- History of the Cleveland Browns
This article details the history of the
Cleveland BrownsAmerican Football Club.
1946-1949: The AAFC Years
The Cleveland Browns were founded in 1946 by owner Arthur 'Mickey' McBride and head coach (and Ohio coaching legend)
Paul Brown.cite book |last=Levy|first=Bill |title=Return to Glory: The Story of the Cleveland Browns|publisher=World Publishing Co|year=1965 |location= Cleveland, OH|id=LCCN 65-23356] At the time, Cleveland was home to the 1945 NFL champion Cleveland Rams, led by the NFL's hottest star, MVP quarterback Bob Waterfield, who was married to star actress Jane Russell. However, fans supported the Browns over the Rams from the moment they were created, and the Rams ended up fleeing to Los Angeles before the Browns had ever played a game. [Neft, David S., Cohen, Richard M., and Korch, Rick. "The Complete History of Professional Football from 1892 to the Present." 1994 pg. 194 ]
A fan contest was conducted to determine the name of the team, with the most popular choice being "Panthers." However, Brown objected to the name after finding out it had been used by a semipro team in the city—one that had a reputation as a chronic loser. This prompted a second contest to choose a name befitting a champion.cite book |last=Schneider|first=Russell |title=The Best of the Cleveland Browns Memories|publisher=Moonlight|year=1999 |location=
Hinckley, OH|id=ISBN 0-9672056-0-3] This contest yielded the nickname "Brown Bombers"—after reigning heavyweight champion Joe Louis—and was shortened to "Browns" for the convenience of headline writers. However, to this day, rumors persist that the team was named after Paul Brown himself. [cite book |title=The Name Game: Football, Baseball, Hockey & Basketball How Your Favorite Sports Teams Were Named |last=Donovan |first=Michael Leo |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1997 |publisher=Warwick Publishing |location= Toronto|isbn=1895629748 |pages= ]
As a franchise, the Browns were immediately successful. Dominating the new
All-America Football Conference, the Browns won all four league championships, including the 1948 season in which they became the first pro football team to finish the season and playoffs unbeaten and untied - 24 years before the NFL's first perfect team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Cleveland's undefeated streak (including ties) reached 29 games, including 18 straight wins. In an effort to increase league parity, the Browns were forced to relinquish the rights to some of their younger players, such as quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who went to the Baltimore Coltsin 1948.
The team saw a record setting average attendance of 57,000 a game in its first season. However, by the end of 1949, Cleveland's AAFC wins had gotten to be so expected that only 22,550 Browns fans attended the 1949 championship game against the Browns' main AAFC competitors, the
San Francisco 49ers. Because of this, the AAFC and the NFL agreed at the end of the 1949 season to merge, and the Browns, the 49ers and the Colts joined the NFL.
1950: The Browns won their fifth championship in their inaugural NFL season, behind a potent offense that included
Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Dante Lavelli, Frank Gatskiand Lou Grozaand a defense led by Bill Willisand Len Ford. After going 10-2 in the regular season, the Browns defeated the New York Giants8-3 in a playoff game and then beat Cleveland's previous NFL tenants, the Los Angeles Rams, 30-28, in the NFL Championship game, on a last-second field goal by Groza.
1951: The Browns went 11-1, facing the Rams in a rematch. A fourth quarter, 73-yard touchdown pass by
Norm van Brocklinto Tom Fearsput Los Angeles in the lead for good. The 24-17 loss was the Browns first in a championship game.
1952: Finishing 9-8, the Browns faced the
Detroit Lionsin the championship game. A muffed punt, several defensive stands and a 67-yard touchdown run by Doak Walkerall combined to help the Lions win 17-7, frustrating the Browns for the second consecutive year. On the upside, Ray Renfrobecame a star with 722 yards receiving and 322 yards rushing.
1953: The Browns started the season winning 11 straight games, but finished with a loss to the
Philadelphia Eaglesin the final week, and then lost the 1953 Championship game in a rematch with the Lions. The game was, however, closer than the year before. With the score tied at 10 going into the final quarter, Lou Grozakicked two field goals to put Cleveland up 16-10. But Detroit's Bobby Laynethrew a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jim Doranwith under two minutes left and the Lions went on to win 17-16.
1954: The Browns finished 9-3 and met up with Detroit in the championship for a third consecutive year. This time, however, the Browns were relentless on both sides of the ball, intercepting Bobby Layne six times and forcing three fumbles.
Otto Grahamthrew three touchdowns and ran for three more, en route to a 56-10 thrashing and the Browns' second NFL crown. Graham contemplated retirement after the chmpionship but ended up returning.
1955: Another successful campaign for the Browns.
Chuck Nollhad a productive season at linebacker with five interceptions, Graham passed for 15 touchdowns and ran for six more, and the team, who finished 9-2-1, won their third NFL Championship game in six seasons 38-14, once again against the Los Angeles Rams in LA. When Coach Brown took out Graham late in the game, the Rams fans gave him a standing ovation.
For Browns fans, it was a bittersweet year as Graham retired after the season due to injuries, ending the greatest run of pro success ever: in ten years,the cleveland browns reached ten championship games and won seven championships.
1956: The Browns floundered without Graham behind center. Three quarterbacks --(
George Ratterman, Babe Parilliand Tommy O'bitchassness) -- were used, none of them throwing more touchdowns than interceptions. The team's 5-7 record saw the Browns shut out of a championship game for the first time in team history and post the only losing season in the Browns' first 28 seasons.
1957-65: The Jim Brown years
The Browns responded in 1957 when they drafted fullback
Jim Brown, who easily became the NFL's leading rusher (and NFL Rookie of the Year) with 942 yards in a 12-game regular season. Once again at the top of the division at 9-2-1, they advanced back to the championship game against their nemeses from Detroit. But the Lions dominated from start to finish, causing six turnovers and allowing the Browns' two quarterbacks ( Tommy O'Connelland Milt Plum) only 95 yards passing in a 59-14 rout.
In 1958 Jim Brown ran for 1,527 yards, almost twice as much as any other running back. In his nine seasons in the league, he crossed the 1,000-yard barrier seven times. The only snag in their getting back to another championship was the
New York Giants. They lost to New York on the last week of the season after a spirited fourth-quarter comeback, then, due to their equal 9-3 records, faced the Giants again in a tiebreaker game with the winner going to the finals. This one was never in doubt: Jim Brown was limited to 8 yards and the team committed four turnovers as they were shut out 10-0.
In 1959 the Browns started 6-2 but finished 7-5, out of championship contention, despite Brown once again leading the league in rushing with 1,329 yards. In 1960, Plum threw for 21 touchdowns and set a record for passing efficiency that stood into the 1980s, and Brown's 1,257 yards was again best in the NFL, but the team still finished second at 8-3-1.
Art Modellpurchased the team in 1961. The season otherwise was typical: a fifth consecutive league-leading season from Jim Brown and a half-decent performance in the standings, but again, at 8-5-1, they were two games out of a berth in the championship. Rumors began circulating that the problem with the team was that Paul Brown's coaching methods had become predictable. In addition, from the time of the Tittle trade, the Browns had acquired a number players and then traded or released them after just a year or two in Cleveland, allowing them to become stars elsewhere. As of the end of 1961, this group included defensive linemen Doug Atkins, Henry Jordanand Willie Davis and quarterback Len Dawson.
In 1962, the differences between Paul Brown and Art Modell came to a head. Before the season started, Brown made a secret trade without informing Modell, giving up
Bobby Mitchellto acquire the rights to Syracuse running back Ernie Davis, the first African-Americanto win the Heisman Trophy. However, when training camp started, Davis turned out to have a fatal form of leukemiaand never played for the Browns, dying in early 1963. The Browns went only 7-6-1, and Jim Brown didn't lead the NFL in rushing for the only time in his career. After the season, during a newspaper strike in Cleveland (which reduced the public outcry), Modell fired Paul Brown, replacing him with his chief assistant, Blanton Collier.
The 1963 Browns started off energized and won their first six games before splitting their last eight for an overall 10-4 record and second place in their conference, losing out for the third straight year to the Giants behind Tittle, even though Jim Brown had his best season with an NFL record 1,863 yards.
In 1964, though, the Browns finally climbed back to the top in the NFL with a 10-3-1 record, winning the Eastern Conference in the final game by pummelling the Giants and Tittle 52-20, and then beating the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the championship for their fourth NFL title and eighth title overall. A key to the improvement was the addition in the college draft of
Paul Warfield, who promptly became the team's leading receiver, and Leroy Kelly, a star kick returner/running back.
The 1965 Browns picked up where the 1964 Browns left off, despite an injury to Warfield that caused him to miss all but one game, rolling through their schedule with an 11-3 record and winning the Eastern Conference by 4 games. Jim Brown won league MVP for the third time with 1,544 yards, almost doubling the total of the second place finisher, and 17 rushing touchdowns. However, in the NFL Championship game in frozen Green Bay, the Packers upset the Browns 23-12.
1966-73: Playoff disappointments
As training camp was beginning in July 1966, Jim Brown shocked the Browns, their fans and the NFL by announcing his retirement. Brown, who had been filming the movie "The Dirty Dozen" in London, was claimed by some to have been irritated by the Browns' threats of fines for not reporting for training camp and simply retired.
Leroy Kellybecame the Browns' new rushing threat for the 1966 season, ably filling Brown's shoes with the first of his three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Frank Ryan's 29 touchdowns also led the league. Entering the final month of the regular season, the Browns had remained in contention, but a costly 26-14 loss in a Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas put a major dent in their postseason hopes. Blanton Collier's squad placed one game behind the Cowboys with a 9-5 mark and missed the league championship game for the first time in three years.
The 1967 Browns began the season with two losses, defeats that were quickly forgotten with nine wins in the next 11 contests to help the team finish at 9-5 for the second consecutive year. Unlike the previous season, the NFL's new realignment made that record good enough for first place in the short-lived
Century Division, and a spot in the new Eastern Conference championship against the Cowboys. Unfortunately, the game between the two squads was over quickly as Don Meredithpassed for two touchdowns, Dave Baynhamran for three and Bob Hayesgenerally made the Browns' life miserable on special teams as the Cowboys annihilated the Browns 52-14.
Following another slow start in 1968 Ryan was out at quarterback, in favor of
Bill Nelsen, who had been acquired from the Pittsburgh Steelersin the offseason. In their October 20 game against the undefeated Baltimore Colts, the heavy underdog Browns stunned their opponents with a 30-20 win, sparking an eight-game winning streak. Nelsen's main target was fifth-year receiver Paul Warfield, who had the best season of his career, with 1067 yards and 12 touchdowns. The team finished the regular season with a 10-4 mark, good enough for another first-place finish and a rematch with Dallas in the Eastern Conference final. After four consecutive losses to their Texas opponents, the Browns ended their frustration by not allowing the Cowboys an offensive touchdown until the final minute. Leroy Kelly's two long runs for scores paced the offense, with the turning point in a 31-20 victory coming on Dale Lindsey's return of a Don Meredith interception for a touchdown early in the second half. Cleveland advanced to the NFL Championshipagainst the Baltimore Colts. Don Cockrofthad an early field goal blocked, and the Browns would not have another chance to score again. Tom Matteran for three touchdowns as the Colts shut out the Browns 34-0 to advance to Super Bowl III.
The 1969 season produced similar results. Nelsen threw 2700 yards and 23 touchdowns (both career highs), and Warfield and
Gary Collinsboth had at least ten touchdown catches. The team finished 10-3-1, again best in the Century Division, and once again played the Cowboys in the conference final. Nelsen threw for 219 yards and Walt Sumnerreturned an interception 88 yards for a touchdown as the Browns took their second straight Eastern championship by the score of 38-14. But the NFL Championship Game was another disappointment for the Browns. Joe Kappof the Minnesota Vikingsscored on the team's first possession and another rout began. The Vikings went up 20-0 by halftime and ended up winning 27-7.
AFL-NFL mergerwould see the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelersand Baltimore Colts move to the new American Football Conferencealigned with the 10 teams of the American Football League. While the realignment would greatly benefit the Steelers, the placement of the Browns into the AFC's Central Division would not be as good. The trade of Paul Warfieldto the Miami Dolphinsfor a draft choice used on Purdue All American Mike Phipps did not help the Browns either. After defeating the New York Jetsin the first-ever broadcast of Monday Night Football, the Browns stumbled through the season finishing 7-7.
Blanton Collierretired for health reasons (deafness) was replaced with Nick Skorichbefore the 1971 season. The Browns improved to 9-5, and a first-place finish in the AFC Central. This placed them in the divisional playoff against the Baltimore Colts; but much like their matchup three years earlier, the game went ugly early. Backup Colts running back Don Nottinghamscored two first-half touchdowns, and it was all Baltimore would need. The Browns season ended in another 20-3 disappointment. Mike Phippswas promoted to starting quarterback over Nelsen before the 1972 season. After a sluggish start, the Browns went on an 8-1 tear. That surge was highlighted by late comeback victories against the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers and a playoff-clinching victory at Cincinnati. A 10-4 mark earned them the AFC wild card berth and put them in a divisional playoff against the undefeated Miami Dolphins. The Browns took a lead in the fourth-quarter on a Fair Hookertouchdown catch, but Jim Kiickpreserved the Dolphins' perfect season with a late touchdown run for the 20-14 decision.
In 1973, Phipps threw 20 interceptions to just nine touchdowns, and no rusher had more than 600 yards. After winning four of their first six games, the Browns slumped before bouncing back with a trio of victories, the last one a dramatic last-minute victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 25. The following week, a fourth quarter rally salvaged a 20-20 tie against the Kansas City Chiefs, but a playoff berth evaporated the following week with a 34-17 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals. Cleveland ended the year at 7-5-2, good for third place in the division. Defensive lineman
Jerry Sherk, made the first of four consecutive trips to the NFL Pro Bowl.
The Browns' era of success came to a crashing halt as the team dropped to 4-10 in 1974. Neither Phipps nor rookie QB
Brian Sipewere effective, throwing 24 combined interceptions to only 10 touchdowns. The Browns allowed 344 points, most in the league. It was only the second losing season in 29 years of franchise history, and head coach Nick Skorichsaw his tenure with the team end as a result of the collapse.
Assistant coach and former Green Bay Packer offensive lineman
Forrest Greggtook over in 1975, but the bad fortunes of the team remained with an 0-9 start that finally came to an end on November 23 in a 35-23 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Three weeks later, third-year running back Greg Pruittpaced the team with 214 yards rushing in a rout over the Kansas City Chiefs, helping the team finish the season 3-11.
Cleveland showed marked improvement with a 9-5 mark in 1976 as
Brian Sipefirmly took control at quarterback. Sipe had been inserted into the lineup after a Mike Phippsinjury in the season-opening win against the New York Jetson September 12. After a 1-3 start brought visions of another disastrous year, the Browns jolted the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers with an 18-16 victory on October 10. Third-string quarterback Dave Mayshelped lead the team to that victory, while defensive end Joe "Turkey" Jones' pile-driving sack of quarterback Terry Bradshawfueled the heated rivalry between the two teams. That win was the first of eight in the next nine weeks, helping put the Browns in contention for the AFC playoffs. A loss to the Kansas City Chiefsin the regular season finale cost them a share of the division title, but running back Greg Pruittcontinued his outstanding play by rushing for exactly 1000 yards, his second-straight four-digit season.
The Browns continued to roll in the first half of the
1977 NFL season, but an injury to Brian Sipeby Pittsburgh's Jack Lambert on November 13proved to be disastrous. Cleveland won only one of their last five games to finish at 6-8, a collapse that led to Forrest Gregg's dismissal before the final game of the season. Dick Modzelewskiserved as interim coach in the team's 20-19 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
December 27, 1977, Sam Rutiglianowas named head coach, and aided a healthy Sipe in throwing 21 touchdowns and garnering 2900 yards during the 1978 NFL season. Greg Pruittand Mike Pruittled a rushing attack that gained almost 2500 yards, but problems with the team's dismal pass defense resulted in the Browns finishing 8-8 on the year.
The 1979 campaign started with four consecutive wins, three of which were in the final minute or overtime. Four more games were won by less than a touchdown. This penchant for playing close games would later earn them the nickname "
Kardiac Kids". Sipe threw 28 touchdown passes, tying him with Steve Groganof New England for most in the league, but his 26 interceptions were the worst in the league. Mike Pruitt had a Pro Bowl season with his 1294 rushing yards, while the defense was still shaky, ranking near the bottom in rushing defense. The team finished 9-7, behind division rivals Houston and Pittsburgh in a tough AFC Central.
The 1980 season is still fondly remembered by Browns fans. After splitting the first six games by going 3-3, the Browns won three straight games with fourth-quarter comebacks, and stopped a late comeback by the Baltimore Colts to win a fourth. The Browns won two more games in that fashion by the end of the season, and even lost a game to the
Minnesota Vikingson the last play when a Hail Mary passwas tipped into the waiting hands of Ahmad Rashad. Sipe passed for 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns with only 14 INTs (enough for him to be named the NFL MVP), behind an offensive line that sent three members to the Pro Bowl: Doug Dieken, Tom DeLeoneand Joe DeLamielleure. The "Kardiac Kids" name stuck. A fourth-quarter field goal by Don Cockroftin the final game against the Cincinnati Bengalshelped the Browns capture the division with an 11-5 mark, with the Oakland Raiderstheir opponent in the team's first playoff game in eight years. However, a heartbreaking end of this dramatic season came in the closing seconds when Sipe called what became known as " Red Right 88" and passed toward the end zone, only to watch Oakland's Mike Davis intercept the ball. The Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl, and "Red Right 88" has numbered among the list of Cleveland sports curses ever since (see: The Drive; The Fumble; The Shotby Michael Jordan; 1994 Major League Baseballstrike; Cleveland State basketball coach Kevin Mackey's arrest and conviction for cocaine and Game 7 of the 1997 World Series).
If 1980 was a dream season, then 1981 was a nightmare. Sipe threw only 17 touchdowns while being picked off 25 times. The Browns went 5-11, and few of their games were particularly close. Tight end
Ozzie Newsome, their only Pro Bowler, had 1004 yards receiving for six touchdowns.
Brian Sipesplit quarterbacking duties with Paul McDonald, and both put up similar numbers. The Browns had little success rushing or defending against it, finishing in the bottom five teams in both yardage categories. Despite going 4-5, Cleveland was able to make the playoffs due to an expanded playoff system in the strike-shortened year. They were matched up with the Raiders in the playoffs, but were easily defeated 27-10.
Sipe and the Browns got some of their spark back in 1983. Sipe had 26 touchdown passes and 3566 yards, while
Mike Pruittran for 10 scores on 1184 yards. Cleveland even won two games in overtime and another in the fourth quarter. A fourth-quarter loss to the Houston Oilersin their second-to-last game dashed their playoff hopes. At 9-7 the Browns finished one game behind the Steelers, and lost out on a wild-card spot due to a tiebreaker.
1984 was a rebuilding year. Brian Sipe defected to the upstart
USFLafter the 1983 season, and Paul McDonald was named the starting quarterback. Mike Pruittmissed much of the season and later ended up on the Buffalo Bills. Coach Sam Rutiglianolost his job after a 1-7 start as Marty Schottenheimertook over. The Browns coasted to a 5-11 record.
1985-90: The Bernie Kosar years
In 1985, the Browns selected University of Miami quarterback
Bernie Kosarin the Supplemental Draft. As a rookie, Kosar learned through trial by fire as he took over for Gary Danielsonmidway through the 1985 season. Progressing a bit more each Sunday, the young quarterback helped turn the struggling season around, as the Browns won four of the six games Kosar started. Two young rushers, Earnest Bynerand Kevin Mack, played a large part in the teams success as well; each ran for 1000+ yards. The Brown's 8-8 record gave the team the top spot in a weak AFC Central, and they looked poised to shock the heavily favored Miami Dolphinsin the 1986Divisional Playoff game with a 21-3 lead at halftime. It took Dan Marino's spirited second-half comeback to win the game for Miami 24-21. While the Brown's faithful may have felt the initial sting of disappointment, there was tremendous upside in the loss: Schottenheimer's team, with Kosar at quarterback, reached the playoffs each of the next five seasons, advancing to the AFC Championship game in three of those years.
The Browns broke into the ranks of the NFL's elite -- particularly on defense -- with a 12-4 showing in 1986. Behind Kosar's 3,854 yards passing and a defense with five Pro Bowlers (
Chip Banks, Hanford Dixon, Bob Golic, Clay Matthewsand Frank Minnifield), the Browns dominated the AFC Central with the best record in the AFC, and one of the NFL's stingiest defenses. With these on their side, the Browns clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In the 1987Divisional Playoff game, the Browns needed some serious heroics (and a bit of luck) to overcome the New York Jets. The Jets were leading 20-10 with less than four minutes to play, with the Browns in a dire 3rd and 24 situation. As fate would have it, Mark Gastineauwas called for roughing the passer, which gave Cleveland a first down. The drive ended with Kevin Mackrunning into the endzone for a touchdown. After going three-and-outthe Jets went back on defense, but allowed the rejuvenated Browns to again drive the ball deep into their end of the field. With 11 seconds remaining in regulation, Mark Moseleykicked a field goal to tie the game. In the first of two ensuing overtime periods, Moseley missed his next attempt, but later redeemed himself by ending the game in what had become the second-longest game in NFL history. Final score Browns 23, Jets 20.
The 1987 AFC Championship game saw the
Denver Broncosarrive in the windswept, hostile confines of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. No one knew at the time, but the Broncos would become Cleveland's arch-nemesis of the Kosar era. As it had been the previous week, the showdown proved again to be it was an overtime heart-stopper. But this time, it was John Elwayand the Broncos who came away the victors. Pinned in on their own two yard line with 5:11 left to play and the wind in his face, Elway led his now infamous (or, for the Bronco's fans, 'legendary') 98-yard drive, which is now known by NFL historians as simply " The Drive"). With 37 seconds on the clock, Elway's 5-yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson tied the game at 20 apiece. The 79,973 Browns fans in attendance were silenced when Rich Karlis' field goal attempt just made it inside the right-side upright to win the game for Denver early into overtime.
The Browns success was replicated in 1987, with 22 touchdown passes and 3000 yards for Kosar, and eight Pro Bowlers: Kosar, Mack, Dixon, Golic, Minnifield,
linebacker Clay Matthews, wide receiver Gerald McNeiland offensive lineman Cody Risien. At 10-5, the Browns won the AFC Central again. Cleveland easily defeated the Indianapolis Colts38-21 in the divisional playoff and travelled to Denver for a rematch with the Broncos in the AFC Championship. With the score 21-3 in favor of the Broncos at halftime, Kosar led a third-quarter comeback with two touchdowns by Earnest Bynerand another by Reggie Langhorne. Early in the fourth quarter, Webster Slaughter's 4-yard touchdown catch tied it at 31-31. The Broncos regained the lead with a 20-yard Sammy Windertouchdown with under five minutes to go, setting the stage for another Browns comeback...or so they thought. Kosar drove the Browns to the Broncos' 8 yard line with 1:12 to go, and handed off to Byner. When it looked like he had an open route to the end zone, he was stripped of the ball by Jeremiah Castille. The Broncos recovered what became known as " The Fumble". After taking a safety, the Broncos shocked the Browns again, 38-33.
Injuries to Kosar and two of his backups sidelined them for much of the 1988 season, but the Browns still finished 10-6. A final-week comeback victory in a snowstorm at
Cleveland Stadiumover the Houston Oilersclinched them a wild-card playoff spot, and a home game rematch against the Oilers in the first round. After Mike Pagel, in for Kosar, threw a touchdown pass to Webster Slaughterlate in the fourth quarter to pull the Browns within a point at 24-23, the Browns had three chances to recover an onside kick(due to penalties), but the Oilers recovered and stopped the Cleveland comeback.
Marty Schottenheimerleft the Browns by mutual agreement with Modell shortly after the loss to the Oilers. Modell was tired of losing in the playoffs and Schottenheimer was tired of what he perceived as Modell's interference with his coaching personnel and game strategy. Schottenheimer was quickly hired by the Kansas City Chiefsfor the 1989 season. Bud Carsonwas his replacement in Cleveland, but his tenure was short - only one and a half years. The 1989 season, headlined by Slaughter's Pro Bowl-worthy 1236 yards receiving, was a success at 7-3 until a 10-10 tie with Schottenheimer's Chiefs in November led to a 3-game losing streak. Two comeback wins over the Minnesota Vikingsand Houston Oilers in the season's final two weeks kept them in the playoff race. The tie ended up being the Browns' saving grace, with their 9-6-1 record winning them the AFC Central title and first-round bye over the Oilers and Pittsburgh Steelersat 9-7. The Browns narrowly survived a scare from the Buffalo Billsin their divisional playoff game, when Scott Norwoodmissed an extra point that would have pulled Buffalo within 3 points and, later, when Jim Kelly's desperation pass to the end zoneon the final play of the game was intercepted.
Cleveland's 34-30 win set them up for a rematch with the Broncos in Denver for the AFC Championship. While their two previous matchups went down to the wire, this one was never in doubt. The Broncos led from start to finish, and a long Elway touchdown pass to Sammy Winder put the game way in the fourth quarter. Denver easily won 37-21.
In 1990 things began to unravel. Kosar threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (10) for the first time in his career; and the team finished last in the league in rushing offense, and near the bottom in rushing defense. Carson was fired after a 2-7 start, and the team finished 3-13, second-worst in the league. After the season
Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator of the then- Super Bowlchampion New York Giants, was named head coach, setting off a chain of events that some fans believe led to the demise of the original franchise.
1991-95: Bill Belichick and Modell's move
The Browns saw only a slight improvement under Belichick in the 1991, finishing 6-10. Kosar was markedly better, with a ratio of 18 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, and
Leroy Hoardhad a breakout season.
In 1992, with Kosar sitting out much of the season and
Mike Tomczakin under center, Cleveland was in the thick of the AFC Central race before dropping their final three games to finish 8-8.
The 1993 season saw Belichick make the controversial decision of benching Bernie Kosar in favor of
Vinny Testaverde, who had been signed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The immensely popular Kosar was later released by the team, prompting a heated reaction from fans, mostly aimed at Belichick. Cleveland won only two of its final nine games after Testaverde took over under center, finishing 7-9 once again.
Cleveland managed to right the ship in 1994, although the quarterback situation hadn't quite improved, a solid defense led the league for fewest yards allowed per attempt, sending four players (
Rob Burnett, Pepper Johnson, Michael Dean Perryand Eric Turner) to the Pro Bowl. The Browns finished 11-5, making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. In the AFC Wild Card game against the New England Patriots, the Browns' defense picked off Drew Bledsoethree times, with Testaverde completing two-thirds of his passes, to win 20-13. Arch-rival Pittsburgh ended the Browns' season the following week, however, with a 29-9 blowout in the AFC Divisional game.
Art Modellannounced on November 6, 1995, that he had signed a deal to relocate the Browns to Baltimore for 1996. The very next day, on November 7, 1995, Cleveland voters overwhelmingly approved an issue that had been placed on the ballot at Art Modell's request, before he made his decision to move the franchise, which provided $175 million in tax dollars to refurbish the outmoded and declining Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Art Modell's plan was later scrapped and taxpayers ultimately paid close to $300 million to demolish the old stadium and construct a new stadium for the Browns.
The relocation announcement was met with unprecedented resistance from Browns fans, with over 100 lawsuits filed by fans, the city of Cleveland, and a host of others. Congress held hearings on the matter. Actor/comedian
Drew Careyreturned to his hometown of Cleveland on November 26, 1995, to host "Fan Jam" in protest of the proposed move. Virtually all of the team's sponsors immediately pulled their support, leaving Cleveland Municipal Stadium devoid of advertising during the team's final weeks.
The 1995 season was a disaster on the field, too. After starting 3-1, the rumors of relocation, and the eventual announcement, cast a pall on the team, who finished 5-11. When fans in the
Dawg Poundbecame unruly during their final home game against the Cincinnati Bengals, action moving towards that end zone had to be moved to the opposite end of the field. The Browns won, the only game the team won after the news of the Browns' move got out.
Led by Mayor Mike White, Cleveland accepted a legal settlement that would keep the Browns legacy in Cleveland. In February 1996, the
National Football Leagueannounced that the team would be 'deactivated' for three years, and that a new stadium would be built for a new Cleveland Browns team that would begin play in 1999. Modell would in turn be granted a new franchise for Baltimore, the Baltimore Ravens, retaining the current contracts of players and personnel. The Browns' name, colors, history, records, awards and archives would remain in Cleveland.
Some consider the current Baltimore Ravens and the pre-1995 Cleveland Browns organization as one continuous entity, using terms like "The Modell organization" or "Art Modell's Franchise" to denote it. [Scocca, Tom. [http://www.citypaper.com/columns/story.asp?id=8519 Welcome To The Big Time] , "Baltimore City Paper"
September 23, 1998] Officially, the National Football League, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens all consider the current Browns team to be a continuation of the team founded in 1946.
1999-2004: Rejoining the NFL
In early 1998 the
National Football Leaguebegan its search for an owner for the reborn Browns, finding one later in the year in Al Lerner, a former limited partner of the original Browns and a friend of Art Modellwho assisted in Modell's move to Baltimore. Lerner was the winning bidder against a number of others who sought the team, including cable TV magnates Charles Dolan and Larry Dolan, Cleveland real estate developer Bart Wolstein and New York developer Howard Milstein. [cite news|url=http://www.cincypost.com/sports/1998/browns090998.html|title=Lerner buys Browns for $530 million|work= The Cincinnati Post( Associated Press)|publisher= E. W. Scripps Company|date=1998-09-09|archiveurl=http://web.archive.org/web/20050225105419/http://www.cincypost.com/sports/1998/browns090998.html|archivedate=2005-02-25] During the period from 1996-1998 other franchises, such as Tampa Bay, threatened their home cities with the possibility of moving to Cleveland in order to put pressure on their respective cities to get more governmental funding for their own stadiums, despite the fact that the city of Cleveland asserted that it would not accept such an arrangement. (There was nothing in the 1996 court settlement which prevented the league from allowing such a transfer.) Lerner died in October 2002, coincidentally four years to the day he was awarded the new Browns franchise. Upon his passing, the team went into trust, controlled by his son, Randy.
The team returned with high hopes and expectations, featuring deep-pocketed ownership and what appeared to be solid general management in the form of former
San Francisco 49erspresident Carmen Policy, general manager Dwight Clark and head coach Chris Palmer. Policy, Clark and Palmer did not live up to their advance billing and the team floundered. Palmer was dismissed after the 2000 season and Policy and Clark were forced out in 2003. Palmer was succeeded by former University of Miamicoach Butch Davis. Despite a 2002 AFC Wild Card qualification, the team saw a dismal record during the next two seasons leading to Butch Davis' resignation in December 2004. Offensive Coordinator Terry Robiskie, was named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2004 season.
Super Bowl XXXIXapproached, there was much speculation over who would become the new head coach. On January 6, 2005, it was announced that Phil Savagesigned on as general manager. Savage was previously an administrative member for the Baltimore Ravens and the Browns before 1995. After the New England Patriotsvictory over the Philadelphia Eaglesat the Super Bowl, Patriots' defensive coordinator Romeo Crennelsigned on as the 11th head coach for the Browns. Robiskie was kept on as part of Crennel's staff.
With the Browns acquiring
Trent Dilferfrom the Seattle Seahawksand Reuben Droughnsfrom the Denver Broncos, the Browns began 2005 on the wrong foot, losing 27-13 at home to their in-state rival, the Cincinnati Bengals. They would go on the road and pick up their first win of the year against the Green Bay Packers, 26-24. After losing to the Indianapolis Colts, they used their Bye Week to regroup and pick up a comeback victory against the Chicago Bears. However, the Browns couldn't keep the momentum going from their win and dropped four of their next five games. A promising 22-0 shutout of the Miami Dolphins proved to be a mirage when the team lost its next three straight games. In the team's final five games, rookie Charlie Fryeserved as the team's starting quarterback, winning two of those contests. However, the two victories produced limited offense, while one humiliating 41-0 loss came at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelerson December 24. The Browns ended their 2005 campaign at 6-10, tied with the Baltimore Ravens for last place in the AFC North, though they technically finished in fourth place in the AFC North based on a worse division record than the Ravens (1-5 to Baltimore's 2-4).
Just prior to the Browns' final game of the
2005 NFL season, the team's front office became embroiled in a major controversy that threatened to once again send the team into rebuilding mode. A reporter for ESPN went public with a story that Team president John Collins was going to fire general manager Phil Savage. The resulting uproar from fans and local media was so strong that it was Collins who resigned on January 3, 2006. The role of team "President and CEO" was vacated, with owner Randy Lerner filling in as de facto CEO for the time being.
In the 2007 season, the team saw a remarkable turnaround on the field. After opening the season with a 34–7 defeat to the
Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns traded starting quarterback Charlie Fryeto the Seattle Seahawks, with backup Derek Anderson assuming the starting role. In his first start, Anderson led the Browns to a 51–45 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, throwing five touchdown passes, which tied the franchise record. The Browns finished the 2007 season 10–6, barely missing the playoffs on tie-breaker rules. Nevertheless, the 10–6 record was the team's best record since 1994. Six players earned Pro Bowl recognition [ [http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/2008-01-28-3488501906_x.htm Browns long snapper Pontbriand named to Pro Bowl - USATODAY.com ] ] . Coach Crennel agreed to a two-year contract extension [ [http://www.sportsline.com/nfl/story/10605249 Cleveland Browns, Derek Anderson, Joe Thomas, Shaun Smith, National Football League - CBSSports.com ] ] .
*The Browns are one of only six current NFL teams (along with the
Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguarsand Houston Texans) never to have played in the Super Bowl. Of those six teams, only the Browns, Lions and Cardinals existed before the first Super Bowl was played in January 1967.
*Cleveland is the only current NFL city whose franchise has neither played in, nor hosted, a Super Bowl. Due to the fact that Cleveland Browns Stadium is open-air, combined with Cleveland's typically cold winters, it is highly unlikely that Cleveland will host a Super Bowl. As of February 2007, 21 franchises, Cleveland,
New York Giants, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawksand Carolina Panthershave never hosted a Super Bowl. (The 49ers hosted Super Bowl XIXin January, 1985, even though it was played in Stanford Stadiumrather than the 49ers' usual home field then known as Candlestick Park.)
*Cleveland is the only NFL city to have given birth to three existing NFL franchises - the Cleveland-Los Angeles-St. Louis Rams, the Baltimore Ravens (original 1996 roster had come from Cleveland, though the franchise itself is legally considered a 1996 expansion team), and the current Cleveland Browns.
* [http://www.clevelandbrowns.com/ Cleveland Browns official web site]
* [http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/nfl/clev/browns.html Sports E-Cyclopedia.com]
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