Former quarterback Frank Ryan, who led Browns to last NFL title, dies at 87

CLEVELAND — Frank Ryan wasn’t your average NFL quarterback.

His arm helped make the Cleveland Browns champions. His intellect earned him greater recognition off the field.

Ryan, who led the Browns to their last NFL title in 1964 while spending his offseasons earning a doctorate in mathematics, died Monday. He was 87 years old.

Ryan’s family said in a statement that he died while being cared for at a nursing home in Connecticut. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and the family said chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was suspected “to have played a role in the progression of the disease.”

Ryan donated his brain to the Boston University CTE Center for study.

“Our hearts go out to Frank Ryan’s family and friends as we honor the life of a Browns icon and championship-winning quarterback,” the Browns said in a social media post.

In the 1964 title game, Ryan threw three touchdown passes to wide receiver Gary Collins as the Browns stunned Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas and the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 27-0 on December 27. Cleveland has not won a football championship since and remains one of four teams to never reach the Super Bowl.

However, with Ryan and Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, the Browns were a perennial power in the early to mid-1960s.

Just months after winning the 1964 title, the last for any of the city’s top three professional teams in 52 years until the Cavaliers won the NBA crown in 2016, Ryan earned his Ph.D. from Rice, where he played college baseball in his home state of Texas.

He went on to teach mathematics at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland and later at Yale and Rice. Ryan is also credited with helping create an electronic voting system that modernized the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ryan, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Browns, spent seven seasons with Cleveland, compiling a 52-22-2 record as a starter. He led the league in touchdown passes in 1964 and 1966.

Although Cleveland led the great Brown and then Kelly on the ground to many victories, Ryan was one of the best passers in the league and threw at least 25 touchdown passes in three seasons. He also played for the Los Angeles Rams and Washington before retiring after the 1970 season.

Ryan also served for 10 years as athletic director at Yale.

During his 13-year playing career, Ryan threw for 16,042 yards and 149 touchdowns while going 57-27-3 as a starter.

Ryan is survived by his wife, Joan. The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary last year.

Arrangements for the funeral and memorial were still being finalized.

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