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On This Date in Sports October 20, 1968: Browns Topple Colts

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Baltimore Colts suffer their first loss of the season, losing to the Cleveland Browns 30-20 at Memorial Stadium. With an arm injury, Johnny Unitas saw his first significant action of the season and struggled, completing 1-of-11 passes for 12 yards, with three interceptions. It would be the Colts' only loss, as they finished 13-1, with backup Earl Morrall winning NFL MVP.

Since meeting in the 1964 NFL Championship Game, the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns developed into a nice rivalry. Both were among the NFL’s elite teams, with the Browns playing a grind out the game on the ground and the Colts relying on the passing of Johnny Unitas, who held most of the NFL’s top passing records. The Browns, coached by Blanton Collier, had won the Century Division with a 9-5 record in 1967 but lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round. The Baltimore Colts led by Don Shula meanwhile lost the Coastal Division in heartbreaking fashion, posing an 11-1-2 record with their only loss coming to the Los Angeles Rams on the last day of the season, ultimately losing the division by a tiebreaker to the Rams, who also finished 11-1-2.

Things looked bleak early for the Colts, who saw reigning MVP Johnny Unitas suffer an arm injury in the preseason that would limit him all season. However, out of nowhere emerged journeyman Earl Morrall, who had been on four teams (San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, and New York Giants) in 12 seasons. Morrall led the Colts to wins in their first five games. The Browns meanwhile struggled at the start of the season, losing three of their first five games.

The Browns started strong as Bill Nelsen connected with Leroy Kelly on a two-yard touchdown pass. The Colts tied the game early in the second quarter with Tom Matte running it from the 23. However, the Browns answered as Nelsen connected with Paul Warfield on a six-yard pass. Cleveland added to their lead after leading 14-7 at the half when Eppie Barney caught a two-yard pass. The Colts tried to answer but only managed a pair of field goals by Lou Michaels. The Browns would put the game away in the fourth quarter as Kelly had a four-yard run, while Don Cockroft hit an 11-yard field goal. Late in the game, the Colts found the end zone again, as Willie Richardson caught an eight-yard pass from Earl Morrall, making the final score 30-20 in favor of the Browns. Leroy Kelly had a monster game, rushing for 130 yards with 18 yards on two catches, scoring two touchdowns.

The loss was a mere bump in the road for the Colts, as they lost just one game and won the Coastal Division with a record of 13-1. The Browns, meanwhile, one eight straight games to win the Century Division with a record of 10-4. In the playoffs, the Browns beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-20, as the Colts beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-14 to set up a rematch in the NFL Championship Game. This time the Colts would win 34-0 to advance to Super Bowl III, where they would fall victim to the New York Jets 16-7, in the biggest upset in NFL history.