The offensive hero of the last Browns NFL championship in 1964 doesn’t want to
talk about his three touchdowns or anything about the game.
“I played in a ton of [bleeping] games after that and had great seasons, but I’m
remembered for one thing,” Collins said of catching three Frank Ryan passes for
scores in the Browns’ 27-0 upset of the Baltimore Colts.
“It’s like Bobby Thompson. I’ve talked to him. He’s so pissed off about talking
about that home run. That’s all people remember. He had a great batting average
over his career. In my case, it’s the ’64 championship. That’s all people want
to talk about for 40 years, like it’s the only game I ever played.”
What would Collins rather be known for?
“I had a good career, not great,” he said. “I made some big catches, had some
big games. I was there when they needed me. I was that guy. Third down. First
downs. Big catches. That was me. That was my job. That’s what I did.”
He did it better than any wide receiver in Browns history.
His 331 career catches trail only the 662 posted by tight end Ozzie Newsome.
Collins’s 70 touchdowns are the most of any Browns receiver. Only backs Jim Brown (126) and Leroy Kelly (90) had more.
Collins also doubled as the team’s punter for six seasons. He led the NFL in
1965 with a gross average of 46.69 yards per punt.
But while he was a storied player, Collins became a stranger to the franchise
after his retirement in 1971. He retreated to the insurance business in Hershey,
Pennsylvania, seldom to be heard from. His return visits to Cleveland were as
infrequent as his dropped passes.
“I have another life,” he said in 2003. “When I retired, [former owner] Art
Modell never said shit about me. Never said goodbye. Nobody from the Cleveland Browns organization even said, ‘See ya.’ I was bitter for a couple years, but,
hell, I’m 62 years old and I’ve got four granddaughters and who gives a shit? As
long as you can breathe.”
Such orneriness was always a part of Collins’s makeup. He said he was an angry
player who often picked fights with teammates in practice.
“I had a bad marriage,” he said of his playing days. “My best year in football
was ’66. I was separated the whole year, and she was living with a guy who I
tried to work with. I was living in agony.
“It motivated me to be pissed off, and I took it out on football. It made me a
good player in a game, but not in practice. I didn’t want to be there. I set a
bad example, looking back. But they knew that I wouldn’t let them down.”
For that reason, Collins was loved by his teammates.
“He was probably the best guy I played alongside of throughout my entire
career,” said Paul Warfield.
“A great receiver and just a great individual,” said Kelly.
“Most of the time, Gary was a good-humored person. I never really saw him get
into it, except when Frank wouldn’t get him
Collins was a confident player. His bold comments to the media often caught the
attention of coach Blanton Collier, but
he usually backed them up.
“The tougher the game, the looser I was,” Collins said. “I’d tell them in the
huddle, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll pull you guys through.’
“A guy wrote a statistic one time that the number of balls I dropped probably
don’t go past three hands or two hands. And the guy that replaced me, Frank
Pitts, he dropped more in two games than I did in my career.
“I dropped three in one game with broken ribs in a sleet storm. We lost to
Dallas, 6-2, in the sleet and rain, and I got booed. That’s when I gave the
crowd the bird.”
The Browns were 7-6-1 in Collins’s first season of 1962 and 7-7 in his last of
1971. In the seven years in between, their record was 69-27-1 and they played in
four NFL championship games, winning one.
“I had a hell of a run,” Collins said.