Bill Nelsen

William Keith Nelsen (born January 29, 1941) is a former football player who played collegiately for the University of Southern California and professionally with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. He was known for his leadership ability and ability to play with pain, having endured a series of knee injuries during the course of his career. He later served as an assistant coach with four NFL teams.

Bill Nelsen
No. 14, 16
Personal information
Born:January 29, 1941 (age 78)
Los Angeles
Career information
NFL Draft:1963 / Round: 10
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Passing yards:14,165
Passer rating:70.2

College career

After playing one season of junior college ball at Cerritos College in California, Nelsen moved on to USC, where he was a key player during his first two seasons, leading the squad in total offense in both 1960 and 1961. In 1962, he split time at the position with Pete Beathard, helping the team capture the national championship.

Professional career

Nelsen was drafted in the 10th round of the 1963 NFL Draft by the Steelers, but saw limited action during his first two seasons. In 1965, new head coach Mike Nixon gave Nelsen the starting job. However, the struggling team finished 2-12, offering him little help, with Nelsen throwing for eight touchdowns, in addition to 17 interceptions. In the November 14, 1965 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Nelsen suffered a knee injury that plagued him the remainder of that year and underwent surgery after the season.

The following season, Nelsen suffered a knee injury against the Detroit Lions in the season's second game. Originally scheduled to be out of the lineup for six weeks, Nelsen would not return until the season's 12th week. The limited time on the field allowed him to set a league record for fewest interceptions (100 minimum passes) with just one on the campaign. In the season finale on December 18, he completed his final 11 passes to defeat the expansion Atlanta Falcons.

In 1967, the injuries continued for Nelsen when during the closing moments of the September 24 game against the St. Louis Cardinals, he was injured following a tackle by Chuck Walker. He missed the next four games, but came off the bench to engineer a 14-10 comeback victory over the expansion New Orleans Saints on October 29.

On May 14, 1968, Nelsen was traded, along with defensive back Jim Bradshaw, to the Browns. In return, the Pittsburgh Steelers received quarterback Dick Shiner, defensive tackle Frank Parker and an undisclosed draft choice.[1] The trade wound up helping both teams, as within a month into the season, both Nelsen and Shiner were starting at quarterback for their new clubs.

After serving as Frank Ryan's backup for three games in 1968, Nelsen was elevated to the starting role, and quickly made his mark with a shocking 30-20 upset of the previously unbeaten Baltimore Colts on October 20. By the end of the season, Nelsen had led the team to the playoffs, winning nine of his 11 starts.

In 1969, Nelsen had another strong season, leading the Browns to a 10-3-1 record and a postseason berth, as well as being selected to his first and only Pro Bowl. One week after throwing for five touchdowns in a 42-10 victory over the previously unbeaten Dallas Cowboys on November 2, Nelsen spent a miserable afternoon against the Minnesota Vikings on the losing end of a 51-3 score. In addition, he briefly left that game with a pinched nerve in his throwing arm, a malady that would trouble him for the rest of the season.

In game two of the 1970 NFL season, Nelsen took yet another hit to his knees in a September 27 game against the San Francisco 49ers. The injury forced him out of the game and kept him on the sidelines the following week as well. After a midseason slump, he was replaced for one game by rookie Mike Phipps, but returned to start the final five games. Unfortunately, the Browns dropped to a 7-7 mark and missed the postseason.

In 1971, Nelsen led the Browns to four wins in their first five games, but another midseason slump once again relegated him to the bench for one game. Unlike the previous year, however, Nelsen led the team to five straight victories to once again reach the playoffs. Nelsen briefly won the starting job to start the 1972 season, but gave way to Phipps after a 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the opening game. Weeks after the conclusion of the season, Nelsen underwent his fifth knee operation and announced his retirement.

In 2012, the Plain Dealer named Nelsen #52 on its list of the top 100 Browns of all time.[2]

Coaching career

On February 14, 1973, he was hired as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots, but resigned after two years. After briefly considering the Browns' open head coaching slot, he accepted an assistant position with the Atlanta Falcons. He resigned that position following the dismissal of head coach Marion Campbell.

On February 9, 1977, he was named quarterback coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reuniting him with his former college coach, John McKay. He spent the next six seasons in that role until being fired amid reports of conflict with Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams and McKay. After sitting out the 1983 NFL season, Nelsen was hired by Detroit Lions' head coach Monte Clark, a former Browns teammate, as their offensive coordinator on January 20, 1984.

Nelsen has since retired from coaching.


  1. ^ Keith Yowell, "1968: Steelers Deal Bill Nelsen to Browns", Today In Pro Football blog, May 14, 2011. . Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  2. ^ Mike Peticca, "Cleveland Browns' 100 best all-time players: No. 52, Bill Nelsen". Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 11, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2014.

External links

1960 USC Trojans football team

The 1960 USC Trojans football team represented the University of Southern California (USC) in the 1960 college football season. In their first year under head coach John McKay, the Trojans compiled a 4–6 record (3–1 against conference opponents), finished in second place in the Athletic Association of Western Universities, and outscored their opponents by a combined total of 152 to 95.Bill Nelsen led the team in passing with 29 of 72 passes completed for 446 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Marlin McKeever was the leading receiver with 15 catches for 218 yards. Hal Tobin was the leading rusher with 318 yard on 61 carries.

1961 USC Trojans football team

The 1961 USC Trojans football team represented the University of Southern California (USC) in the 1961 college football season. In their second year under head coach John McKay, the Trojans compiled a 4–5–1 record (2–1–1 against conference opponents), finished in a tie for second place in the Athletic Association of Western Universities, and were outscored by their opponents by a combined total of 167 to 151.Quarterback Bill Nelsen led the team in passing, completing 39 of 86 passes for 683 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Ben Wilson led the team in rushing, with 619 yards on 139 carries. Hal Bedsole was the team's leading receiver with 27 catches for 525 yards and six touchdowns. Bedsole was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

1962 USC Trojans football team

The 1962 USC Trojans football team represented the University of Southern California (USC) in the 1962 college football season. In their third year under head coach John McKay, the Trojans compiled an 11–0 record (4–0 against conference opponents), won the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU or Big 6) championship, defeated Wisconsin in the 1963 Rose Bowl, outscored their opponents by a combined total of 261 to 92, and finished the season ranked #1 in both the AP Poll and UPI Coaches Poll.Pete Beathard was the team's quarterback, completing 54 of 107 passes for 989 yards with ten touchdown passes and only one interception. (Bill Nelsen also completed 36 of 80 passes for 682 yards and eight touchdown passes with two interceptions.) Willie Brown was the team's leading rusher with 574 rushing yards (and 291 receiving yards). Hal Bedsole was the team's leading receiver with 33 catches for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bedsole was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Two USC players were selected by the Associated Press (AP) as first-team players on the 1962 All-Pacific Coast football team. They were end Hal Bedsole and linebacker Damon Bame. Bedsole was also a consensus first-team All-American in 1962, while Bame received first-team All-America honors from the AP.

1967 Cleveland Browns season

The 1967 Cleveland Browns season was the team's 18th season with the National Football League.

The Browns were back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. They finished 9–5, the same as in 1966, but this time, it was good enough for them to get in as they won the Century Division championship in the first year of play after the NFL split the Eastern and Western conferences into two divisions each. The division race was not close, as the Browns finished two games ahead of the runner-up New York Giants (7–7), their old arch rival in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Running Back Leroy Kelly went over 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight time, getting 1,205 to go along with 11 touchdowns, while Ernie Green, now out of the shadow of Jim Brown, went over 700 yards for the second year in a row, getting 710. Quarterback Frank Ryan, the architect of the 27–0 1964 NFL title game victory over the Baltimore Colts, was in his last full season as a starter. He had 20 TD passes and 16 interceptions. But Ryan, with his body, especially his shoulder, beat up, gave way to Bill Nelsen early the next year.

The 52–14 playoff loss to Dallas in the Eastern Conference title contest caused Browns head coach Blanton Collier to re-shape his team at other positions as well, as new players were brought in to replace some of the fading stars who had carried the club for years. For instance, this was the last season for Hall of Fame place-kicker Lou Groza, who retired for the second time – this time for good – after making 11 of 23 field-goal tries. Groza, the last member of the original Browns from the team's inception in 1946, would retire after 21 seasons, followed the next season by another Hall of Fame kicker, Don Cockroft.

1968 Cleveland Browns season

The 1968 Cleveland Browns season was the team's 19th season with the National Football League.

The Browns made it to the playoffs for the 2nd straight year thanks to an 8-game winning streak and the brilliant play of quarterback Bill Nelsen who replaced Frank Ryan as the starting quarterback prior to week 4 of their season.

1968 NFL Championship Game

The 1968 National Football League championship game was the 36th annual championship game. The winner of the game represented the NFL in the third AFL-NFL World Championship Game also called the Super Bowl. The NFL title game was held December 29 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.

1969 NFL Championship Game

The 1969 NFL Championship Game was the 37th and final championship game prior to the AFL–NFL merger, played January 4, 1970, at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb south of Minneapolis. The winner of the game earned a berth in Super Bowl IV in New Orleans against the champion of the American Football League.The Minnesota Vikings of the Western Conference hosted the Cleveland Browns of the Eastern Conference. It was the Vikings' first appearance in the title game, while the Browns were making their second straight appearance and fourth of the 1960s.

Minnesota had a regular season record of 12–2, including a 51–3 defeat of the Browns eight weeks earlier on November 9. The Vikings defeated the Los Angeles Rams 23–20 in the Western Conference championship a week earlier at Met Stadium. They were coached by Bud Grant and led on offense by quarterback Joe Kapp and wide receiver Gene Washington. The defense allowed only 133 points (9½ per game) during the regular season and their four defensive linemen were known as the "Purple People Eaters."

Cleveland was 10–3–1 during the regular season and had upset the Dallas Cowboys 38–14 at the Cotton Bowl for the Eastern Conference title. The Browns were coached by Blanton Collier; Bill Nelsen was the starting quarterback and Gary Collins and Paul Warfield were star wide receivers for the team.

Although not as severe as the "Ice Bowl" of 1967, the weather conditions were bitterly cold at 8 °F (−13 °C), with a sub-zero wind chill factor. Cleveland linebacker Jim Houston suffered frostbite during the game and was hospitalized.

Minnesota was favored by nine points to win the title game at home, and they won, 27–7.Of the four NFL teams that joined the league during the AFL era (1960s), Minnesota was the sole winner of a pre-merger NFL championship. The Dallas Cowboys entered the league in 1960 and lost two NFL title games to the Green Bay Packers, in 1966 and 1967. The expansion Atlanta Falcons (1966) and New Orleans Saints (1967) did not qualify for the postseason until 1978 and 1987, respectively.

The Vikings would go on to lose Super Bowl IV 23-7 to the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs. Starting with the 1970 season, the NFL champion was determined in the Super Bowl, beginning with Super Bowl V.

1970 Cleveland Browns season

The 1970 Cleveland Browns season was the team's 21st season with the National Football League. The Browns attempted to improve on its 10-3-1 record from 1969. The team would fail to do so, and they finished with an even 7-7 record and missed the postseason. This was the first season that the Browns would play the Cincinnati Bengals, their new arch-rival in the AFC Central. The 2 teams split their 2 meetings in the first season series.

1972 Cleveland Browns season

The 1972 Cleveland Browns season was the team's 23rd season with the National Football League.

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