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From One Night in Miami to the Cleveland Summit

Notes from The Game Before the Money Podcast. Many episodes include interviews with NFL legends. This football history podcast is on your favorite podcast app.

The film One Night in Miami depicts a meeting between Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X after Ali defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship. Seeing previews of the film reminded me that Cleveland Browns legend John Wooten spoke about how Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali became friends on an episode of The Game Before the Money Podcast. Brown, Wooten, and Ali’s friendship eventually led to the Cleveland Summit.

Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali Met in Miami

Weeks before the fight, Brown and his teammate John Wooten met Ali in Miami at a night club while Ali was training for the fight. The trio became friends and that friendship eventually led to the Cleveland Summit in 1967.

The Playoff Bowl

The Cleveland Browns finished the 1963 NFL season at 10-4 and finished second to the New York Giants in the NFL’s East Division. Back then, only two teams made the playoffs unless there was a tie for the division title. The second-place teams met in Miami for what was called the Playoff Bowl or sometimes called the Runner Up Bowl. The game raised money for the Bert Bell established pension fund for retired NFL players.

Brown and Wooten met Muhammad Ali while they were in Miami for the game. Ali was known as his original name, Cassius Clay, at the time.  John Wooten shared the story during an interview for The Game Before the Money Podcast.

Muhammad Ali Objected to War and the Military

In April of 1967, Ali refused induction into military service. He stated he was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and declined to serve based on his religious beliefs. Ali faced criminal prosecution, lost his boxing license, and encountered harsh public criticism for his decision. Ali was convicted of violating draft laws, sentenced to five years in prison, and was assessed a $10,000 fine.

Jim Brown had a personal friendship with Ali and a business relationship through a closed-circuit television arrangement for Ali’s fights as a partner in a collective called Main Bout.

Wooten recalled that Brown said, “We’ve got to support the Champ.”

The Cleveland Summit in 1967

Wooten placed calls and invited Willie Davis, Bill Russell, Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and several others to what became known as the Cleveland Summit. Details about the Cleveland Summit, including John Wooten’s recollections of the event, are featured in The Game Before the Money Podcast starting around the 32-minute mark of the episode. He described how Russell and Curtis McClinton grilled the Champ with questions about his decision and how Ali responded.

The Cleveland Summit marked an historic moment in American sports and the American culture. The friendships that cultivated the meeting literally started one night in Miami before the Cleveland Browns played in the Playoff Bowl, and before Muhammad Ali’s upset victory over Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight title.

1964 was a big year for Ali and for Jim Brown and John Wooten. The Cleveland Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship Game 27-0 over the Baltimore Colts. Brown started at running back and Wooten started at guard for the Browns.

The Supreme Court of the United States overturned Ali’s conviction a few years later.  


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Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.comBarnes and NobleUniversity of Nebraska Press

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