Flashback 50: Browns reject Havlicek lights it up

Fifty years today, John Havlicek scored a game-high 27 points, as the Boston Celtics improved to 30-9 with a convincing 99-79 win over the L.A. Lakers (27-17).

So how does this pertain to the Browns and their journey to the 1964 NFL championship? Only marginally, but, hey, January 17 was hoops season. Football was dormant. The draft was complete. No coaching search was necessary.

So why not commemorate a glimpse of time from a Hall of Fame career that almost wasn’t? After all, Havlicek (like Lou Groza) was a native of Martins Ferry, Ohio, who scored field goals (of a different kind) for Ohio State.

Unlike Groza, he was actually drafted by the Browns, in the seventh round of 1962. The 6′ 5″ Bridgeport High School star was an All-State quarterback, but he focused on basketball in college. Paul Brown picked him as a potential addition to the receiving corps.

The All-American basketball star actually chose to pursue football, and he competed for a Browns roster spot in training camp and into the exhibition season. But Hondo wasn’t the only incoming pass-catcher vying for a pro career. In fact, Gary Collins was the team’s first-rounder that year, the fourth pick overall. He too was 6′ 5″, and he could punt as well, a useful versatility in the days of 36-man rosters.

The team also had returnees “Rabbit” Ray Renfro, the team’s leading receiver in 1961 at age 32; Rich Kreitling, their top pick in 1959; Bobby Crespino, the 1961 first-rounder; and veteran Leon Clarke.

While Coach Brown admired Havlicek’s competitiveness and good hands, in his view the “lack of great foot speed” limited his potential in football to no more than a “fringe player.”

Ultimately, Havlicek was cut from the Browns on August 22, 1962, but he had a pretty solid fallback option, having been selected by the Celtics as the NBA’s seventh overall pick back in March. I’d say he rebounded all right. Sixteen seasons, eight titles, and still the most career points in the history of that iconic franchise.

As for Collins, he remains the Browns’ all-time leader with 70 receiving touchdowns. He’s certainly best known for scoring the only three touchdowns of the 1964 NFL title game.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves in our reminiscences; it’s still only January.