Defensive tackle Jim Kanicki played in 123 regular season and playoff games over his nine-year NFL career with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants.
While seven of these games were playoff games, Kanicki is most remembered for his excellent play in the 1964 NFL championship game on December 27, 1964.
With Kanicki at right defensive tackle, the Browns shut out the Baltimore Colts 27-0, earning Cleveland what has turned out to be its last NFL championship.
Over his seven seasons with the Browns, Kanicki’s solid play helped Cleveland advance to four NFL championship games.
For those of us “seasoned” Browns fans, you may recall Jim Kanicki from Michigan St. who was one of the better DT’s from the 60’s. Probably the best “69” jersey to play for the Browns. pic.twitter.com/tu3KpDN0f0
— Johnny Baseball n Browns #D4L (@playballJB) July 6, 2021
We take a look at the life of Jim Kanicki – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
James Henry Kanicki was born in Bay City, Michigan on December 17, 1941.
Bay City is located in east central Michigan on Lake Huron.
Kanicki grew up on a farm.
His father worked for 50 years at a foundry in Saginaw, Michigan.
Kanicki was one of 12 children, including 10 brothers.
The 10 brothers all slept in one room.
The family was so large that Kanick’s mother would scramble six dozen eggs for breakfast.
Kanicki attended Bay City Central High School, graduating in 1959.
In 1958, Kanicki helped Bay City Central High School win the Michigan state championship.
He was named first team All-State in 1958.
While many major colleges offered Kanicki a scholarship, he decided to stay close to home for college and attend Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.
In coming to Michigan State.
Kanicki had to adjust to leaving his large family.
“When I went to Michigan State, they gave me one roommate and I tell you it was lonely.”
Kanicki lettered in football for Michigan State for three seasons from 1960 to 1962.
At Michigan State, Kanicki played center and on the defensive line.
However, Kanicki did not see much playing time in college.
It is estimated that he played only about 190 minutes in three seasons for the Spartans.
In recalling his time at Michigan State, Kanicki stated:
“I liked to play. But I never thought of it as a career. I was at Michigan State to get a degree. . . . I held a lot of tackling dummies. . . . Duffy Daugherty [Michigan State’s head coach] liked me as a player, but he kept saying he didn’t know where to play me. . . . There were some weeks when I didn’t even make the traveling squad. . . . I was lucky to play ten minutes a game, and that was only if someone got hurt. The frustrating thing was they wouldn’t let me play on the scout teams because I messed up their preparation for the games. There was no one who could block me. . . . If it hadn’t been for football, I never would have gone to college. I was grateful for that and just wanted to get my degree.”
The Spartans posted records of 6-2-1 in 1960 (and were ranked 15th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll), 7-2 in 1961 (and were ranked eighth in the nation in the final Associated Press poll), and 5-4 in 1962.
After his 1962 season at Michigan State, Kanicki played in the Senior Bowl, the Blue-Gray Game, and the College All-Star Game.
The Pro Football Years
Despite not playing significant time in college, Kanicki’s play in practice at Michigan State and in college all-star games attracted the interest of pro scouts.
Kanicki was drafted in 1963 by both the Cleveland Browns in the NFL (in the second round as the 23rd overall pick) and the Buffalo Bills in the American Football League (in the seventh round as the 52nd overall pick).
He initially signed with the Bills.
However, because Kanicki was not 21 years old when he signed his contract with the Bills, the contract was invalid.
With a second opportunity to consider his decision, Kanicki signed with the Browns (with his father as a co-signer of the contract to make it legal) for $14,500.
Kanicki chose Cleveland because he expected to have more playing time with the Browns.
In 1963, Kanicki (at a height of six feet and four inches and a weight of 270 pounds) played in 13 regular season games, and started one regular season game, as a rookie for Cleveland.
Kanicki contributed to the Browns defense in the 1963 NFL regular season ranking third in fewest points allowed (262), fourth in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,651), and tied for third in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.9).
Cleveland posted a 10-4 record in 1963, finishing in second place in the NFL East division.
In 1964, Kanicki became more of a regular srarter.
He played in all 14, and started nine, regular season games at right defensive tackle.
Kanicki was part of a Browns defense that forced at least four opponent turnovers in six regular season games in 1964 – four turnovers by the Washington Redskins in a 27-13 Cleveland defeat of Washington on September 13, 1964 (the Browns also had two sacks), four turnovers by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 28-20 Cleveland win over the Eagles on September 27, 1964 (the Browns also had two sacks), five turnovers by the Dallas Cowboys in a 20-16 Cleveland victory over the Cowboys on October 18, 1964 (the Browns also had three sacks), six turnovers by the New York Giants in a 42-20 Cleveland defeat of the Giants on October 25, 1964 (the Browns also had two sacks), four turnovers by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 38-24 Cleveland win over the Eagles on November 29, 1964 (the Browns also had one sack), and four turnovers by the New York Giants in a 52-20 Cleveland victory over the Giants on December 12, 1964 (the Browns also had four sacks).
In 1964, Kanicki recovered one fumble and had two sacks.
Kanicki’s play helped Cleveland’s defense in the 1964 NFL regular season rank fifth in fewest points allowed (293), fourth in defensive forced turnovers (40), tied for second in defensive recovered fumbles (21), and tied for fifth in defensive interceptions (19).
With a 10-3-1 record, the Browns won the NFL East Division title in 1964.
It was Cleveland’s first division title since 1957.
The Browns advanced to play the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL championship game on December 27, 1964.
“You could feel it. In my mind, we were confident, but it was a quiet confidence. The practice weeks heading up to the game, I never saw people like [future Pro Football Hall of Fame Cleveland running back] Jim Brown . . . so involved to get ready to play as he was for that game. We lockered next to each other. He talked to players; it was kind of like a pep rally between individuals. . . . [Head coach] Blanton Collier did just a great job getting us ready. He wasn’t a rah-rah guy, but he would talk to each individual player and tell us what he expected of us. I was ready to play. If there was any game that I was ready to play, that was the game”
For Kanicki, he had the difficult challenge of playing against future Pro Football Hall of Fame Baltimore left guard Jim Parker.
However, Kanicki, who started the game and was credited with one-half of a sack, played very well.
Browns middle linebacker Vince Costello stated:
“On defense, Jim Kanicki was an example of how our guys played. Kanicki was matched against Jim Parker, and he beat him up like he was nothing.”
Playing against a Baltimore offense that had led the 1964 NFL regular season in points scored (428) and total passing and rushing yards (4,779) and that featured five starters who now have been inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (in addition to Jim Parker, quarterback Johnny Unitas, running back Lenny Moore, wide receiver Raymond Berry, and tight end John Mackey), Kanicki helped Cleveland’s defense shut out the Colts 27-0.
It was the first NFL championship for the Browns since 1955.
Cleveland’s defense held Baltimore to 181 total yards (89 “net” passing yards and 92 rushing yards), forced four turnovers, and had two sacks.
Future Pro Football Hall of Fame Colts head coach Don Shula stated:
After the game, Kanicki said:
“I think that today I grew up. I found out how to play this game,”
In 1965, Kanicki started all 14 regular season games at right defensive tackle.
On September 19, 1965, Kanicki’s play helped the Browns hold the Washington Redskins to only 24 rushing yards, in a 17-7 Cleveland win over Washington.
In a 35-17 Cleveland defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles on October 3, 1965, Kanicki contributed to the Browns forcing six Eagles turnovers.
The following week, on October 9, 1965, Kanicki helped the Browns hold the Pittsburgh Steelers to only 77 “net” passing yards, in a 24-19 Cleveland victory over Pittsburgh.
With Kanicki at right defensive tackle, the Browns had seven sacks in another Cleveland win over the Steelers – 42-21 on November 28, 1965.
On December 19, 1965, Kanicki contributed to the Browns holding the St. Louis Cardinals to only 50 “net” passing yards, in a 27-24 Cleveland victory over the Cardinals.
In 1965, Kanicki had three sacks.
Speaking about how Kanicki would head slap (then legal) offensive linemen, Cleveland left defensive tackle Dick Modzelewski said:
“He’d ring your bell. He had huge arms and enormous hands. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Jim Kanicki was a big man. A nice man, but he could knock you into next week with those paws of his.”
Kanicki helped the Browns defense in the 1965 NFL regular season rank fifth in defensive interceptions (24).
In 1965, Cleveland, with an 11-3 record, again won the NFL East Division title.
The Browns advanced to play the Green Bay Packers in the 1965 NFL championship game on January 2, 1966.
Kanicki started the game, but Cleveland lost to the Packers 23-12.
In 1966, Kanicki played in all 14, and started 11, regular season games at right defensive tackle.
Kanicki was part of a Cleveland defense that held opponents to 10 or fewer points in five regular season games in 1966 – a 28-7 Browns victory over the New York Giants on October 2, 1966 (Cleveland held the Giants to only 50 rushing yards, had three sacks, and forced six New York turnovers), a 41-10 Browns defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 8, 1966 (Cleveland held the Steelers to only 22 rushing yards, had two sacks, and forced six Pittsburgh turnovers), a 27-7 Browns win over the Philadelphia Eagles on November 13, 1966 (Cleveland had three sacks and forced four Philadelphia turnovers), a 14-3 Browns victory over the Washington Redskins on November 20, 1966 (Cleveland had three sacks and forced four Washington turnovers), and a 38-10 Browns defeat of the St. Louis Cardinals on December 17, 1966 (Cleveland had six sacks and forced three St. Louis turnovers).
Kanicki recovered two fumbles and had five-and-one-half sacks in 1966.
With Kanicki at right defensive tackle, the Browns defense in the 1966 NFL regular season ranked fifth in fewest points allowed (259), first in defensive forced turnovers (49), fourth in defensive recovered fumbles (19), and first-in defensive interceptions (30).
Cleveland, in 1966, finished tied for second place in the NFL East division, with a 9-5 record.
In 1967, Kanicki played in all 14, and started 13, regular season games at right defensive tackle.
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) September 5, 2018
Kanicki, in 1967, was part of a Browns defense that held five opponents to less than 100 rushing yards – 68 rushing yards, in a 42-7 Cleveland victory over the New Orleans Saints, on October 1, 1967 (the Browns forced five Saints turnovers and had four sacks), 70 rushing yards, in a 21-10 Cleveland defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers, on October 7, 1967 (the Browns forced four Steelers turnovers and had one sack), 20 rushing yards, in a 24-0 Cleveland shutout of the Chicago Bears, on October 22, 1967 (the Browns forced two Bears turnovers and had five sacks), 72 rushing yards, in a 34-14 Cleveland win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, on November 5, 1967 (the Browns forced three Steelers turnovers and had three sacks), and 99 rushing yards, in a 14-10 Cleveland defeat of the Minnesota Vikings, on November 19, 1967 (the Browns forced three Vikings turnovers and had one sack).
In 1967, Kanicki recovered one fumble and had four-and-one-half sacks.
Kanicki helped the Browns defense in the 1967 NFL regular season rank tied for fifth in defensive recovered fumbles (14) and fourth in sacks (41).
Cleveland won the NFL Century Division title in 1967, with a 9-5 record.
In the 1967 playoffs, the Browns met the Dallas Cowboys on December 24, 1967.
Kanicki started the game, but Cleveland lost to the Cowboys 52-14.
Kanicki played in 13, and started 10, regular season games at right defensive tackle in 1968.
In 1968, Kanicki was part of a Browns defense that forced at least five opponent turnovers in five regular season games – five turnovers by the Baltimore Colts in a 30-20 Cleveland win over the Colts on October 20, 1968 (the Browns also had one sack), five turnovers by the San Francisco 49ers in a 33-21 Cleveland victory over the 49ers on November 3, 1968, seven turnovers by the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 45-24 Cleveland defeat of the Steelers on November 17, 1968, six turnovers by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 47-13 Cleveland win over the Eagles on November 24, 1968 (the Browns also had one sack), and five turnovers by the New York Giants in a 45-10 Cleveland victory over the Giants on December 1, 1968 (the Browns also had one sack).
Kanicki had seven-and-a-half sacks in 1968.
With Kanicki at right defensive tackle, in the 1968 NFL regular season, the Cleveland defense ranked first in both defensive forced turnovers (46) and defensive interceptions (32).
In 1968, the Browns, with a 10-4 record, again won the NFL Century Division title.
Cleveland, in the 1968 playoffs, first met the Dallas Cowboys on December 21, 1968.
Kanicki started the game and helped the Browns defense hold Dallas to only 86 rushing yards, force four Cowboys turnovers, and have one sack.
Cleveland defeated Dallas 31-20, avenging its loss to Dallas from the 1967 playoffs.
The Browns advanced to play the Baltimore Colts in the NFL championship game on December 29, 1968.
Kanicki started the game, but Cleveland lost to Baltimore 34-0.
Kanicki suffered a broken fibula in the 1969 preseason and missed much of the 1969 regular season.
He only played in six, and started five, regular season games at right defensive tackle in 1969.
In 1969, Kanicki was part of a Browns defense that over the last six weeks of the regular season held two opponents to single digits – the Pittsburgh Steelers, in a 24-3 Cleveland victory over the Steelers on November 16, 1969 (the Browns forced four Pittsburgh turnovers and had five sacks), and the Green Bay Packers, in a 20-7 Cleveland defeat of the Packers on December 7, 1969 (the Browns forced one Green Bay turnover and had one sack).
Kanicki, in 1969, recovered one fumble and had two sacks.
For 1969, Kanicki contributed to the Cleveland defense in the 1969 NFL regular season ranking tied for fourth in defensive forced turnovers (41), second in defensive recovered fumbles (22), and fifth in sacks (37).
With a 10-3-1 record in 1969, the Browns won the NFL Century Division title for the third consecutive year.
In the 1969 NFL playoffs, Cleveland first played the Dallas Cowboys on December 28, 1969.
Kanicki started the game and had a sack, as the Browns defeated Dallas 38-14, winning a playoff game against the Cowboys for the second consecutive year.
Cleveland forced three Cowboys turnovers and had three sacks.
The Browns next played the Minnesota Vikings in the 1969 NFL championship game on January 4, 1970.
Kanicki started the game, but Cleveland lost to Minnesota 27-7.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) November 1, 2020
On January 26, 1970, the Browns traded Kanicki, along with running back Ron Johnson and linebacker Wayne Meylan, to the New York Giants in exchange for wide receiver Homer Jones.
Kanicki was not happy with the trade.
“[Browns owner] Art Modell was ready to trade [future Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver] Paul Warfield for the rights to [quarterback] Mike Phipps. Then he wanted Jones to replace Warfield, so I had to go. At least that was how Art explained it to me. Being traded to New York was the low point of my career. I loved Cleveland and I loved the Browns. I never wanted to play anywhere else. I was a farm kid from Michigan. I didn’t want to live in New York.”
Kanicki played two seasons in New York.
In 1970, Kanicki started all 14 regular season games for New York at right defensive tackle.
He recovered one fumble and had four-and-one-half sacks.
The Giants posted a 9-5 record in 1970, finishing in second place in the NFC East division.
In 1971, Kanicki played in all 14, and started nine, regular season games for New York at left defensive tackle.
He had two sacks.
New York had a 4-10 record in 1971 and finished in fifth place in the NFC East division.
1971 was Kanicki’s last season in the NFL.
He did play one season for the Houston Texans and Shreveport Steamer in the World Football League in 1974 – his final season as a professional football player.
The Years After The NFL
Kanicki married Sandi.
In addition to playing football, Kanicki sold insurance, was a manufacturer’s representative for an industrial tool company, and owned an appliance store.
Kanicki resided in Ashtabula, Ohio.
After working there, in 1985, Kanicki purchased the Arthur Louis Steel Company in Ashtabula.
Happy 79th Birthday to @MSU_Football grad Jim Kanicki. A nine-year NFL veteran, he purchased the Arthur Louis Steel Company of Ashtabula, Ohio in 1985, and still maintains control of the business. pic.twitter.com/hpM7bzYMDe
— Mike Pearson (@Spartifacts2021) December 17, 2020
The Arthur Louis Steel Company is a building materials manufacturing firm, which has served customers in at least 42 states and 17 countries.
Kanicki was inducted in the Bay City Central High School Alumni Hall of Fame in 1975.
In 1993, Kanicki was inducted in the Bay County Sports Hall of Fame.
Kanicki ranks tied for 18th in Cleveland career sacks (24.5) and tied for 71st in Cleveland career fumble recoveries (5).
With his play at defensive tackle, Kanicki helped the Browns accrue better team statistics, including allowing fewer rushing yards and fewer passing yards, having sacks, and forcing turnovers (both fumble recoveries and interceptions).
Kanicki not only helped the Browns achieve team statistics; even more importantly, Kanicki helped the Browns win games.
In his seven seasons with Cleveland from 1963 to 1969, Cleveland never had a losing season.
In fact, the poorest record that Cleveland had while Kanicki was there was 9-5.
When Kanicki played on the Browns, the Browns made the playoffs in five of seven seasons and advanced to the NFL championship game in four of seven seasons.
With Kanicki, Cleveland also won three playoff games, including the 1964 NFL championship game.
After his playing days were over, Kanicki still had affection for the Browns.
“I still love the Browns. I had tickets right up to the time they moved. That tore my heart out. They were my team. This will always be home for me.”
Browns fans in turn appreciate Kanicki, especially for his play in the 1964 NFL championship game.
— J.T. Kanicki (@JTKanicki) September 18, 2015
“I was never one to show my emotions very much, but it was amazing to feel the electricity and the way our fans felt. . . . They were so invested in us . . . The week before the [1964 NFL championship] game – . . . I’d go with my wife grocery shopping – we were in this one store in Euclid, and this one fella who was the manager, he knew me because I’d been in there before. He said, ‘If you guys win, I’ve got a steak for you.’ . . . That Monday after the game, he called and said, ‘When are you coming? I’m ready to pay off.’“
If Browns fans see Jim Kanicki in a restaurant, they should feel free to buy him a steak, or the meal or beverage of his choice, as a thank you for his solid play over seven seasons, highlighted by his role in helping Cleveland win its last NFL championship in 1964.