Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
1953: Cleveland Browns @ Detroit Lions
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.


Arthur "Mickey" McBride


Tom Catlin


Lou Groza, Otto Graham, and Coach Paul Brown at training camp 1953


Joe Schmidt


Bobby Layne

The most startling development between the '52 and '53 seasons occurred in Cleveland.
  • Mickey McBride, the Browns owner from their inception in 1946, sold the club to a syndicate composed of local businessmen for $600,000, more than twice as much as any other professional team had ever cost.
  • Coach Paul Brown was fishing in Canada when the deal went down. When he returned, he was furious that the deal was completed without his knowledge. He also considered the sales price insultingly low, which affected him adversely as a shareholder of the club. However, he liked the fact that the new owners would follow McBride's lead and stay out of the way as Brown ran the team. After a brief contentious conversation when Paul returned from vacation, he and McBride never spoke again.

The offseason had also provoked much discussion about the "aging Browns."

  • "Past their prime." No longer the "lean and hungry" players Brown craved but rather "fat and satiated."
  • Brown would hear none of it. I'm not conceding anything now. We've got problems, yes. There are always problems in this business, but I think we have the material to solve ours. If it turns out we haven't, well, we'll start from scratch.

The Cleveland coach/GM shook up his team with a major trade with the Baltimore Colts.

  • To replace the defunct Dallas Texans, the league had awarded a franchise to Carroll Rosenbloom, a native of Baltimore who made his fortune in the clothing business.
  • The second incarnation of the Colts inherited the Texans' players, including two future Hall of Fame D-linemen, Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti.
  • The trade involved 15 players, ten from the Browns and five from the Colts. Most were reserves or newly-drafted rookies. One player going from Cleveland to Baltimore was DB Don Shula, who would eventually coach both teams. Another former Brown was DB Bert Rechichar, a first round pick in '52. Coming to the Browns were C Tom Catlin, a rookie All-American from Oklahoma, T Don Colo, a three-year veteran, and OT Mike McCormack, currently in the service.
  • The overmatched Colts finished 3-9 in the Western Conference, ahead of only the hapless Packers (2-9-1).

Once the season started, the Browns showed no signs of being over the hill.

  • QB Otto Graham led the league in passing yards, passing average, completion %, INT perfect, and passing rank (computed retroactively) to earn the United Press International MVP award. Under his leadership, the Browns won their first eleven games, including two strange wins over the Giants - 7-0 in the Big Apple and 62-14 in Cleveland.
  • Finally, the Eagles upset the Browns in the final game in Philly 42-27. Still, Cleveland won the East by 2.5 games.
  • Lou Groza set a record with 23 FGs. Coaches around the league talked of defending the 30 against the Browns like it was the goal line because of The Toe's reliability. He produced almost 1/3 of Cleveland's points by himself.
  • Despite the attention paid to Graham and the offense, the Browns quietly led the league in points allowed (162).
  • Graham could no longer throw to Mac Speedie. The original Brown from 1946, dissatisfied with his salary, signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League for twice what he made with Cleveland. Mac's place as #2 receiver behind Dante Lavelli was taken by Ray Renfro (39 receptions for 722y with Pete Brewster a close third (32 catches for 632).

The Lions also repeated in the West.

  • Detroit didn't clinch its division until the last weekend when they beat the Giants to finish 10-2 and edge the 49ers by one game.
  • Rookie LB Joe Schmidt made Detroit's tough defense even better. The Lions finished second to Cleveland in points allowed.
  • Yale Lary and Jack Christiansen spearheaded the secondary that led the league in interceptions with 38, eight more than the second place Rams.
  • A pair of close wins over San Francisco, the league's offensive leaders (372 points), 24-21 and 14-10, propelled the Lions to the top spot.
  • QB Bobby Layne continued to direct the Lions offense and partying. The roster included nine rookies, seven second-year players, two returnees from Korea, and 13 players who came from other teams. Bobby made sure they all blended together as a team.
    DB Jim David praised Layne's unconventional leadership. Nobody was a stranger for long. That was Bobby's way. Once you were on the team, you were part of the gang. There would be a spirit party of sorts. There was rookie afternoon at some showbar in town. If you didn't show, we'd send a taxi for you. Bobby was the leader, and we all followed. He knew the game, and he knew people, and he knew how to have a good time. ... But when it came time to play, we were ready. They'd tell jokes that when we'd form the huddle, you could smell liquor and stuff like that. But that never happened. Not during the regular season, anyway.
    Doak Walker, Bobby's teammate at Highland Park High School in Dallas, recalled: Everybody walked softly around Bobby. Even the assistant coaches were afraid of him. They knew the kind of power he had with the club.

The Browns and Lions didn't meet in the regular season.

  • So the championship game was like the World Series in that the argument over which conference champion was better would be settled on the field.
  • The two QB/coach combos provided quite a contrast in terms of game management. Brown sent in every offensive play using "messenger guards." Parker, by contrast, allowed Layne the freedom to do as he wished on the field.
Many considered the Lions a dirty team. As one reporter wrote, DB Jimmy David wasn't called "the Hatchet" because he was an avid woodsman. The field was a war zone." To protect his players, Brown had worked with the Riddell Company to develop a face bar for helmets.
Brown admired Parker as a coach and had a cordial relationship with him that included golf during the off-season. But deep down, the behavior of Parker's team, especially Layne, violated the Cleveland coach's beliefs about ho the game should be played. This gave him extra motivation to win the championship in Detroit.
1953 Cleveland Browns

1953 Cleveland Browns
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
14 Otto Graham QB 6-1 200 Northwestern 8
15 Ken Gorgal DB 6-2 200 Purdue 2
16 George Ratterman QB 6-1 182 Notre Dame 7
20 Ken Carpenter HB 6-0 195 Oregon State 4
22 Ken Konz DB 5-10 182 LSU 1
24 Warren Lahr DB 5-11 192 Western Reserve 5
26 Ray Renfro HB 6-1 185 North Texas State 2
30 Sherman Howard DB 6-0 196 Iowa/Nevada 2
32 Chick Jagade FB 6-0 220 Indiana 4
34 Walt Michaels LB 6-0 232 Washington & Lee 3
36 Marion Motley FB 6-1 238 S. Car. St./Nevada 8
40 Dub Jones HB 6-4 200 LSU/Tulane 8
42 Tommy James DB 5-10 185 Ohio State 6
45 Billy Reynolds HB 5-10 188 Pittsburgh 1
50 Tom Catlin LB 6-1 210 Oklahoma 1
52 Frank Gatski C 6-3 240 Marshall 8
60 Bill Willis MG 6-2 218 Ohio State 8
62 Lin Houston G 6-0 225 Ohio State 8
64 Abe Gibron G 5-11 245 Valparaiso/Purdue 5
65 Chuck Noll G 6-1 218 Dayton 1
66 Gene Donaldson G 5-9 215 Kentucky 1
70 Don Colo DT 6-3 258 Brown 1
72 Derrell Palmer T 6-2 242 TCU 8
74 Don Steinbrunner T 6-3 220 Washington State 1
76 Lou Groza T 6-3 240 Ohio State 8
78 John Sandusky T 6-1 255 Villanova 5
79 Jerry Helluin DT 6-2 292 Tulane 2
80 Len Ford DE 6-4 254 Morgan St./Michigan 6
82 George Young DE 6-3 215 Baldwin-Wallace/Georgia 8
83 Doug Atkins DE 6-8 250 Tennessee 1
84 Horace Gillom E 6-1 225 Ohio State/Nevada 7
86 Dante Lavelli E 6-0 192 Ohio State 8
88 Warren Brewster E 6-3 205 Purdue 2
1953 Detroit Lions
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
14 Bob Hoernschemeyer HB 6-0 195 Indiana 8
19 Tom Dublinski QB 6-2 190 Utah 2
21 Carl Karilivacz HB 6-0 185 Syracuse 1
22 Bobby Layne QB 6-1 190 Texas 6
23 Jug Girard HB 5-11 175 Wisconsin 6
24 Jack Christiansen DB 6-1 180 Colorado A&M 3
25 Jim David DB 5-10 175 Colorado A&M 2
26 Gene Gedman HB 5-11 195 Indiana 1
28 Yale Lary DB 5-11 180 Texas A&M 2
32 Lew Carpenter FB 6-1 200 Arkansas 1
33 Ollie Cline FB 6-1 200 Ohio State 6
36 Bob L. Smith FB 6-0 204 Texas A&M 1
37 Doak Walker HB 5-10 173 SMU 4
40 Bob J. Smith HB 6-1 195 Tulsa/Iowa 4
45 Byron Bailey HB 5-10 185 Washington State 1
50 Charles Ane C 6-2 250 USC 1
51 Vince Banonis C 6-1 235 Detroit 10
53 LaVern Torgeson C 6-0 210 Washington State 3
56 Joe Schmidt G 6-1 218 Pittsburgh 1
62 Jim Martin G/K 6-2 220 Notre Dame 4
63 Dick Stanfel G 6-3 230 San Francisco 2
65 Les Bingaman MG 6-3 295 Illinois 6
66 Harley Sewell G 6-1 220 Texas 1
73 Thurman McGraw T 6-5 235 Colorado A&M 4
74 Bob Miller T 6-3 235 Virginia 2
75 John Prchlik T 6-4 235 Yale 5
76 Lou Creekmur T 6-4 250 William & Mary 4
78 Oliver Spencer T 6-2 228 Kansas 1
80 Cloyce Box E 6-4 220 La Tech/W.Tex.A&M 4
82 Leon Hart E 6-5 262 Notre Dame 4
83 Jim Doran E 6-2 195 Iowa State 3
85 Sherwin Gandee E 6-1 210 Ohio State 2
87 Dorne Dibble E 6-2 200 Michigan State 2
88 Jim Cain E 6-4 200 Alabama 3
Rosters from Cleveland Plain Dealer the day of the game.

 


Bill Willis


Chick Jagade


Browns chase Layne early in the game


Doak Walker


Bob Hoernschemeyer


Len Ford

The Browns were making their eighth straight appearance in their league's championship game dating back to 1946 in the All America Football Conference.
  • Dumont televised the game for the third year in a row over its network of 130 stations nationwide, the largest network yet assembled for a pro football game. Mutual again supplied the radio broadcast..
  • The forecast called for light snow flurries after the game with temperature from 32-36°. The Browns brought tennis shoes to the Motor City in case a frozen field rendered their regular cleats unusable.
  • The odds in favor Cleveland had come down some by game day to 6.5 or 5.5 points, depending on whose line you preferred.
  • The Browns would play without their best LB, Tommy Thompson, who was lost for the season in Game 9 with a dislocated knee. Walt Michaels moved to the right side with rookie Tom Catlin filling in on the left side. The good news was that MG Bill Willis would play for the first time in more than a month. Other members of the defense who were back at top strength after an off week before the title game were S Ken Gorgal and T Derrell Palmer.
  • The Lions defense had held three of its last six opponents to a single TD each and the other three to a pair of scores. 320 lb Les Bingaman anchored the middle of the line.
  • Detroit got a boost in morale when the front office handed each player a $300 bonus Christmas day.
  • Counting exhibition games, Cleveland had failed to beat the Lions in six tries since Buddy Parker became coach, although one game ended in a deadlock.
  • The Briggs Stadium turf was soft and mushy in spots and hard in others. Very little grass was left. One reporter called it "more of a skidiron than a gridiron."
  • Should the game be tied after 60 minutes, the teams would play a sudden death overtime.
  • 54,577 spectators would witness a tight game between evenly-matched teams that wasn't settled until the final minutes.
  • Quarter 1
    Cleveland started shakily. After returning the Detroit kickoff to the 24, an offside call immediately moved it back to the 19. Chick Jagade got the 5y back around RE. Then Graham faded back to pass, but, as he tried to throw, MLB LaVern Torgeson stretched across a blocker who tried to cut him and knocked the ball out of Otto's hands. Les Bingaman recovered on the 12.
    HB Gene Gedman gained 6y on first down off LT. After two more runs, the Lions faced 4th and 1. An early decision faced Parker, and he showed faith in his offense. Layne took the snap, hesitated a half second, then sneaked over RG to the 2. The contest's first measurement confirmed that the Lions made it. After a plunge over RG gained nothing, Bobby handed to Walker on a quick opener over LT on the weak side. Doak drove across, then converted. Lions 7 Browns 0 (10:55 remaining)

    Gene Gedman gains 7y to the 6 after the Lions recovered Graham's fumble.
    A 15y penalty on the kickoff gave the Browns good field position near midfield. However, in a portent, Graham overthrew an open receiver down the middle on 3rd down. So Horace Gillom punted, and Cleveland downed it on the 2.
    The home team's cause took a jolt when big RE Leon Hart left the game for good with a twisted knee. Jim Doran, normally a defensive terminal, took Hart's place. Since Doran had caught only six passes all season, Parker's choice seemed odd against the league's best pass defense.
    After two runs to the 5, Layne stumbled on the next play and fell at the 2. But a 15y Cleveland penalty gave the Lions a first down on the 17. Bobby then fired to Doran out to the 44. After an incompletion, a screen pass lost yardage. But LE Cloyce Box grabbed a slant in to the Browns 46. When the measurement showed the ball inches short, the Lions punted, Billy Reynolds returning from inside the 5 to the 19.
    After being stuffed on first down, Jagade broke through on a draw play for a first down at the 33. Graham misfired on a long pass, but a 15y penalty put the pigskin on the 48. On 3rd-and-9, the Lions flushed Otto out of the pocket. He ran left, twisted, and threw awkwardly down the middle. As with many of his passes that afternoon, the ball sailed high, bouncing forward off Dante Lavelli's hands to Reynolds, who rambled to the 15. But his effort was in vain since two receivers cannot touch the ball consecutively. So Gillom booted dead on the 6.
    On the first snap, LH Bob Hoernschemeyer fumbled the handoff, and DE Len Ford recovered for Cleveland at the line of scrimmage. But the Lions stood strong.
    On first down, Jagade took a pitchout and was dropped for a 1y loss around LE. Ken Carpenter got that back over G as the period ended.
    END Q1: Lions 7 Browns 0

Lions employ seven-man front to stop Browns running game.


Yale Lary


Dub Jones


Sherwin "Sonny" Gandee


  • Quarter 2
    On 3rd down, Graham shot a pass over the middle into Lavelli's hands under the goal posts. But Dante slipped as the ball arrived, and the pass fell incomplete. So Groza kicked a 15y FG. Lions 7 Browns 3
    After a touchback on the kickoff, three rushes gained just 7. So Yale Lary launched an incredible kick that traveled all the way to the EZ, the Lions just missing a chance to down it inside the 5.
    On 2nd down, Dub Jones broke free up the middle. But as he hit the ground while being tackled at the 33, the ball bounced away toward the Cleveland goal. DE Sherwin Gandee fell on it at the 25.
    Under today's rules, the ball carrier would have been down by contact and the fumble disallowed because "the ground cannot cause a fumble." But in 1953, the play didn't end until an official, convinced the runner could not get up and keep going, blew his whistle. Since the ball popped loose as Jones hit the ground, no whistle sounded.
    But Detroit went nowhere. After two incompletions, Layne was dropped for a 12y loss, and Walker missed to the left a FG from the 45.
    Starting from the 20, Graham connected with Lavelli over the middle on 3rd-and-8 to the 34 to move the chains. But two runs gained just 4 before another Graham incompletion brought on the punt team. A fair catch started the Lions at their 22.
    Three plays netted just 2. So Lary booted to Reynolds, who ran it back 15y to his 46. Good field position again, but Otto's woes continued. Two more incompletions around a 2y run put Gillom back to work.
    From the 18, Layne handed off for a 3y run. Then he threw long down the right hash. But Ken Gorgal made a nice over the shoulder INT at the Cleveland 47. His momentum carried him back to the 40 where he was tackled by Doran, the intended receiver.
    A LT dive gained 5, after which the officials gave the two-minute warning. It seemed like the visitors would trail by no more than 4 at the half. But on second down, Graham fired a pass toward Carpenter. The ball squirted through Ken's hands, and Detroit's Jim David made the catch instead and returned 36y to the 20.
    At this point, a strange play confused everybody, including the officials. Layne lateralled to Walker, who ran wide right looking for a receiver. With everyone covered, Doak passed back to Layne, who had been standing still behind the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field watching the action. Bobby gathered in the pigskin at the 14. With most of the Browns chasing Walker, Layne ran untouched into the EZ for what looked like Detroit's second TD. But, after much discussion, the officials ruled the play illegal. NFL rules stated that, in order for a back to be eligible to catch a pass, he must be a yard behind the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. So Detroit incurred a 15y penalty back to the 35 and loss of down. Layne then passed 10y to Box before an incompletion brought out the FG unit. Cleveland jumped offside before the ball could be snapped to push the line of scrimmage to the 15. From there, Walker's 23y FG made it Lions 10 Browns 3.
    Only 1:15 showed on the clock, but the Browns got close enough for Groza to try a FG. First, Jagade returned the kickoff 29y to his 49. At Graham's suggestion, Brown sent in George Ratterman to call the signals. He sent Renfro off tackle for a yard. Then the Lions dropped the new QB for a 13y loss as he attempted to pass. To blunt the rush, Ratterman tossed a screen pass in the left flat to Jagade, who cut back to the center for a nifty 19y gain to the Lions 44. With only a few seconds remaining, Groza tried a 51y FG, but the effort landed in the EZ far to the right of the goal post.
    Layne ran up the middle for 13 as the half ended.
    The Browns ended the half with only 71y of offense.
    END Q2: Lions 10 Browns 3

Bob Hoernschemeyer carries.


Billy Reynolds


Ken Carpenter




Warren Lahr


Jim Doran snares a pass
in front of Warren Lahr.


Darrell Brewster

  • Quarter 3
    It was a different Cleveland team that started the second half.
    Detroit returned the kickoff from the 6 to the 27. Two runs gained a first down at the 38. Hit as he threw, Layne's pass down the middle went to Gorgal at the Cleveland 40 for his second INT of the day, Ken returning to his 49.
    The Browns pounced on the opportunity and moved to the tying TD. With Graham back under C, Billy Reynolds, Jagade, and Ken Carpenter took turns carrying the ball, with a swing pass and a QB draw mixed in, to gain two first downs in a row to the 24. Then came an improvised play. Back to pass, Otto found no one open. So he took off downfield. About to be tackled at the 20, the crafty QB flipped the ball underhanded several yards to the left and behind him to his LHB, who had been blocking but followed Otto down the field. (The HB's number is obscured by dirt in the fuzzy video footage. Dub Jones?) The HB dropped the ball, but it bounced right back into his hands as he continued to the 9. From there, Graham took the snap, spun as if to pitch out to the right, but instead handed to Jagade who sped through a big hole up the middle into the EZ with 6:58 left. Groza's PAT tied the score. Lions 10 Browns 10
    On the ensuing kickoff, HB Sherman Howard picked up and carried returner Jug Girard backwards and slammed him to the ground, causing a fumble that the Browns recovered inside the 5. But a quick whistle from the referee standing a few feet from the tackle nullified the turnover. On the first play, Hoernschemeyer steamed through the right side to the 33. After an offside call against the Lions and an incompletion on a screen pass, Layne launched a beautiful pass to Box just before the receiver stepped out of bounds at the 47. Two plays after that, Layne rolled left and kept running until dragged down at the Cleveland 41, where he fumbled, his tackler recovering. (The box score does not give the recoverer's name.)
    But the Browns couldn't capitalize. Graham was sacked on 2nd down and threw a long incompletion on 3rd down. Gillom's punt came to rest at the 17.
    The defensive struggle continued as Detroit went three and out, Carpenter returning Lary's punt 7y to the Lions 48.
    Jagade ripped up the middle for 8 and 14y. Then Jones, on a power play over G, added 18 more, taking the ball to the 9. Jagade gained 2 on the last play of the period.
    END Q3: Lions 10 Browns 10
  • Quarter 4
    As happened at the beginning of Q2, the Browns had a chance to score a TD from inside the 10. But a pass to Renfro at the 2 went off his hands as he was hit. Then with the ball on the right hash, Graham ran to his left for no gain to put the ball in front of the goal posts. Groza produced his second FG 44 seconds into the final stanza to give the Browns their first lead of the afternoon. Browns 13 Lions 10
    Walker fielded Groza's kickoff at the goal line but couldn't get his footing and went down at the 5. The Lions fought their way out of this hole by holding the ball for 14 snaps all the way to the Cleveland 26. On the second play, Layne threw out of his EZ to E Dorne Dibble who ran to the 15. Two runs by Hoernschemeyer gained another first down at the 26. Layne kept on an option play for 5. Walker weaved to the 37 before the Texas gunslinger threw another beautiful down and out to Box, who was pushed out at the Browns 41. Layne kept on the option again to the 38. The the Lions tried some razzle dazzle. Layne started to the right on the option again but pitched to Hoernschemeyer coming back to the left. Bob rumbled to the 33 where two tacklers met him. As he went down, he pitched to Walker who added 3 more. Layne's 3y sneak preceded Walker's 1y gain around RE. Under pressure, Bobby threw an incompletion to bring up 4th down. So Walker tried a FG from the 33 that missed.
    Sparked by another great effort by Jagade, the Browns moved from their 20 to Detroit's 33. First, three runs produced a first down at the 31. Two plays later, Chick broke loose and ran through tacklers until one grabbed him by the shirt and wrestled him down at the Lions 39. But again the attack stalled as two runs gained 4 and a pass down the left sideline fell incomplete. So Lou the Toe booted an insurance 3-pointer from the 43 with just 4:10 remaining. He tied an NFL championship game record with three FGs. Browns 16 Lions 10
    Starting from the 20 after the kickoff and needing a TD, Layne huddled his troops and told them, Just give me some time and block for me, boys, and I'll win you a title. He hit Doran on another patented down and out, this one to the right, for 17. The next snap nearly produced disaster as Layne's pass down the middle was almost intercepted. One Brown defender seemed to get in the way of a teammate making the grab. Then, a long aerial to Walker racing down the left sideline was knocked away at the last second. Facing 3rd and 10 from the Lions 37, Doran slid into a gap between two Brown defenders and grabbed a Layne pass down the middle before being sandwiched between two DBs at the Cleveland 45.
    Afterwards, Layne said, If he don't get that one, we ain't going nowhere no how.

    Doran catches a Layne pass as Tommy James moves in.
    Next, the Lions QB threw to his LE, Box, who snared the pigskin on the 36. A pitchout to Hoernschemeyer gained nothing as the clock kept ticking. Layne then ran for 3y over LG for a first down at the 33. Detroit called a timeout to set the stage for the biggest play of the game.
    Ever since he entered the game in Q1, Doran had been dueling with the DB opposite him, Warren Lahr, who was infuriated when Jim threw an elbow at him. From the beginning, the cocky Doran, who had played offense at Iowa State, told Layne he could beat his man on a go pattern. The Lion receiver recalled: Lahr and I had been feuding a bit, you know, like you do in a tough game. He said he was gonna hit me in the mouth.
    During the timeout, assistant coach Aldo Forte in the press box suggested a screen pass to blunt the rush of DE Len Ford. Parker relayed the play to Layne. Know what I think? Bobby told his coach. I think a cigarette sure would taste good about now.
    Bobby had noticed Lahr pointing an angry, threatening finger at Doran earlier. An excellent poker player, the QB knew that angry men make bad decisions.
    When Layne returned to the huddle, Doran insisted again, Really, Bobby, I can beat him deep. Like Johnny Unitas a few years later, Layne had an uncanny ability to salt away a play in his memory and pull it out at just the right time. This was the moment to do so.
    Bobby called the out and up that Jim had begged for. Doran lined up wide to the right with Lahr lurking a few yards in front him. He worried that Warren would keep his promise and try to knock his head off. But at the snap, Jim circled to the right and shot down the sideline past his tormentor. With his O-line doing a great job walling off the Browns' five rushers, Layne had time to loft a soft pass into the EZ. It was just a question of whether the speeding Doran would catch up with it. He cradled the ball into his arms two strides past the goal line with Lahr 3y back. The Lions ran downfield to greet Doran as he returned from the end zone. Walker booted the go-ahead PAT with 2:08 showing on the clock.
    But the Browns needed only a FG. Could Graham pull the game out of the fire? No, he couldn't. Carpenter returned the kickoff 10y to the 28. Then Otto, flushed out of the pocket to his right, fluttered a pass aimed at Pete Brewster. But Carl Karilivacz, a rookie DB drafted in the 23rd-round, leaped high at the 45 and snared it, returning down the sideline to the 6. However, the official marked him out of bounds at the 34. After two running plays gained a first, Layne sneaked for 3, after which a fight broke out among two players from each side. When order was restored, Bobby lay down with the snap only to have a Brown run in and fall on him. That provoked more pushing and shoving. Finally, the gun went off, and C Vince Banonis ran off triumphantly with the game ball.
    FINAL SCORE: LIONS 17 BROWNS 16

Video of the 1953 Championship Game
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Final statistics:
  • First downs: Lions 18 Browns 11
  • Yards rushing: Lions 37-129 Browns 34-182
  • Passing: Lions 12-26-2/164 Browns 16-3-2/9
  • Return yardage: Lions 5-94 Browns 9-114
  • Fumbles-Lost: Lions 3-2 Browns 2-2
  • Penalties: Lions 4-50 Browns 4-30
  • Punting average: Lions 4-49.3 Browns 5-42.6

Otto Graham endured perhaps his worst game ever.

  • The Cleveland master completed only two passes in 15 tries for a mere 20y. He had fair protection but couldn't seem to get his footing on the slippery turf.
  • The Browns hung tough and led in Q4 thanks in large part to FB Jagade's 102y rushing.
  • Despite constant pressure from the Browns' rush, Layne connected on 12-of-25 aerials for 164y. He also ran 9 times for 44y.
Postgame
  • Parker: What a season! This one is for the players. ... We tried to rush Graham so that he would have to hurry his passes. That was the key to our defensive strategy. He hailed a "terrific team effort" but singled out Jim Doran. Sure, we had to have the touchdown. But that pass Doran leaped for and got on Cleveland's 45 made it possible. It was third down and gave us enough yardage for a first down to keep the ball. Buddy also praised Layne. He's been calling almost all of the plays right along.
  • Doran told reporters the winning TD pass was set up when the Lions' bench noticed that Cleveland's secondary was playing close up to slow the ends as they went out for passes. I went out and faked a block, then cut around the defender. I raced towards the end zone, and when I looked up, there was the ball. I was out in the open, and I just prayed I could hold on to it. ... You know, this is my third year with the Lions, and I scored one touchdown in each of the first two years. And that was my touchdown for this year. It looked like I wouldn't get it for a while, didn't it?
  • Layne: I just threw the ball and hoped. As soon as Jim got past Lahr, I knew we had it.

The Browns earned the dubious distinction of being the first team to lose the title game three years running.

  • The Cleveland clubhouse was closed to outsiders for 15 minutes. Even after that cooling off period, the place was a scene of total gloom. Players and coaches barely spoke above a whisper.
  • Brown: Nobody'll ever lose a tougher one. We tried so hard it was pathetic. We worked five months and lost it all in two minutes. There used to be a time when we were like the New York Yankees. Anything we dd turned out right for us. Well, it's part of living. We have lost before, and we'll lose again. The kids gave it all they had. I'll say that for them. They gave one tremendous effort. We simply made the big mistakes. That's all. However, the coach would not say what the mistakes were nor single out anyone for criticism even on the winning pass. The fellow caught the ball, and that was it. That was the game. ... I don't even want to think about next year.
  • Graham: I was lousy and I admit it. I wish I could play that one all over. I know we're better than they are. They played a lousy game, but we stunk the joint out. Asked whether the field conditions had anything to do with his ineptness, Otto shook his head. No, it wasn't that. Oh, the ball was slippery at time, and you couldn't get good footing on the field, but it was all my fault. I just couldn't control the ball. I couldn't control it in the Philadelphis game either. Graham's right hand was so chafed and blistered that he found it difficult to grip the ball securely. The condition had existed for several weeks. He was simply unable to correct it.
    Later, Graham explained that his hands were chapped, and he had no feel on his passes. I tried spitting on them, everything I could think of to moisten them. I had no idea what the matter was, but I just could not pass on that day.
  • The players' affection for their ace QB, even in defeat, was evidenced by the stream of teammates who walked over, patted him on the shoulder, shook his hand, and said, See you next year, Otts. When Frank Gatski stopped to say goodbye, Graham asked if he was coming back next season. I don't know yet. Maybe not. We're three-time losers now; so maybe it's time to call it quits.

The bitter defeat stayed with the Browns and the Cleveland fans.

  • The Browns' train ride home was funereal. This one stuck in the gut, said Groza. Lahr sat by himself in the coach, refusing to speak or be consoled. Brown said he never felt worse for anyone in his life. A few days later, Brown told Warren, Don't let this destroy you and quietly gave his DB a raise for the 1954 season.
  • Many fans questioned Brown's play calling after Ford recovered the fumble on the 6 right before the end of Q1 when the Browns had to settle for a FG. Even some players had grown weary of their coach's conservative play-calling in championship games. They complained that he tightened up in the big games.
The players split 65% of the net receipts of $269,146.
  • Each member of the Lions received $2,424.
    One Lion who would make good use of his winning share was LT Thurman McGraw. Early that morning, his wife gave birth to their second son in Denver. Six hours later, she watched her husband's team win the championship.
  • Each Brown earned $1,654.
References: Championship: The NFL Title Games plus Super Bowl, Jerry Izenberg (1970)
War Stories from the Field, Joseph Hession & Kevin Lynch (1994)
Paul Brown: The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Football's Most Innovative Coach, Andrew O'Toole (2008)
Paul Brown: The Man Who Invented Modern Football, George Cantor (2008)
Pro Football Championships before the Super Bowl: A Year-by-Year History, 1926-1965, Joseph S. Page (2011)

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