It's tough for me to figure out how to review the Cleveland Browns. In a formal review, do I think of them the way the NFL thinks of them, as a team that existed since 1946, but was forced to suspend operations from 1996 to 1998 (the team's official status for those two years) before starting up again in 1999? Or do I just treat them as what they are, which is an expansion team formed in 1999 committing fraud every Sunday while the real Cleveland Browns reside in Baltimore, as the Ravens, still being one of the most consistently good teams in the NFL?
As I mentioned in my review of the San Diego Chargers, I have virtually no sympathy for sports fans in cities who claim to monopolize the sports market on bad luck and suffering. Even the Yankees can't win it all every year (PS: I'm saying that as a Yankees diehard myself), but the lengths some of these cities go to to try to make themselves look like sports hard luck cases is ridiculous. Liking pro sports in my hometown of Buffalo, New York comes with an innate hatred of Boston between the Bruins, Patriots, and Red Sox (although most basketball fans here do cheer for the Celtics), and part of the reason for that is because Boston fans claim to be the greatest underdogs on the planet when they're really only basing that on a World Series drought which, in fairness to them, was truly terrible. But they were making that claim while the Celtics and Bruins were winning lots of titles, and despite their lack of hardware, the Patriots and Red Sox were very competitive most of the time. You would think I would escape that when I lived in Chicago, but nope! Their baseball teams have suffered even worse droughts than the Red Sox, but they had the Bears, Blackhawks, and Bulls to watch while waiting for the White Sox to pull through in 2005, and yet Chicagoans whine constantly about having loser teams. Philadelphia and Seattle have legitimate gripes, but their teams have still had some fantastic successes. In my official capacity as a Buffalo native, I'll cede ground to San Diego and Atlanta, but that's about it. Cleveland complains a lot because of its recent history, but between the two pro teams its fielded, it has a whopping NINE TITLES in football alone. I'm stretching a little bit here, since one is the old Rams title, and four were Browns victories in the old AAFC which the NFL, in all its football-respecting history, refuses to recognize. (In case you can't tell, I'm pretty adamant about the fact that it should recognize them.)
The Browns are the butt of a great many jokes about the NFL these days. But if we look at Browns history the NFL's way, we discover one of the dominating football machines in the history of the entire sport. The Browns were formed in 1946 as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference, a league meant to compete with the NFL which came dangerously close to supplanting it. The AAFC actually had considerably better attendance than the NFL, and the players were just as good. But the existence of the Browns hurt the upstart league because the Browns were so dominant that everyone already knew the outcome of whatever game they were in. So it was the AAFC that was absorbed into the NFL, admitting the Browns as well as the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts while the Buffalo Bills, Brooklyn-New York Yankees, Chicago Hornets, and Los Angeles Dons folded.
The first head coach of the Browns was Paul Brown of Ohio State, such a legendary figure of Ohio sports that when the fans were asked to submit possible team names, the most popular submission was Brown's name. Brown hated the name and threw his support behind the name Panthers, but a businessman already held the rights to that name, after an earlier Cleveland sports team. So the name was finally changed to the Browns, although there are different stories on just how they came to that decision. From the beginning, Brown said that he wanted his team to steamroll over everyone else and see to it that when people thought about football, they automatically associated it with the Cleveland Browns. He made good on that vision, too. He created the most extensive recruitment network ever seen in football at the time through his connections to Ohio State and the Navy, where he had once coached a base football team. Through that, he put together a team capable of mopping the floor with any other football team on the planet, which included quarterback Otto Graham, kicker Lou Groza, wide receivers Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, fullback Marion Motley, and nose guard Bill Willis. He made his players refrain from vices, including alcohol and sex, on the nights preceding games. The efforts paid off big time; the AAFC existed for four years before the NFL absorbed it, and the Browns won the league title in all of them. During those four years, they only lost four games, and they regularly issued challenges to NFL teams, who turned them down every time.
As with the AFL years later, the AAFC was seen as an inferior league. So when the Browns took the field as an NFL team for the first time against the Philadelphia Eagles, they were determined to prove themselves the best football team in the sport. The Eagles had a strong defense, but the Browns tore it up for 487 total yards in a 35-10 blowout. They went 10-2 overall in the regular season in that 1950 year, beat the New York Giants in the playoffs, then took their first NFL title against Cleveland's former team, the Los Angeles Rams. The following season the Browns and Rams played in the title game again, and when the Browns came up on the losing end this time, it was their first-ever loss in a title game. By that time, they had already won five title games in five years of existence. The Browns returned to the NFL Championship the next two seasons and lost them too, but by the beginning of 1954, they were acknowledged as the most powerful team in the league. They won another Championship that year too. Nine years of existence, nine Conference Championships, six League Championships.
After 1955, Otto Graham retired. In his nine years in the league, he had played in nine Championship games and won seven of them. Today's football prettyboy, Tom Brady, couldn't carry Graham's jockstrap, and the fact that the Browns immediately floundered is proof of that. The Patriots went 11-5 in the season Brady missed; Graham's absence resulted in a quarterback carousel which took the Browns to a 5-7 record, during which the Browns must have been flat out abused by teams looking for revenge. What is a coach to do in that situation?
He drafts the greatest damn football player ever put upon god's green Earth, that's what. Ladies and gents, in the 1957 draft, out of Syracuse University, the Cleveland Browns present... Jim Brown! Combining the speed of a Ferrari with the sheer, punishing power of a Panzer, Jim Brown made linebackers quiver and melt in fear knowing that once the ball was in his hands, they were gonna be charged with finding some way to stop him. Brown was a running back and is widely considered the greatest football player of all time. Notice I didn't say greatest RUNNING BACK of all time, nor did I say ONE OF THE GREATEST football players of all time. Want to know how good Jim Brown was? Let me put it this way: He rushed for 12,312 yards, career, and received for an additional 2499 on 262 receptions. He rushed for 106 touchdowns and scored an extra 20 from passes. His yards-per-rush average was an ungodly 5.2, still unsurpassed. He was an eight-time rushing champion, nine-time Pro-Bowler, three-time MVP, three-time UPI NFL MVP, and eight-time first-team All-Pro selection. In 1964, he led the Browns to their eighth - and to date, latest - title, along with a Conference Championship in 1965. Those are jaw-dropping numbers no matter what the era, but Brown accomplished all of this in the span of a nine-year NFL career which he walked away from when he was 29 years old! Plus he's in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame to boot, which is cool because lacrosse is awesome!
Art Modell bought the team in 1961, and immediately engaged in a power struggle with Paul Brown. While the team was still formidable, they were also beatable by this time because Brown's iron-grip coaching style had become antiquated and it wasn't working on the younger players. The Browns performed decently in the standings in 1961 and 1962, Modell's first couple of years, but Modell finally had to fire Brown - at that point, still the only coach the team ever had - after the 1962 season. Hewas replaced a week later with longtime assistant Blanton Collier, who took the Browns to Conference Titles in 1964 and 1965, winning the NFL Championship in 1964. They generally remained a great team throughout the rest of the 1960's, making the playoffs in 1967, 1968, and 1969. In those last two years, they even won their Conference Championships, only to lose the NFL Championship which, by those years, was the ticket to the newly-created AFL-NFL World Championship Game, which was what we now call the Super Bowl. In 1970, the Browns moved to the post-merger American Football Conference, a result of the AFL/NFL merger. They also performed inconsistently that year, going 7-7, good enough to finish a single game behind a new team called the Cincinnati Bengals which was led by, well, Paul Brown.
The Browns saw their first real signs of ineptitude when they went 4-10 in 1974 and 3-11 in 1975. The rest of the decade saw them improve a little bit, and the team even left the 70's with a few winning records in the latter half, but no one was afraid of them anymore. In 1980, the Browns rebounded with an 11-5 record, winning their new nickname, the Kardiac Kids with a bunch of fourth-quarter comeback victories. But the season ended on the famed Red Right 88 play, a common mention in talk of Cleveland sports curses. In 1985, the Browns drafted quarterback Bernie Kosar and fought their way back into the NFL elite, and they went to the AFC Championship in 1986, 1987, and 1989 only to lose to the Denver Broncos each time. In 1991, the Browns gave Bill Belichick his first head coaching gig, and they royally sucked under him.
In 1994, the Browns' stadium-mates, the Cleveland Indians, moved out of Cleveland Municipal and into a field specifically for them, Jacobs Field. Modell didn't need a long time to realize and acknowledge how much revenue he lost by their move. He needed tax money to refurbish the stadium, and of course he asked for it since cities rarely turn down NFL teams and owners are all about free money. On November 6, 1995, Modell announced that he signed a deal to take the team to Baltimore. The next day, voters overwhelmingly approved giving Modell the money he needed to re-outfit Cleveland Municipal. The city filed an injunction to keep the team in the city until at least 1998, and fans and ticket holders filed over 100 lawsuits as well. Hats and shirts bearing the phrase "Muck Fodell" appeared all over the place, and even Congress got involved with the matter. Comic and Cleveland native Drew Carey held a protest, and Cleveland fans even followed the team to Pittsburgh to hold a protest there, where they were joined by swaths of Steelers fans. ABC covered the game but not the protest, and virtually every sponsor the Browns had yanked support. Extensive talks between the team, league, and two cities resulted in a legal settlement which allowed the city of Cleveland to keep the rights to the name, colors, and history of the Cleveland Browns in the event that another team was placed there, and that they would automatically be placed in the same division as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals due to longstanding rivalries. The old Browns now exist as the Baltimore Ravens, and they officially have no history before 1996.
Cleveland got that new team in 1999, but the official NFL record states the Browns had suspended operations during those football-less years. As this was an entirely new team starting from scratch, the old name and history of the mighty Cleveland Browns was demolished for a team many onlookers dismiss as a gang of fakers, a fact that really must have pissed old-time Clevelanders off when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000. The NFL gave the team a special expansion draft, in which the Browns had the first overall selection, a fantastic quarterback who flourished in college football's SEC but who bombed big-time in the NFL, staying in Cleveland for four years before being relegated to practice squads for other teams, last in Jacksonville in 2007. The team was awful even by expansion standards for the initial years. Butch Davis was hired to coach in 2001, and he made them competitive, even going 9-7 in 2002 and winning a Wild Card spot. Subsequent years saw the losses continue to pile up, and although the Browns saw a brief respite in 2007 with a 10-6 record with six Pro Bowl players and an exciting offense, they failed to build on that momentum. As of 2011, there's little reason for optimism in Cleveland.
The Browns have a unique color combination: Brown and orange, two colors no other team in the NFL uses. They wear the only logo-less helmet in the NFL, orange with a brown and white stripe down the middle. Most of their uniforms have been combinations of these various colors. They've used a number of different promotional logos throughout the years, though, including a small elf-like creature called "Brownie Elf" and a brown B inside a white football. The popularity of a certain section of fans known as the "Dawg Pound" in Cleveland Browns Stadium has led to a brown and orange dog being used sometimes, but the solid helmet remains their most identifiable mark. As for their fans, you KNOW these people are devoted with the way they forced the NFL to expand back into Cleveland three years after leaving it. The Dawg Pound moniker was adopted after cornerback Hanford Dixon called the defense by that name in the 80's. A prominent sports fan organization called Browns Backers Worldwide is one of the largest in the United States, with a branch in every major city. They also have sizable branches in Egypt, Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka, and even the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The two largest international fan clubs are in the Israeli city of Alon Shvut (129 members) and Niagara Falls, Ontario (310), the latter being a bit surprising because the city is the twin city of Buffalo, another NFL city.
Cleveland's rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers is one of the oldest and biggest in the NFL, so when Steelers fans joined Browns fans in support of keeping the Browns in Cleveland, it was a HUGE deal. The Browns dominated it during the first half of the league's existence, and the Steelers took over the second half. Dur to their mutual agreement that the Browns never should have left Cleveland, they've both turned a lot of hatred toward the Baltimore Ravens as a result. Personal animosity between Paul Brown and Art Modell also resulted in The Battle of Ohio, a divisional rivalry between Brown's newer Cincinnati Bengals and Modell's Browns.
16 Hall of Famers have been Browns. Paul Brown is unquestionably one of the greatest coaches ever, and his favorite offensive weapon, Otto Graham, is one of the greatest quarterbacks. Jim Brown is considered in many circles to be the greatest NFL player ever, a position which is extremely difficult to argue. The team has had a great mix of offensive and defensive players play for them.
Ordinarily, a team this awesome would get the straight-up perfect score from me. But I have to knock off a couple of points because of their move and these weird replacement players who, more often than not, have played like real, honest-to-god replacement players. Hopefully the new Browns can undergo a long-term turnaround similar to the one their archrivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, experienced in the 70's. But until that happens, it's painful to say the fans of this once-incredible team better get used to NFL irrelevance.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
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The Cleveland Browns participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland plays its games in the North of the AFC. The Cleveland Browns, founded in 1946, play home games at Cleveland Browns Stadium and have won eight NFL Titles (1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1954, 1955, 1964).