In an episode of NFL Top Ten, which airs on the NFL Network, the Cleveland Browns were named the number one snake-bitten franchise of all-time. The title is well deserved. Cleveland is the only NFL city to have never hosted nor sent a team to the Super Bowl.
The Browns weren’t always synonymous with losing. In fact, during the early years of the franchise they were the best team in professional football.
In 1946, the All-American Football Conference held its inaugural season with the Cleveland Browns as one of its charter members. The AAFC lasted just four years but the Browns won all four of the league’s championships.
That team featured fullback Marion Motley, kicker/tackle Lou Groza, wide receiver Mac Speedie, and nose guard Bill Willis. However, the star of the team was quarterback Otto Graham.
Long before Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady there was Graham, perhaps the greatest winner the NFL has ever seen. In his 10 seasons, six with the NFL and four with the AAFC, Graham played in 10 championship games and won seven titles.
When he retired, Graham had amassed a record of 105-17-4. He also finished his career with an 86.6 pass rating and 188 touchdown passes. Graham was inducted into the hall of fame in 1965.
Part of the reason why the AFFC folded was the dominance of Graham and the Browns. With the Browns having no competition the league became quite boring.
In 1950, the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL. Their first game was against the two-time NFL champions Philadelphia Eagles. The mood and tenure of this game was similar to the early Super Bowls pitting NFL teams against so-called “inferior” AFL teams.
The Browns shocked the world by amassing 487 yards of offense against the NFL’s best defense. The game’s final score was 35-19.
The Browns would go on to win the NFL Championship in 1950 (including their four AAFC championships the Browns had won five titles in a row). The team would claim titles again in 1954 and 1955.
After the 1955 season, Graham retired. Two years later, the Browns drafted another all-time great player. This time it was a fullback from Syracuse and his name was Jim Brown.
Professional football is full of larger than life figures, but none is larger than Jim Brown. What Babe Ruth was to baseball, Jim Brown was to the football. In 2002, he was named the greatest football player of all-time by The Sporting News.
Brown played just nine seasons, all with the Browns, and made the Pro Bowl every year. He made the First-Team All-Pro eight times, won the NFL MVP three times and rushed for 12, 312 yards. He retired in 1965 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
With Brown in the backfield, the Browns won a championship in 1964—the franchise’s last. After he left, the team would remain competitive through the end of the decade, and the first couple years of the 1970’s.
Some teams have never been the same since the AFL-NFL merger. The Browns are one of those teams. Since 1970, Browns fans have suffered through long losing spells, soul-crushing playoff defeats and the loss of their franchise.
In 1961, Art Modell purchased the Browns. A year later he fired legendary coach, and the father of the modern day offense, Paul Brown.
Brown joined the franchise in 1946. During his tenure with Cleveland (the team was named after him), Brown revolutionized the game of football. He was the first to install facemasks on helmets. He introduced the messenger guard to send plays into the quarterback, began instructing his players in a classroom setting and employed intelligence tests to judge players.
His offense was the predecessor to the very successful West Coast offense. In fact, Bill Walsh, who made the West Coast Offense famous, was a disciple of Brown.
The firing of one of football’s greatest innovators wasn’t the last controversial move Modell would make as owner of the Browns. In November of 1995, unhappy with the team’s stadium situation, Modell announced that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore. Ironically, the very next day the city voted in favor of a tax increase to refurbish Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
The NFL brokered a deal between Modell and the city of Cleveland. Modell could move his team to Baltimore but the legacy of the Browns, including the team name, colors and history, would stay in Cleveland. The NFL then promised to give the city of Cleveland another team that would start play in 1999.
Modell renamed his new team the Ravens (which the league considers an expansion franchise). It took just four years for the Ravens to get rid of the stench of Cleveland and win a Super Bowl. Since rejoining the league in 1999, the Browns have yet to win a playoff game.
In the years between the NFL merger and Modell moving the franchise to Baltimore, the Browns were involved in some of the NFL’s most gut-wrenching playoff losses of all-time: “Red Right 88,” “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” These loses have earned the Browns the reputation of being a team that can always find a way to lose.
The franchise plays their home games at FirstEnergy Stadium (formerly Cleveland Browns Stadium). They are currently aligned in the AFC North with their rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens.
The Browns have a group of rabid fans that sits in the stadium’s east end. This area is called the “Dawg Pound.” That name was adopted from the Browns defense of the mid-1980’s and it was coined by former cornerback Handford Dixon.
While the Browns and the city of Cleveland are universally noted for losing, the franchise has some of the most loyal fans in all of sports. Despite having losing season after losing season, the Browns average attendance is one of the best in the league. Since their restart, the Browns have averaged more than 70,000 fans per game.