Frank Ryan Dies at 87; Former QB Led Browns to NFL Title in 1964

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Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty ImagesFormer NFL quarterback Frank Ryan died Monday at the age of 87, according to the Associated Press’ Tom Withers.

Terry Pluto of reported Ryan had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and shared a statement from his son, Frank Ryan Jr.:

“Throughout his life, Frank received received thousands of autograph requests from fans of all ages and backgrounds from across the country. He appreciated his fans enormously. He kept every fan letter he received and fulfilled every autograph request sent to him until he became physically unable to do so. Frank had a large and loving family and they were with him at the end.”

Ryan spent 13 years in the NFL. His longest spell came with the Cleveland Browns, and he was the starter when the franchise won its last NFL championship in 1964.

The Texas native was with the Browns for seven years, earning three Pro Bowl nods and twice leading the league in touchdown passes. He remains fifth in franchise history in passing yards (13,361) and third in TDs (134).

Ryan attended Rice and initially pursued a Ph.D. in mathematics before embarking on his pro football career. Sports Illustrated’s Jack Olsen wrote in 1965 how Ryan’s cerebral nature became a defining aspect of his game, much to the player’s consternation.

“Ryan’s public image as an egghead disturbs him partially because he doesn’t think of himself as overly bright and partially because he is getting publicity that he thinks should be going to the genuine geniuses in the mathematics department at Rice, a tough school that is to the Southwest as MIT is to the East and Cal Tech to the West,” Olsen wrote.

In addition to his time with the Browns, Ryan suited up for the Los Angeles Rams and Washington. He retired ahead of the 1971 season and eventually pivoted to a career in academics.

Ryan taught at what’s now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and in 1977 took over as Yale’s athletic director. In between those stops, he also worked in the U.S. House of Representatives and helped the legislative body move to a new computer-operated voting system in 1973.


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