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THE GAME THAT GOT RID OF THE FRUSTRATION
The stakes were a championship and a crack at $15,000 per man in the Super Bowl, and a good old pro football team beat a good young one. So if 80,000 Cleveland fans were reduced to chilled glumness, the result was hardly shocking. Still, seldom in the long history of NFL championship games has one team so thoroughly dominated the other as did Baltimore in shattering the Browns 34-0 at Municipal Stadium last Sunday.
It was a prodigious display of almost flawless football. The Colts, executing Don Shula's stratagems with precision and flair, succeeded in reducing the Browns to a state of confusion by midway of the third period. When it was all over and the Browns had repaired to their dressing room to suffer in seclusion, Coach Blanton Collier looked in surprise at the troop of writers who came in to find out what had happened.
"I didn't know so many people would come to see the body," he said. "They really gave us a licking. Penalties destroyed our momentum, but penalties don't make that much difference."
"The penalties changed our offensive philosophy," said Paul Warfield, Cleveland's dangerous split end. "We would make a good gain, get a penalty and, instead of it being second and maybe three or four yards, it would be first and 15. That meant the Baltimore line could just blow in on Nelsen."
The Baltimore line did, indeed, spend most of the afternoon blowing in on Bill Nelsen. The Cleveland quarterback, who is not a tall man, found himself surrounded by tall rushers time and again and never was able to locate his receivers with any degree of success. Cleveland's hopes in this game had been predicated, first, upon repeating the running attack that had been instrumental in the 30-20 regular season victory over Baltimore, then upon a passing attack utilizing the considerable talents of wide receivers Gary Collins and Warfield and Tight End Milt Morin.
The Baltimore defensive backs keyed on Morin and came up to the line of scrimmage instantly when they saw him block for a sweep by Leroy Kelly, the league's leading rusher who had gained 130 yards and scored two touchdowns in that victory. In this game, Kelly was so effectively shackled that he finished the day with 28 yards on 13 rushing attempts.
"We had to stop their running game," Colt Defensive Captain Ordell Braase said when it was all over. "Kelly killed us in the first game on sweeps and draws. We felt that if we could shut off the run, we would force the Browns into doing other things that they do not do so well. We didn't change our defenses in any basic way. We simply read their offense better. When they could not run, they began to grow desperate and we could put more pressure on the passer and shut off the pass, too."
The Baltimore defense, which is the best in football, operated so efficiently that Cleveland's deepest penetration all day was to the Colts' 33-yard line. This came in the third quarter and by then the game was well lost. Meanwhile, the Baltimore striking force completely bamboozled a Cleveland defensive team that seemed disconcerted early and disorganized late. The Colts gave the Browns a bewildering variety of offensive sets to look at and added wrinkles to their running game that opened huge holes in the heart of the Cleveland line.
In the first quarter Baltimore came out several times with Tight End John Mackey occupying the up position in an I-formation backfield. The Colts had used the formation a few times in 1967 but had not shown it at all in 1968. No significant gains came off this strange alignment, but it created doubt and hesitation among the Cleveland defenders.