CLEVELAND, Ohio – Phil Williams still remembers the play vividly. After all, it was during the first NFL game he ever attended.
The day was Oct. 28, 1956, and Williams was with his father watching the Browns play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Municipal Stadium. The Browns’ quarterback that day was Babe Parilli, and the Steelers had Ted Marchibroda under center.
The play Williams remembers remains as one of the oddest things he’s seen. When the Steelers snapped the ball, the Browns rushed Marchibroda hard.
“He was 5-10, which is decent sized,” Williams said over the phone. “He ducked behind an official. And the official would move one way, and he’d move with him. And the Browns were trying to figure out where the heck he was.
“The official was trying to get out of his way to not enter the play and Marchibroda wouldn’t let him. He just stuck to him like glue.”
Williams, 72, became a Browns fan that day despite a 24-16 loss to the Steelers, and he’s been a dedicated fan since. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife, Rosalie.
As a longtime fan, Williams recalled another special moment he experienced during that October day. While growing up in Etowah County in Alabama, Williams was an avid football card collector. When he got to the game, he saw players such as receiver Pete Brewster, who played for the Browns from 1952-58.
“He’s just a guy, but I had his football card, and I got to see him play,” Williams said. “And all of a sudden, I’m a Pete Brewster fan and I’m a Cleveland Browns fan.”
Williams’ favorite team played in the late 1960s, when quarterbacks Frank Ryan and Bill Nelsen were teammates for one season in 1968. During that season, the Browns went 10-4 and lost the NFL championship to the Baltimore Colts. According to Pro Football Reference, Ryan and Nelsen combined for 26 passing touchdowns, with Nelsen having 19.
“Bill Nelsen, if he had had decent knees, would have gone down as a really great quarterback,” Williams said. “As it was, he was just a good one. But I liked him. I liked Frank Ryan. Anybody that can get a Ph.D. from Rice and be an NFL quarterback is deserving of your admiration.”
Another of Williams’ favorite memories came when he was a bit older. He went to Atlanta with Rosalie, who was his girlfriend at the time, to see the Browns play an exhibition game against the Falcons.
“We went into a hotel to have lunch, and it was where the Browns were staying, and they were getting ready to get on the bus to go to the stadium,” Williams said. “I ran into a couple of ’em. I looked at ’em, I thought that’s who it was, and I ask a guy. I said ‘hey, are these the Cleveland Browns?’. He said yeah. And I said, ‘can I ask who you are?’ And he said Walt Roberts.”
Williams got Roberts’ autograph, but he wasn’t finished after that. Roberts, who was nicknamed “The Flea,” took Williams over to meet coach Blanton Collier and Lou Groza. Williams got autographs from both of them.
Though the Browns haven’t been promising recently, Williams still has hope for the future.
“I keep thinking, no team can stay bad forever and they have some talent,” Williams said. “That’s the thing. And if you keep building on that, then that keeps you coming back.”