be distracted by too many plays. If he spends too much time pondering strategy, he tends to lose his concentration on passing. I didn't want that to happen."