On Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7, 2014, members of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) gathered for their Biennial Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. They traveled from all over the country, and were also joined by two members from Mexico City and a member from Canada. Hosted by the Cleveland Browns, the meeting was dedicated to honoring the 1964 NFL Championship team of the Browns. "The PFRA meetings are always great, but meeting as guests of the Cleveland Browns was unprecedented. The organization has come a long way," said PFRA president Mark L. Ford.
The PFRA is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to pro football history. Incorporated in 1979, the PFRA has steadily grown to over 400 members in 10 countries. Six times a year, they publish a magazine called The Coffin Corner. In it, the PFRA tells the stories of the players, teams and leagues that made professional football the game that it is today.
The Friday night festivities started at the Cleveland Browns’ practice facilities with a speech from longtime Cleveland Sportswriter and Radio/TV analyst Tony Grossi. Currently, Grossi is a Browns and NFL analyst with WKNR 850/ESPN Cleveland, SportsTimeOhio and ESPNCleveland.com. Prior to that, he was the Browns beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Since 1994, he has been a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. Grossi took time to talk about his career and the Hall of Fame selection process. The bulk of the questions from the audience were directed toward the Hall of Fame.
The next guest speaker was Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson, who currently lives in Ohio. Robinson played for the Green Bay Packers from 1963 through 1972, before finishing his career with the Washington Redskins. He was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s. Robinson talked extensively about his career under Lombardi, as well as the Hall of Fame. Robinson is on the Board of Directors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The final speaker of the night was Gregg Ficery, who spoke on The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Pro Football. It was a discussion focused on his great-great grandfather – Bob Shiring – who played for the strongest teams of early professional football.
The evening ended with a tour of the Cleveland Browns’ practice facilities. The Browns gave the group unprecedented access to their facilities, including access to the weight room, locker room, both the indoor and outdoor practice fields, and the administrative offices. Tour guide Tony Dick provided incredible stories on the construction of the facility, the filming of Draft Day (featuring Kevin Costner), and other items throughout the facility.
Saturday morning, the group met at First Energy Stadium in downtown Cleveland for the business portion of the meeting. Topics of discussion included an update on membership, an update of PFRA Football Publications and a discussion of the PFRA’s Hall of Very Good. It concluded with a discussion of the next meeting location: Green Bay, Wisconsin. The meeting will be held in 2016, but the exact date has yet to be determined.
The session continued with a speech by Cleveland Plain Dealer sports columnist Terry Pluto. He is a nine-time winner of the Ohio Sportswriter of the Year award and has been inducted into the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame. He is also the author of over 20 books, including Browns Town 1964, a history of the Browns’ 1964 championship season. His presentation focused on the history of the team, with a focus on the 1964 NFL Championship team.
Pluto was followed by Jonathan Knight, the author of The Browns Bible: The Complete Game-by-Game History of the Cleveland Browns. Knight is also a columnist for TheClevelandFan and is a regular contributor to Cleveland radio station WKH’s The Sports Fix. He discussed his efforts to write and research The Browns Bible, as well as his difficulties in obtaining information on the early teams.
The afternoon session honored the Browns’ 1964 NFL Championship team with a roundtable discussion with members of the team, as well as the viewing of a highlight film for the 1964 Browns and a viewing of the 1964 NFL Championship game film. In attendance for the panel discussion were linebacker Jim Houston (1960-72 Cleveland Browns) and tackle Dick Schafrath (1959-71 Cleveland Browns). The discussion was moderated by veteran Cleveland sportscaster and sportswriter Dan Coughlin. He covered the 1964 NFL Championship game for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The discussion was very informative and gave the attendees a look into the team and what it was like to play for legendary coach Paul Brown.
Heavy underdogs heading into the title game against Baltimore, the Browns did not feel intimidated. They had a strong offense and a tenacious defense. The Browns limited Johnny Unitas to just 95 yards passing and two interceptions. With the score 0-0 heading into the second half, the Browns’ offense exploded. Quarterback Frank Ryan connected with receiver Gary Collins three times for scores. With two field goals by Lou Groza, Cleveland took the game 27-0. The 1964 Browns were the last to win a championship for the city of Cleveland.
The last speaker was collector Danny Tharp, who spoke on his project The Greatest Day in Cleveland Sports, an audio recreation of the 1964 NFL Championship game. Copies of the project were distributed to the attendees.
The meeting ended with a tour of First Energy Stadium. As with the tour of the training facilities, the Browns gave unprecedented access to the stadium, including the press box and locker rooms.
Fun Fact: Nobody is allowed to use the Cleveland Browns’ locker room except the Cleveland Browns. There are two visitors' locker rooms in the stadium. When two college teams play at the stadium, they use the two visitors' locker rooms.
The PFRA would like to thank the Cleveland Browns for an incredible weekend of events.
Photos courtesey of Mark Palczewski – Professional Football Researchers Association
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