Attribute the Denver Broncos' shocking 27-0 upset of the Cleveland Browns to a steaming platter of rancor, frustration and kielbassa. The Broncos, who had won only one game prior to last weekend, also defeated the Browns because they played better football. Both their lines dominated the Browns', and their two fine running backs, Floyd Little and Bob Anderson, ran so far through holes so big that the Cleveland defense will sink down in its seats when the movies are shown.
Don Horn, the young quarterback acquired by Denver from Green Bay, was given almost faultless protection by a Bronco line that supposedly had been weakened after losing Center Larry Kaminski and Guard Sam Brunelli to injuries. Kaminski, though, still contributed to the Denver cause. Hobbling happily about the dressing room with one leg in a cast, he stopped long enough to furnish an explanation for the astonishing prowess of the Bronco defense. Kaminski, it must be noted, is Polish, and his family lives in Cleveland.
"Last night I took the line and Fred Forsberg, the middle linebacker, home for some good Polish cooking," he said. "We had kielbassa [a Polish sausage], stuffed cabbage and city chicken, and they loved it. I guess it gave them a little more energy today, too." City chicken, for those unfamiliar with Polish cooking, is not chicken at all but veal and pork chunks on a stick, breaded and roasted so it looks like a drumstick.
More fuel was added to the Bronco cause by Art Modell, the Browns' owner. Long ago, during the merger negotiations between the two teams, Modell memorably said, "I don't ever want to see the Denver Broncos play in my stadium." Moreover, in 1967, after both Cleveland and Denver had drafted Notre Dame Defensive Lineman Pete Duranko, Modell told him that he would regret it if he signed with Denver, since it was doubtful that the franchise would last. Before the game Duranko, who was injured earlier this season, reminded his teammates of Modell's words.
"We talked about the things he had said," one Bronco noted after the game. "It was no real big thing, but everything helps, doesn't it?"
The Denver frustration had come from a maddening series of injuries and from the equally maddening treatment the club was getting from the Denver fans. "The bench in Denver is pretty close to the stands," Kaminski said. "You can't believe the things they call us and the things they throw at us. I do some public relations work for the club, and I would try to tell people that it was because of injuries, but they didn't pay any attention. One guy listened to me, then he said, 'If I pay 50¢ for a bottle of milk, I expect a good bottle of milk. And when I pay $7.50 for a football ticket, I expect a good football game.' "
When the game got to the field, the Broncos relied mainly upon a few simple running plays to beat the Browns. During the first half, which they entirely dominated, they marched 92 yards to their first touchdown using traps and an off-tackle play called 46 or 47, depending upon which side of the line it is directed at. It worked equally well on both sides. The march lasted 10 minutes from the opening kickoff and consisted of 15 plays, only two of them passes.
The touchdown came on the second of these, a fine call on third down at the Browns' seven-yard line by Lou Saban, the former Cleveland player who now coaches Denver. By the time the Broncos had reached the seven, the Brown defense had become so wary of the run that almost the entire team took the feint of the run, leaving only one man to try to handle Tight End Billy Masters, who caught the ball in the corner of the end zone.
That drive set the tone for the game, especially when it became apparent that the Denver defense was going to be as tough as the offense. An 11-play, 67-yard march made it 14-0 midway through the second quarter, with Bob Anderson smashing the last six yards through the crumbling Cleveland line.
Forsberg, fortified by city chicken and kielbassa, accounted for the third Denver touchdown two plays later. Drifting back into zone coverage, he picked off a Bill Nelsen pass intended for Tight End Milt Morin and returned it 40 yards for the score. The unfortunate Nelsen fumbled as soon as the Browns got the ball back, and Denver's Dave Costa recovered on the Cleveland 13. This time the Broncos settled for a field goal just as the half ended.
It would be hard to imagine a more one-sided half. Denver gained 234 yards, Cleveland 21, with only one yard rushing compared to Denver's 159. The harried Nelsen completed only two passes and was twice dumped for losses while attempting to pass.
It is to the credit of the Browns that the club made the second half respectable, holding Denver to one field goal. The offense did not do that much more, but the defense limited Denver to half the yardage it had gained in the first two periods.
The loss did not cost Cleveland first place in its division and, for that matter, it is unlikely to cost the club the division title. The Browns are still a game in front, and are a much better team than they appeared to be on this wet and miserable afternoon.
"I think they took us too lightly," one Denver veteran said. "You could tell when we were warming up that they figured us to be nothings. I don't think they'll figure us that way anymore."
Even with this loss the Browns have had a surprisingly successful season, due in large measure to having assumed the personality of their new head coach, Nick Skorich, who succeeded the mild-mannered Blanton Collier this year. Skorich is hard-bitten, with the blocky battered face of a man who once played guard in the single wing, which he did under Jock Sutherland on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late '40s and early '50s. Skorich had been an assistant to Collier for seven years before taking charge—four years as the defensive coach and three in charge of the offense. But when Collier retired, Skorich immediately set about casting the club in his sterner, more aggressive mold.
"Football is a physical game," he explained last week. "I resented the fact that people did not consider the Browns a physical team. So we started even before training camp to make this a tougher club. I sent the players running and strength programs to follow before they came to camp, and then, during camp, we had more contact than we have had in previous years. If you're going to hit in a game, you have to hit in practice, and that's what we do. We even have physical contact during the week after the season starts. I also believe in scrimmaging the best against the best," Skorich went on. "I mean, our No. 1 offensive unit against the No. 1 defense. They learn from each other. So far, it seems to be working. At least we're a lot more physical and we haven't backed off against any team we have played, as we sometimes did in the past."
The players have taken to Skorich's ways. He is a strict man but a fair one. When the club came on the field the morning before the Denver game for a 45-minute drill on special teams, the captains, Linebacker Jim Houston and Running Back Leroy Kelly, ran their warmup lap clockwise, but the rest of the club, as a put-on, went in the other direction. When they finished, Skorich smiled and said, "That lap was on you. Now take another the right way." There was no grumbling as they dutifully trotted off.
Skorich has the team do a series of 40-yard wind sprints after every practice, except on Saturday. "We do it when they're tired to teach them discipline and give them the ability to go hard at the end of a tough game, when they will also be tired," he said. "We aren't letting down late in the game now."
Indeed, the only weak fourth period the Browns have had this season was against the Oakland Raiders, when they gave up 24 points in the first of their two losses.
Aside from more aggression and more endurance, Skorich attributes the Browns' 4-and-2 record to the continuing good health of Nelsen, the rapid development of the defensive line and the additional speed in the defensive backfield provided by Cornerbacks Ben Davis and Clarence Scott, who was the No. 1 draft choice this year.
Nelsen, a cocky, positive man whose career has been interrupted by knee operations more often than Joe Namath's, is a master at reading defenses and calling the appropriate audible. "He's also good at completing our pattern passes," Skorich said. "He gets the ball to the right man at the right time, just when the defense gives him the opening."
He completed only six passes against Denver, but it was not a typical performance. At any rate, Skorich now has a secret weapon. He is of Eastern European descent, too, and it should not be hard for him to get the recipe for city chicken, stuffed cabbage and kielbassa, although it's doubtful he'll get it from Kaminski's parents.