On Feb. 2, football fans across the country will watch quarterbacks Peyton Manning of Denver and Russell Wilson of Seattle try to help their teams win a Super Bowl title.
Forty-nine years ago, quarterback Frank Ryan led the Cleveland Browns to the NFL championship -- two seasons before the game became known as the Super Bowl. The Browns hammered the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on Dec. 27, 1964.
Leighton School teacher Ted Linden, who wears Ryan's No. 13 jersey to school on Fridays during the Browns' season and who is a fan of Ryan because both he and Ryan are math teachers, got to meet the former Browns standout in late September when Ryan visited Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to give two talks to the public -- one about math and one about football.
Linden had gotten Ryan's address last spring and wrote a letter to him.
"He wrote me back and offered to meet me in Cleveland when he came in for the event at Case Western," Linden said. "It was a great time. Frank is such a gentleman and a good guy. He is a very nice, humble man, and he is very sharp mentally. I was obviously very excited to meet him."
Case Western was having its homecoming weekend, and Ryan, a CWRU alumni, was one of the featured presenters, although his wife, Joan, was sick and unable to attend. Linden got to talk one-on-one with Ryan for about 20 minutes.
"I talk about Frank all the time in my classroom," Linden said. "He is someone who excelled on the football field and in the classroom. You can do both."
RYAN, 77, who lives in Vermont, was pleased to meet Linden. "I enjoyed meeting Ted at CWRU, and I am honored that he values my mathematics as much as he does my footballing," Ryan said.
Ryan's first talk interested Linden because it was about Ryan's research of prime numbers, which Linden's fifth-grade students were studying. About 60 people, mostly math students and professors, attended. Linden also teaches math at Kent State University and Hiram College.
Ryan's second talk was about his memories as a football player in Cleveland. About 150 people attended, and Ryan took questions from the audience.
Linden said Ryan "thought it was great" that Linden wears Ryan's jersey to school regularly. Ryan autographed the jersey, which Linden wore to the event. "I had never seen anybody else with a Frank Ryan No. 13 jersey before, but there was a man from Dayton wearing one at this event," he said.
The 1964 NFL champion Browns were led by fullback Jim Brown, the greatest football player of all time. The team had five future Pro Football Hall of Famers, including Brown, receiver Paul Warfield, guard Gene Hickerson, place-kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza and running back/kick returner Leroy Kelly.
In addition to Ryan, other standouts included receiver Gary Collins, who caught three touchdown passes from Ryan in the title game, offensive tackle Dick Schafrath and linebackers Galen Fiss, Jim Houston and Vince Costello, who helped shut down Colts star quarterback Johnny Unitas that day.
Ryan talked about his former teammates and how much he respected them along with Blanton Collier, the team's head coach.
"FRANK mention-ed that he was paid $25,000 in 1964," Linden said. "Frank said [owner] Art Modell wasn't too interested in upping Frank's contract after the 1964 season although Frank and Art went back and forth [negotiating]."
By the start of the 1968 season, Ryan was relegated to second string behind Bill Nelsen, and Ryan was later traded to the Washington Redskins, whose new coach was the legendary Vince Lombardi.
"Frank said he got a $100,000 contract to be second string [behind Sonny Jurgensen]," Linden said. "Frank did not have a lot of nice things to say about Modell. After winning the world championship, Frank thought he should be earning more than he was."
Linden said Ryan, dynamic yet calm, called his own plays, which is virtually unheard of today.
"One thing Frank mentioned at Case Western Reserve was that as smart as people said he was, he wasn't as smart as some people give him credit for," Linden said. "He said he doesn't have as high of an IQ as some and that some people understand things right away, but that he gets it through hard work. That is a great lesson for everyone."
Linden's son Tim, who lives in Chicago and has a doctorate in physics, came to Case Western that day to hear Ryan along with Ted's daughter Caroline.
"It was exciting for me to have them there," he said. "They know I've been talking about Frank Ryan for years."
Naturally, Linden had his photo taken with Ryan at the event. The photo sits in Linden's classroom. "My students thought the picture was neat," he said.
So did Linden. "It was a great day," he said "It was a neat experience."
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Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC