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HOW THE COLTS MET TRIUMPH—AND DISASTER
Coach Don Shula
January 11, 1965
After a stumbling start the Baltimore Colts played like a superteam, wrapping up the National Football League's Western Division title four weeks before the championship game with Cleveland. For young Coach Don Shula (opposite, with Quarterback Johnny Unitas) it was a satisfying experience—until the Colts ran into the Browns. Here Shula recalls it all, from the exhibition season through those final 60 minutes of shock and despair
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January 11, 1965

How The Colts Met Triumph—and Disaster

After a stumbling start the Baltimore Colts played like a superteam, wrapping up the National Football League's Western Division title four weeks before the championship game with Cleveland. For young Coach Don Shula (opposite, with Quarterback Johnny Unitas) it was a satisfying experience—until the Colts ran into the Browns. Here Shula recalls it all, from the exhibition season through those final 60 minutes of shock and despair

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The Browns had used a lot of zone pass defense, so we thought we could key our passing game to how they played their linebackers. If they shifted a linebacker to the strong side of the zone we would throw back to the weak side. If the linebacker stayed on the weak side we could go to the strong side. The Browns had not used much man-to-man coverage, but if they did we felt that Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr would be able to get loose on Walter Beach or Bernie Parrish.

Planning a defense against the Cleveland ground game is essentially trying to figure out how to stop Jim Brown. We keyed our middle linebacker, Bill Pellington, on Brown, as most clubs do. But the only effectual defense against Brown is gang-tackling, and we emphasized the need for our defensive players to keep their feet and get into the pursuit. If one man gets knocked down and opens a lane, Brown will break a single tackle to get into the lane, and once he is in it he has so much speed he can score from anywhere on the field.

We set up to mix zone and man-to-man coverage on pass defense. We were perfectly familiar with their passing sets—the double wing and the flood. We wanted Lenny Lyles to play Warfield close and tough; you always put pressure on a rookie.

I have tried to figure out where I made a mistake or how I would change my preparations for this game, but I honestly can't. The team was spirited in workouts, so spirited that at the Thursday workout before the championship game Joe Don Looney and John Diehl had a fight. Nothing serious, but it showed that we were up.

Then came the game day, and we got beat 27-0. We had not been shut out for 31 games in a row and we had never lost a championship game.

There were three key plays and all of them came in the second half. The first, of course, was Jim Brown's 46-yard run from the Cleveland 36-yard line down to our 18. The Browns were leading 3-0, but we were still very much in the game.

The play started from their double-wing set; the Browns were on the hash mark to our right, which left the wide side of the field to our left. We were zoned to the wide side, since that is where they had the most running room and the widest area for passes. Frank Ryan made an excellent call; he sent Brown on a sweep into the short side of the field, and our safety could not come up fast enough to reach him and he was gone. Aside from this long run, most of Brown's gains all day were only normal for him.

The second key play came immediately afterward. The Browns came out on our 18-yard line in a conventional set with Gary Collins on the strong side. We were zoned to the strong side again. Collins broke down and in and he was pretty well covered, but the pass rush did not put pressure on Ryan. When Collins saw Frank had time he made another move in the end zone and broke free and Ryan hit him for a score.

The third key play was the second Cleveland touchdown. This time Collins was spread to the weak side and we were in a safety zone to the strong side. Collins ran an inside-turn pattern, where he turns back to the inside of the field for a short pass. As he turned, Ryan pumped his arm as if he were going to pass, and our safety on that side came up fast. When he did, Collins turned and went. The safety, Bobby Boyd, realized his mistake and tried to bump Collins out of his pattern, but he slipped and fell down and Collins was all alone. The pass went 42 yards for a touchdown and put Cleveland ahead 17-0 and it was all over, although I did not believe so at the time.

Collins' third touchdown was icing on the cake for Cleveland. On this one Boyd had him covered as closely as possible, but Collins made the catch on great individual effort.

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