In 1964, the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship. The win would be the franchise’s eighth pro football championship. That year they were pitted against the Baltimore Colts who were favored to win by 17 points. Instead, a steady defense swamped the NFL’s best offense and limited Colts superstar QB Johnny Unitas to just 89-yards passing.
In the thick of that defensive standoff was DE Bill Glass.
Glass was traded to the Browns prior to the 1962 season in a multi-player transaction which included sending Cleveland QB Milt Plum along with running back Tom Watkins and LB Dave Lloyd to the Detroit Lions. In return, the Lions shipped off RB Hopalong Cassady, QB Jim Ninowski along with Glass to the Browns. On the day of the trade, all the buzz was about the two quarterbacks changing teams because head coach Paul Brown had lost faith in Plum as their starting signalcaller.
In the end, however, it was Bill Glass who would be viewed as the plum of the entire deal.
The Browns were rebuilding a defense under Coach Brown during the 1962 campaign. Brown realized that this unit needed more pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback. This was an era where teams still ran the ball predominately, but there were certain clubs which tossed the pigskin around quite a bit such as the New York Football Giants who had recently traded for quarterback Y.A. Tittle. He was lighting up the league with WR Del Shofner plus halfback sensation Frank Gifford. And since the Giants and Browns shared the Eastern Conference and only one would proceed to the championship game, changes needed to be made.
So a hefty pass rush was essential. DE Paul Wiggin already anchored one side of the 4-3 defense. Bob Gain and Floyd Peters were the inside defensive linemen. Vince Costello And Galen Fiss were the main dominance at the linebacker position who were used on stunts and blitzes as needed. But former first-round defensive end Jim Houston wasn’t getting the job done. So Coach Brown ripped off the trade with Detroit and instantly inserted Ninowski at QB and Glass at right defensive end. For 1962, Glass, Fiss and Gain all made the Pro Bowl.
When Coach Brown was fired after a lackluster 7-6-1 season, his protégé Blanton Collier stepped in as the new head man and made several changes, mostly to the offense. But on defense, Coach Collier switched Houston to a standup linebacker to which he flourished. Ninowski was ditched for QB Frank Ryan and suddenly, the offense got its groove back while the defense improved significantly.
The Browns finished 10-3-1, just one game behind the Giants and just missed their chance to go on to the NFL Championship Game. The following year, Cleveland finally broke New York’s grip on the division by ending their season 10-3-1. This set up a match-up in the title game against the offensive juggernaut also knows as the Baltimore Colts who had lit up the league scoring 428 points in just 14 games.
In the title game, after a scoreless first half, Cleveland tore up the Colts’ vaulted offense to win 27-0. The storyline of the game was the fact that the high-scoring Colts were stymied all game by the Browns’ defense especially Costello. Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, Lenny Moore, Jimmy Orr, Raymond Berry, Bobby Boyd and an offensive line headed by Big Jim Parker (the league’s only 300-pound player) were all born to score points. Lots of points. Unitas, Moore, Berry, LT Bob Vogel, C Dick Szymanski and Parker all made the Pro Bowl that year for the offense.
But for that day, the Cleveland defense dominated one of the greatest offensive teams in the history of the NFL.
Bill Glass had a stellar college career at Baylor University where he started three years and was voted to the All-American Team in 1956 plus was All-Southwest Conference. In his senior season alone he notched 154 total tackles. His Baylor team defeated Number 2 and previously undefeated Tennessee 13-7 in the Sugar Bowl. During that successful senior year, Glass met his future wife, Mavis Knapp, at a daily gathering in the student union building. The couple were married from 1957 until her passing in 2017. They had three children: Billy, Bobby and Mindy.
With this much success in his final college year, Glass was drafted in the first-round of the NFL by the Detroit Lions with the 12th overall selection. Also drafted in that 1957 first-round were guys taken such as Paul Hornung, John Brodie, Len Dawson, Del Shofner, Big Jim Parker, and a fella by the name of Jim Brown.
Instead of reporting to the Lions, however, Glass signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Why? Well, read on because we asked him that very question. After a single season up north, he inked a contract with Detroit and played four seasons before being traded to the Browns. His playing size was 6’-5” and 252 pounds.
While with the Browns, Glass was selected to four Pro Bowls including his first three years in Cleveland from 1962-1964 and then selected again in 1967.
On a list of the Cleveland Browns 100 best players from cleveland.com compiled in 2013, Glass is listed at Number 31. That is quite an accomplishment for a defender since the list is dominated in the upper echelon by offensive players. And Glass beat out standout players such as Brian Sipe, Bobby Mitchell, Mike Pruitt, Big Daddy Hairston, Don Cockroft, Dave Logan, Kevin Mack, Joe DeLamielleure, Clarence Scott, Felix Wright, Reggie Langhorne and Phil Dawson who are all ranked below him.
There was a time when Glass was the highest paid defensive lineman in the NFL with an annual salary of $38,000. With the exception of his final year (1968) in Cleveland, he never missed a practice or a single game due to injury.
Glass was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985 and was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1987. Cleveland inducted him into their Browns Legends Program in 2007.
Having grown up in Texas, during off-seasons while still a player Glass attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary located in Ft. Worth, Texas. Being a lifelong Christian, he received advice from Reverend Billy Graham to pursue a life in the ministry after Glass gave his testimony in 1965 at the first nationally televised crusade in Denver. In 1969, Glass founded Bill Glass Ministries with the focus on prisoners that were incarcerated who may not have access or guidance to the gospel.
The prison ministry has personified who Bill Glass really is as a man. He brought to the forefront his stature as an NFL player who had acclaim as a multi-Pro Bowler and NFL Champion. The opportunity to speak in front of a crowd or confined prisoners grew into a full time ministry with a sizable staff with a multitude of willing volunteers. He traveled the country to speak at sports banquets and events of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The premise of his ministry is to be a voice in areas that normal Christians aren’t in attendance such as biker rally’s, prison yards, sporting events and other venues where the gospel isn’t the norm in order to spread the word of God. Glass has authored a dozen books. The Bill Glass Evangelical Association produced three TV specials, including the “Bill Glass Prison Special” which was nominated for an Emmy Award.
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After football, Glass served on Baylor’s Board of Directors for nine years and was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Sacks came to be an official NFL statistic beginning with the 1982 season. This meant that all the sacks that occurred before that year were in limbo and was like they never happened. Recently, two researchers from the Professional Football Researchers Association went back and through extensive and tedious film study cataloged each actual sack back to the year 1960.
Glass was Cleveland’s franchise sack leader until LB Clay Matthews surpassed him. But with the new information adding to everyone’s sack statistics, Glass is now the Browns’ sack leader with 77.5. Matthews’ new totals are 75 sacks which were generated over a 16-year career whereas Glass topped the needle in just 94 games.
The fact that Glass is now the sack leader for Cleveland has made some rumblings about him being nominated for a Pro Football Hall of Fame mention and perhaps will one day be nominated for inclusion.
DBN caught up with this busy man to find out about his prison ministry, why he chose the CFL over the NFL, and how to kick a football literally out of the stadium.
DBN: How instrumental was your high school football coach Bill Stages in the development of yourself as a young man?
Glass: He was pivotal. Bill Stages was a terrific person who went to Texas A&M and overcame that great detriment by going on and doing great things with his life. He was a terrific guy and I looked to him as a mentor. I loved him.
DBN: You were highly-recruited coming out of high school. What other schools offered you scholarships before you accepted the one from Baylor?
Glass: Almost all the Southwest Conference schools. And many others around the country. I was very fortunate in that I had a good high school career, so everyone wanted me to come and play because I was a big and fast defensive end.
DBN: You accepted Christ while you were in high school. Baylor is a private Christian university. Why was it important to you to be around a Christian atmosphere while attending college?
Glass: I had not grown much spiritually by the time I was in college, and I needed that growth and that atmosphere was very important.
DBN: You were named All-American at Baylor in 1956 with 154 tackles in just a 10-game season which averages to an incredible 15.4 tackles per game. How did you not trip on your Superman cape during games?
Glass: (laughter) I had no problem with that. I was just playing football.
DBN: The Detroit Lions drafted you 12th overall in the 1957 NFL draft, yet you went and played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Why did you choose the CFL over the NFL, and how much was your rookie CFL contract worth at the time?
Glass: At first I just didn’t want to play on Sundays. I was offered a little more money, not
much, but a little more. But the main reason was I didn’t want to play on Sundays.
DBN: The following year you signed with Detroit. Why did you leave Canada for the NFL?
Glass: I wanted to realize my full potential and I knew that I needed to be in the NFL to do that.
DBN: This was a time when sports agents did not exist. Did you have to negotiate your own contracts with Saskatchewan as well as Detroit and later Cleveland?
Glass: Yes, I negotiated my own contracts with the owners.
DBN: How was CFL training camp different than NFL training camp, and how were CFL games different than NFL games?
Glass: The CFL was played on weekdays and not on Sunday. The CFL was good and the
practices and training camps were similar to the NFL.
DBN: With the Lions you were in a group that featured Alex Karras, Roger Brown and Darius McCord. Was this the beginning of famous defensive fronts which had catchy names such as the “Fearsome Foursome” and the “Purple People Eaters”?
Glass: Yes, I would say that we were a forerunner.
DBN: In 1962, you were traded to the Browns. How did you find out that you had been traded, who told you, and what was your first reaction?
Glass: I don’t even remember how I was told. It was after the season was over and it was almost casual conversation.
DBN: In your first season with the Browns, you were named to your first Pro Bowl and selected Second Team All-Pro. Was this simply you finally having enough professional experience or perhaps the new environment?
Glass: I think a lot of things had worked together up until this point, but it was really my
teammates. In particular, Paul Wiggin who was the left defensive end who was a good
friend and a good teammate. But he was also one that really pushed me to be better.
DBN: This was also the last year under head coach Paul Brown. What can you tell us about his coaching mannerisms, his teaching abilities and what type of man he was?
Glass: He was an impeccable person, demanded the best of his players, and was a great man. I understood he also had part ownership in the team, too.
DBN: While in Cleveland, were you able to set up some sort of prayer group or maybe a local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes?
Glass: I was a part of that original group up in Cleveland. I really started as a part of our team. I had Bible studies (devotions) that would meet on Sunday morning around 9:30 in the morning and then we would play the game at noon. We didn’t really have chaplains on the teams back then, so we did our study on our own.
DBN: In 1964, the Browns won the NFL title by defeating the powerful Colts in the NFL Championship Game. Folks today act like if you don’t win the Super Bowl, it is not considered a championship season. What do you say to these people?
Glass: Sometimes you are working toward a championship with your team, and it is a work in progress. But even in the seasons we didn’t win, I was able to minister to my teammates and to others around me.
DBN: What was your favorite memory from that championship game, and how much was the winner’s take?
Glass: I was just thrilled to be a part of a winning team and we beat Baltimore soundly. I remember one thing, I kicked off for my team and it was the first play of the game, and the wind was with us and I kicked the ball over the goal posts, over the bleachers, and actually out of the stadium. Our championship game winner take was $6,000.
DBN: How is pass rushing different in the NFL today than when you played?
Glass: Very little, except now it is worth millions and back then it was worth thousands.
DBN: You were very durable and started all but six games in a 12-year career playing pro football. What do you attribute your success of not getting seriously hurt?
Glass: The Lord kept me from being hurt so I could continue to play and be about His business at the same time.
DBN: You were elected to several Hall of Fame institutions plus the Browns Legends Program in 2007. With the Legends honor, who called you about this and who was the first person you told?
Glass: I don’t remember every call, but I do remember several calls through all of this. But I remember calls from Paul Brown, and I remember first telling my wife about it.
DBN: When you retired from the pro game as a Brown, you had the second most career sacks with the franchise. Now with the research concluded going back to the 1960 season, they added sacks to your total which now makes you the franchise leader with 77.5 sacks, just 2.5 ahead of Clay Matthews who each year is a Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee. Now that you are the leader, isn’t it probable that perhaps your name could be nominated for the Hall as well?
Glass: I would hope. It would be a good witness for the Lord for all that He allowed me to do.
DBN Today, there is a Progressive Insurance commercial with a life coach who teaches adults how to not act like their parents. That coach is Dr. Rick played by actor Bill Glass. Are you any relation and are you upset that you don’t get free car insurance?
Glass: (laughter) I don’t think I’m any relation to this other Bill Glass. And I didn’t get anything for free, but I was never upset.
DBN: Bill Glass Ministries Behind the Walls is a prison ministry which involve lots of staff and thousands of volunteers. What made you decide that giving the word of God was needed in the prison system, and what was your first experience like after those big metals doors had clang shut?
Glass: Inmates love football too, but we knew that people in jails and prisons need to hear the message that our ministry was sharing. My first experience was focused on evangelism, so I didn’t think to much about the prison aspect of it but focused on the purpose.
“It’s my greatest desire to see this ministry continue long after I’m gone to be with the Lord.” – Bill Glass’s Behind the Walls prison ministry recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Read more at the link: https://t.co/O1yw8ks5l1 #BehindtheWalls #prisonministry pic.twitter.com/0NnuTveM0L— Prison Fellowship (@prisonfellowshp) November 13, 2019
DBN: Your ministry has utilized quite a few former NFL players and coaches to help get your message across. Is this something you have to beg others to assist you, or are most of these athletes willing to help spread the gospel?
Glass: I have been astounded. I never asked anyone who wasn’t anxious to go with me. Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Mike Singletary, and many others just said “yes” right away.
DBN: One of your TV specials called the “Bill Glass Prison Special” was nominated for an Emmy Award. Why is television such a huge medium to reach others?
Glass: I wasn’t even aware it was nominated for an Emmy Award, but television back then was gathered around by the entire family and that was the main mode of communication.
DBN: Name your most memorable person who was incarcerated that you will never forget their story.
Glass: Jack Murphy known as “Murph the Surf.” He was in prison for 21 years for murder in 1969 and also involved in the biggest jewel heist in American history. The target was the J.P. Morgan jewel collection at their museum. We visited his prison in 1974 and he became a great Christian with “Behind the Walls.” His parole eventually became moved up because of good behavior. Then he got out of prison in 1986 and served in our ministry as an ordained minister. He appeared on “Larry King Live” and other TV campaigns. Murphy passed away in September 2020 and was sent home.
DBN: What are your fondest memories of being a Cleveland Brown?
Glass: The championship in 1964 was a great team accomplishment and the fondest memory. The soundness of our championship win was the icing on the cake.