Ex-QB Frank Ryan, who led Browns to last NFL title, dies at 87


CLEVELAND — Frank Ryan wasn’t your average NFL quarterback.

His arm helped make the Cleveland Browns champions. His intellect earned him wider acclaim off the field.

Ryan, who led the the Browns to their last NFL title in 1964 while spending his offseasons getting a doctorate diploma in mathematics, died Monday. He was 87.

Ryan’s family said in a statement that he died while being cared for at a nursing home in Connecticut. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and the family said chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) “is suspected to have played a role in the progression of the disease.”

Ryan donated his brain to Boston University’s CTE Center for study.

“Our hearts are with the family and friends of Frank Ryan, as we honor the life of a Browns icon and championship-winning quarterback,” the Browns said in a social media posting.

In the 1964 title game, Ryan threw three touchdown passes to wide receiver Gary Collins as the Browns shocked Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas and the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 27-0 on Dec. 27. Cleveland hasn’t won a football championship since and remains one of four teams never to make the Super Bowl.

However, with Ryan and Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, the Browns were a perennial power in the early to mid-1960s.

Just months after winning the ’64 title — the last for any of the city’s three major professional teams for 52 years until the Cavaliers won the NBA crown in 2016 — Ryan got his Ph.D. from Rice, where he played college ball in his home state of Texas.

He went on to teach math at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland and later at Yale and Rice. Ryan is also credited with helping create an electronic voting system that modernized the U.S. House of Representatives.

A three-time Pro Bowler with the Browns, Ryan spent seven seasons with Cleveland, compiling a 52-22-2 record as a starter. He led the league in passing touchdowns in 1964 and 1966.

Although Cleveland rode the great Brown and later Kelly on the ground to many wins, Ryan was one of the league’s top passers and threw at least 25 TD passes in three seasons. He also played for the Los Angeles Rams and Washington before retiring after the 1970 season.

Ryan also served for 10 years as athletic director at Yale.

During his 13-year playing career, Ryan passed for 16,042 yards and 149 TDs while going 57-27-3 as a starter.

Ryan is survived by his wife, Joan. The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary last year.

Funeral and memorial arrangements were still being finalized.

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