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Frank Ryan, Browns championship quarterback and accomplished mathematician, dies at 87

Frank Ryan, a quarterback who led the Browns to their last championship and had an accomplished post-football career as a mathematician, has died at the age of 87.

After playing his college football at Rice, Ryan was a fifth-round draft pick of the Rams in 1958. He initially indicated he wouldn't play pro football because he wanted to work on a doctorate in physics, but he was persuaded to play when he was able to find a Ph.D. program he could fit into his football responsibilities.

Ryan spent four seasons with the Rams but spent most of that time as a backup and considered retiring until the Rams traded him to the Browns, who were willing to give him a chance to start. Ryan won the starting job on a permanent basis in 1963, and in 1964 he made it to his first of three consecutive Pro Bowls.

In 1964 Ryan led the NFL with 25 touchdown passes, and he led the Browns to the NFL Championship Game, where he threw three more touchdown passes as the Browns beat the Baltimore Colts 27-0. He was awarded his doctorate in mathematics that offseason.

Ryan struggled with injuries late in his career, was benched in 1968 and cut in 1969. He then signed with Washington and played two final NFL seasons there, although he was almost exclusively a backup and rarely saw the field.

Ryan's career as a mathematician began when he was still an NFL player and continued long after his retirement. He also took an early interest in computer programming and was hired as director of information services for the U.S. House of Representatives, where he helped establish the House's first electronic voting system.

In 1977, Ryan became both the athletic director and a math lecturer at Yale. He held that job for 10 years and later was an administrator at Rice. He died in a nursing home on New Year's Day after suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, longtime newspaper sports columnist Joan Ryan.