Editor’s note: The NFL is currently in a quiet period that is more quiet than usual. To help fill in that space, we are running a series to determine the best player to wear each jersey number in Cleveland Browns history. Today, we select the best player to wear uniform No. 13.
The Cleveland Browns have only won championships with two quarterbacks in franchise history.
One is Otto Graham, who during his Hall of Fame career set a standard that will never be topped by leading the Browns to 10 championship games in 10 years, winning seven league titles.
The other is Frank Ryan, who quarterbacked the Browns to the NFL title in 1964, which along with his other accomplishments during his seven years with the team earns him the honor as the best Browns player to wear uniform No. 13 in franchise history.
A fifth-round selection by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1958 NFL Draft, the Browns traded for Ryan prior to the 1962 season. He took over the starting job in November of that season after quarterback Jim Ninowski broke his collarbone during a 41-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
From 1963 to 1967, Ryan would lead the Browns to three playoff appearances and two title games as the Browns posted a winning percentage of .707 with Ryan as the starting quarterback.
A Pro Bowl selection from 1964 through 1966, Ryan’s 29 touchdown passes were the best in the NFL in 1966 - and are still tied for second-most in franchise history - and his 2,974 passing yards in 1966 were the most in team history until Brian Sipe surpassed the mark in 1979.
Ryan was benched after the Browns lost two of their first three games in 1968, and would only make three relief appearances late in the season. Ryan spent the 1969 and 1970 season with the Washington Redskins as a backup before retiring.
Ryan is fourth on Cleveland’s all-time list for career passing yards with 13,361, third in career touchdown passes with 134, and fifth in career completions with 907.
Ryan was Jim Brown’s quarterback and then Leroy Kelly’s quarterback. Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield was on the receiving end of many of Ryan’s touchdowns. But don’t write him off as some 1960s product of the system. Ryan threw five touchdown passes and ran for a sixth to beat the Giants and lead the Browns to the NFL championship in 1964. He then led three fourth-quarter comebacks to bring them back to the playoffs in 1965. With Warfield hurt nearly all of that season, Ryan helped make a Pro Bowler out of receiver/punter Gary Collins.
Ryan made three Pro Bowls, but All-Pro status was blocked by a couple of guys named Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. His career was cut short by injuries suffered in the first of those three Pro Bowls. The Colts accused Ryan of running up the score in the 27-0 championship rout of 1964. A Colts defender delivered some payback in the all-star game. Ryan needed surgery and was in constant pain for the rest of his career. Yet he still led his team to the playoffs three more times.
There have been many better quarterbacks than Ryan in NFL history. But none accomplished more than Ryan while receiving less acclaim. By being overshadowed by Brown, achieving his greatest success just before the dawn of the Super Bowl era and getting stuck behind the Tom Brady and Peyton Manning of your grandfather’s generation, Ryan earned the title of the NFL’s All-Time Most Underrated Player.
Ryan also earns the honor of the best Browns player to wear No. 13 in franchise history.
Honorable mention: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had 1,035 receiving yards in 2019, his first season with the Browns. Quarterback Josh McCown for having to first put up with quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2015 and then head coach Hue Jackson in 2016. (That 457 yard game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2015 was pretty sweet as well.)
Who is the best player to wear No. 13 in Browns history?
This poll is closed
Odell Beckham Jr.