Bill Nelson

Cleveland Browns


Bill Nelsen is an excellent example of how an under-sized quarterback with two bad knees can thrive frequently by approaching the game with a good mental outlook and a fine supporting cast.

At 6 feet and 195 pounds, he isn't an impressive figure. His passes aren't beautiful to behold either. But since coming to Cleveland in a trade with Pittsburgh before the 1968 season, Nelsen definitely has left an impression on the NFL.

"He's fortunate to be with a team like Cleveland," one scout said of the 8-year veteran. "Without the supporting cast, he wouldn't be effective. But he's a tough kid and very confident and cocky. Thank God he is, because he isn't blessed with the abilities of a pro quarterback, in my opinion. He throws the long pass pretty well in that he can lay it up and he has a fairly quick delivery. But he doesn't have the really good arm needed to be effective regardless of his supporting cast. He has to play with a team which has good receivers, a good line and good running- a well-balanced attack."

But that's where Nelsen has been and the Browns obviously have enjoyed his presence as he has theirs.

"Nelsen is one of the best leaders I've ever been associated with," said offensive tackle Dick Schafrath. "You've got to play your heart out for a guy like that."

"He's a good clutch performer," said another scout. "His delivery is slightly sidearm, but he throws an easy ball to catch. He will keep the defense off balance by coming out to his right or back out on his set-up. He is excellent at looking off defenders before going to his primary receivers."

With a premier runner like Leroy Kelly available, Nelsen has made good use of the Browns' strong rushing threat to throw play-action passes effectively. With his savvy and confidence, he has overcome a lot of physical deficiencies.

"He and Gary Collins have given me all the trouble I've wanted," said one of the game's best cornerbacks. "Nelsen has the ability to read defenses, audible at the line of scrimmage and unload the ball quickly. His great weakness is sometimes unloading the ball out of pure fright, or just hoping he'll get it to the receiver. On a blitz, he may dump the ball desperately- panic and throw it up for grabs."

This may or may not be a conscious action with Nelsen. He is shorter than most quarterbacks and he is handicapped further by immobility. He has had all four cartilages removed from his knees and admits the knees are a mental and physical problem.

"I'm too occupied in a game to be worried and most of the time off the field I can put it out of my mind," he said. "But, yes, I have a definite fear of hurting them more. It's faith in the blocking ability of my front line and faith in myself that probably keeps me in this thing."

For a guy who was a 10th round draft choice when he finished Southern Cal in 1963 and almost passed up pro football for coaching, Nelsen has surprised some people by staying in it so long.