Arthur McBride and the Browns' Early Years With the AAFC
The Browns' history began in 1944 when Arthur McBride, a successful Cleveland business owner, acquired a franchise in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). His first course of action was to hire Paul Brown as coach and general manager. Brown was a highly respected coach at the high school, college and service levels. His innovation and football intelligence led to the team dominating the AAFC.
After their creation in 1946, the Browns won four straight championships before the AAFC dissolved in 1949. During that time, their record was 52-4-3. The Browns went on to win their first season in the NFL as well, posting a record of 10–2 along the way.
How Did the Cleveland Browns Get Their Name?
Arthur McBride wanted to name the Browns in honor of Paul Brown, but Brown strongly opposed the idea. McBride decided to hold a competition to decide what the franchise would be called, and "the Cleveland Browns" was the top choice. Brown’s opposition to the idea prompted the team to choose another entry name: the Panthers. However, a local businessman owned the rights to that name from a failed former football team, so the Cleveland Browns stuck.
Brown would often deny the team was named for him, instead claiming that the team was named after heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, who was also known as the Brown Bomber. This myth lived on for many decades until, later in life, Brown admitted he had fabricated it.
Paul Brown's Influence on Football
Paul Brown is a Hall of Fame coach who is widely considered to be one of the greatest coaches ever to step on a field. Not only did he amass a record of 167-53-8 while coaching the Browns, but he also won four AAFC championships and three NFL championships from 1946 to '55. Brown's accomplishments reached beyond a record number of wins—he also created innovative techniques, plays and processes that are still used in the NFL today.
He was the first coach to give his players playbooks to study, use film to scout opponents and hire a full-time team of assistant coaches. Upon Graham's retirement, Brown used radio technology to send plays to his QB through his helmet, a method of play calling that is still used today. He created a new offensive blocking scheme known as "the cup" in which linemen blocked in the shape of a curve to protect the quarterback, and it remains a major influence on blocking schemes to this day.
Brown was also the first coach to time the 40-yard dash to see how quickly his players would be able to reach a punt returner, which at the time averaged about 40 yards away. He was also one of the first coaches to integrate Black ballplayers onto his team. These innovations led to the Browns' early dominance in the '40s and '50s.
Browns Championship History
After 1949, the Browns joined the NFL along with the 49ers and the Colts. The NFL was seen as the superior league at the time, and despite the Browns' dominance in the AAFC, many people believed they would struggle to compete in the NFL. The Browns went on to upset former champion s the Eagles and win the NFL championship. They then won the Eastern Conference championship six years straight as well as the NFL championship in '50, '54 and '55. During this time, the team was led by Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham. Graham made it to 10 straight championship games, winning seven before he retired from football in 1955.
In 1957, the Browns added another future Hall of Fame player to their roster when they drafted a fullback named Jim Brown from Syracuse. Brown was regarded by some as the greatest football player to ever step on a field, amassing 12,312 yards in only nine seasons—a record that stood for 22 years. He also holds a tied record of five rushing touchdowns in a single game that stands unbroken to this day. Brown's statue can be seen outside of First Energy Stadium in Cleveland, and he is also recognized in the team's Ring of Honor. In 1964, he helped lead the team to their only championship victory of the decade.
Cleveland Browns Championship Record
|Year||Browns Score||Opponent Score|
The Kardiac Kids
In 1970, Art Modell moved the Browns to the American Football Conference. That season, the Browns played in the first-ever Monday Night Football game against the Jets. They won the game 31–21. Unfortunately, the team lost a step throughout the '70s and had to go through three new head coaches, plenty of losses and a fall from grace in the eyes of the NFL before they finally hired Sam Rutigliano as head coach in 1978.
Rutigliano was a native of Brooklyn, New York, who had spent time with four NFL teams before joining the Browns. Over the next few years, he coached players like MVP quarterback Brian Sipe, running back Greg Pruitt, running back Mike Pruitt and Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. The talent of these players contributed to what was arguably one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL at the time.
In 1980, a slew of last-minute comeback wins earned the Browns the nickname the "Kardiac Kids." During that season, 12 of their 16 games were decided by seven points or less. They defeated the Bengals by three points to finish the season as the Central Division Champions. The Browns later faced the Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoff round on Jan. 4, 1981.
Red Right 88
The city of Cleveland felt that there was no chance that a California team like the Raiders could compete with them in severe weather. The temperature that day was two degrees Fahrenheit with winds gusting as high as 21 miles per hour. Mounds of snow covered the field, making it dangerous and difficult to run on.
The Browns were in a close game and needed a field goal to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter. Brian Sipe led the Browns 73 yards down the field into Raider territory. With the conditions on the field and the intense weather, Rutigliano decided to go for the touchdown to seal the win. The play call was "Red Right 88." Ozzie Newsome came off the line clean, beating Raider linebacker Mike Davis off the line of scrimmage. Sipe threw the ball, and Davis was able to catch up just in time to intercept the pass, essentially ending the game and squashing the Browns' playoff hopes. The Browns lost 14–12.
Why Is the Browns' Mascot a Dog?
Marty Schottenheimer took over as the Browns' coach after Rutigliano and led them throughout the '80s. During that time, cornerbacks Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon led the Browns defense, which was one of the best in the NFL at the time. Dixon and Minnifield nicknamed the defense the "dawgs," barking to one another to hype themselves up during games. Dixon said, "I think all great defenses have to have something they can identify themselves with."
Soon, the barking caught on with fans, and the dawg ideology and mascot were adopted almost overnight. To this day, the Dawg Pound is set apart in First Energy Stadium with bleacher seats for rabid fans on the eastern endzone. Swagger, a bullmastiff, was one of the league's few living animal mascots until he passed away in early 2020. He is succeeded by his son, SJ, who is now serving as mascot in his stead.
Who Is Bernie Kosar?
Along with Dixon and Minnifield, Bernie Kosar joined the Browns in 1985 by way of the league's supplemental draft. Kosar was an Ohio native who went on to play for the University of Miami. In the fifth game of the season, an injury led to Kosar entering the game, and he earned the starting role from that day forward. Kosar led the Browns to multiple AFC championship games and is known in Cleveland as a legend. The talents of Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome, wide receiver Webster Slaughter and thousand-yard running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack catapulted the Browns into the 1986 playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
John Elway and "The Drive"
After defeating the Jets in overtime, the Browns faced the Broncos and future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway in the AFC championship. The winner would go on to play in the Super Bowl. The Browns played in a close game until finally scoring a game-leading touchdown with five minutes and 43 seconds left to play. The following kickoff resulted in the Broncos mishandling the ball, forcing them to start their drive from the two-yard line and so need a 98-yard drive to tie the game. It appeared that the Browns' Superbowl ticket had been punched.
Schottenheimer opted to use the prevent defense, a scheme that protects against deep passes and allows shorter plays in hopes of preventing a score. Elway led the Broncos on a 15-play drive to tie the game, taking the wind out of the stadium while forcing overtime. The Broncos received the ball to start overtime, drove down the field once again and kicked a controversial game-winning field goal. The kick was above the uprights of the goalposts, leaving it up to the eyes of the official to determine if it was inside or out. Many fans believe the kick missed wide right of the posts, but it was called as a good kick, resulting in the Broncos winning the game and a shot at the Super Bowl. This series of plays is known in Cleveland as "The Drive."
The following season, the Browns came back for vengeance, dominating the NFL once again with the hopes of redeeming themselves. The season began with a three-game strike, but the Browns came out hot despite the late start. They finished that season with a record of 10–5, ranking third in offense and second in defense. They made it to the AFC championship game, but the Broncos stood in their way once again.
The Browns fell behind in the game due to fumbles, turnovers and dropped passes. At halftime, they were losing 21–3. After halftime, the team came out firing on all cylinders. Led by Kosar and Byner, the Browns came back to tie the score at 31–31. With four minutes left, Elway scored a touchdown to take the lead 38–31.
Kosar had the opportunity to do to the Broncos what they did to Cleveland the year before. They drove down to the 10-yard line with one minute and 12 seconds to go. The Browns handed the ball to Byner, who had helped to keep the team alive with multiple big plays that day. He bounced to the left of his offensive line, and just before he broke the plane of the end zone, he was hit by Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille and fumbled the ball on the two-yard line.
The Browns lost the game and their Super Bowl hopes were dashed for the second year in a row. They would never return to an AFC championship game again. "The Fumble" became another part of the Browns' dark history of missteps and letdowns.
Move to Baltimore and Relocation Controversy
In 1961, the Browns were purchased by Art Modell for a record $4 million. He instantly became a controversial and influential presence in the NFL. He began his ownership by firing Paul Brown in 1962, eventually leading to Paul creating, co-owning and coaching the Bengals. Modell was also the NFL's broadcast chairman from 1962 to '93 and had a big role in the creation of Monday Night Football. Modell's most controversial act, however, was when he tried to move the Browns to Baltimore to start a new franchise.
Municipal Stadium Controversy
In 1975, Modell signed a 25-year lease of Municipal Stadium, the home of both the Browns and the Indians at the time, that allowed him to partially own the stadium and obtain revenue from the two teams' games. The rent for the stadium was $150,000 annually for the first five years and $200,000 every year after. Modell refused to share any of the suite revenue with the Indians, ultimately leading them to push for the city to build a new stadium solely for the baseball team. Jacob's Field was built as a result, and Modell's profits began to plummet. He didn't realize the amount of revenue he would lose due to the 81 annual Indians no longer taking place in his stadium. Modell claimed to have lost $21 million between 1993 and '95.
Modell watched as Jacob's Field thrived, and the Gund Arena was built for the Cavaliers while his bank account began to shrivel. He approached the city for a similar offer to renovate and refurbish Municipal Stadium for a total of $175 million in tax dollars. The city resisted the idea initially, as they had just invested millions of tax dollars in other stadium projects in the city.
When this happened, Modell announced—seemingly out of nowhere—that the team was going to be moving to Baltimore. He had previously fought the moves of various other NFL franchises, including the Colts and the Raiders, swearing publicly that he would never move the Browns. The day after the move was announced, the proposal for the stadium renovations passed overwhelmingly, but Modell decided to move the team anyway.
Protests and Lawsuits
At that moment, the city of Cleveland rallied to fight the decision. The city sued Modell for a breach of his lease contract, claiming that the Browns were legally required to play their home games in Municipal Stadium for years to come. Fans marched in the streets in protest, and season ticket holders sued the NFL. Drew Carey, a Cleveland native and comedian, led a protest at a game in Pittsburgh with the full support of the Browns' hated rival. The Steelers and Buffalo Bills were the only two franchises to vote against the move.
Despite the strong outcry of opposition, the team moved to Baltimore the following season. After a promising 3–1 start, the Browns fell to 5–11 in their final season. They ended the season by winning their final home game against the Bengals 26–10 while fans cried with signs of protest in the stands. Many fans brought hacksaws and drills to remove the seats that they felt rightfully belonged to them. When the game finished, the entire team stayed afterward to embrace their fans one last time.
After the immense backlash from fans and the city of Cleveland, the league finally reached a settlement. Modell would be granted the rights to the players' contracts and team personnel as well as the right to begin a new franchise in Baltimore. The Ravens were born, and their Baltimore franchise exists to this day.
The city of Cleveland was allowed to retain the team colors, history and records that they earned while in Cleveland. They were granted a new stadium and would have a new team in 1999 that would begin as an expansion team. As part of this agreement, the new Browns were placed in a division that included the Bengals, the Steelers and the newly-founded Ravens to ensure that their longstanding rivalries could live on.
Delayed Ownership Decision
While this decision made the city of Cleveland happy, fans would soon find out that they were set up to fail. The Browns new owner, Al Lerner, wasn't confirmed by the NFL until 1998, giving the team little more than half the time to hire a coach and front office regime than any other modern expansion franchise. While the Texans, Panthers and Jaguars all had between 642 and 1,068 days to prepare, the Browns were only given 369 days. Meanwhile, the NFL spent 911 days deciding on the approval of Lerner's ownership. This resulted in the team being thrown together with little time to scout new players for the upcoming draft, work on schemes or playbooks or decide on the identity of the team.
On top of the lack of time, the Browns also had to build their team through an expansion draft. An expansion draft is what occurs when a new team gets to take existing players from other franchises in order to build a roster of decent playmakers. When the Browns picked their players, the league allowed for five players to be unprotected and available for selection. However, the league did not allow for punters or kickers to be selected, and if the Browns selected a player from a team, they had the right to protect one of their four remaining unprotected players.
This meant the Browns were allowed to select, at most, two players from any particular franchise to build their roster. This was one player less than Jacksonville and Carolina were each allowed to select. The league also allowed for injured or retiring players to remain on teams' lists, which enabled them to fill one of their five unprotected spots and further reduce the talent available for Cleveland to select. The Browns were doomed from the start, and because of these stipulations, they had a hard time hiring a coach. Many thought any coach would be fired within the year because it would be impossible for the team to perform.
To this day, the Browns' fan base vocally fights against the induction of Art Modell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite his decorated career as an owner who strongly influenced the game. He's one of the city's greatest villains, and his decisions broke the hearts of millions in the northeast Ohio area.
When Did the Browns Return to Cleveland?
The Browns returned to Cleveland as an expansion team in 1999. Due to the various issues that occurred with their rushed scouting and problems acquiring talent, their previous dominance of the NFL never returned. For 20 years, the Browns looked for coaches and quarterbacks who could possibly turn the team around. Between 1999 and 2018, the Browns had 29 starting quarterbacks and 10 head coaches. Their record over that time was 95-224-1. They averaged 4.75 wins per season during that time period and finished last in their division 15 of the 20 seasons. They didn't win the division once. The worst came in 2017 when the team became just the second in NFL history to lose every single game in a season, going 0–16.
The winless season spurred fans into a satirical protest, organizing a "Perfect Season Parade" to show their disgust once and for all. The parade funds went to the local food bank, generating over $17,000 towards meals. Despite extremely low temperatures that day, an estimated 3,000 people attended the parade.
Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson
In 2016, the Browns hired Hue Jackson as the new head coach. He had a stellar resume of taking average quarterbacks—something Cleveland had been plagued with—and turning them into stars. He coached the Raiders during their 2010 season and led them to an 8–8 record despite their 7–4 start to the season. He was fired following the season. Despite this questionable year, the people of Cleveland and many professionals praised the hiring, believing that Jackson would be the coach to turn the team around.
His first season in Cleveland resulted in only one win. The Browns general manager at the time was Sashi Brown, a man who believed in analytical approaches to the game that led to cutting expensive players regardless of their talent level. Beloved players such as cornerback Joe (Mr. Cleveland) Haden were let go.
The team had the highest amount of cap space available out of any team in the NFL, and the talent reflected that number. With this lack of talent and the general manager's apparent opposition to spending money on new players, the Browns won only one game in a two-year span. Luckily, these two years would lead to two very promising young prospects that would be selected first overall in the '17 and '18 NFL drafts: defensive end Myles Garrett and quarterback Baker Mayfield.
John Dorsey and Freddie Kitchens
After the 0–16 season, the Browns fired Sashi Brown and hired former Chiefs general manager John Dorsey. Dorsey was known for having an eye for talented players and being willing to spend money on them. Dorsey selected Baker Mayfield first overall, hoping for him to take the reins as the franchise quarterback the Browns had been searching for. He also drafted Nick Chubb at running back and traded for star wide receiver Jarvis Landry. In 2018, the Browns went 7-8-1, and Mayfield broke the rookie record for passing touchdowns with 27 total in only 13 games. Chubb rushed for 996 yards while only starting in nine games during the season.
Dorsey followed that impressive season with one of the most impactful offseasons in NFL history. He signed superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants as well as their Pro Bowl defensive end Olivier Vernon. He signed Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and drafted Greedy Williams, a star cornerback from Louisiana State. Running back Kareem Hunt was cut by the Chiefs during the season, leading to Dorsey taking a chance on signing the former league-leading rusher despite his eight-game suspension. With this infusion of talent and strong back-to-back drafts, the Browns were thrown into the spotlight for the first time in nearly 30 years. Cleveland hoped that their days of Hall of Fame talent and playoff games were returning. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
During the 2019 season, new head coach Freddie Kitchens failed to capitalize on this new influx of talent. Baker Mayfield regressed in his second season, and the team played inconsistently. Despite high expectations, the Browns only won six games and ranked 22nd in team offense and 20th in team defense. Fans in Cleveland were devastated and angry, and consequently, the team fired Dorsey and Kitchens.
The Future of the Browns
In 2020, the Browns hired Andrew Berry as general manager and Kevin Stefanski as head coach. Berry had spent a few years with the former analytics teams from Hue Jackson's era. He left shortly afterward to work for the Eagles as their vice president of football operations. Berry began his career with another great offseason of talent acquisition, signing talents like Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper and tackle Jack Conklin. Many people praised him for his free-agent signings and drafting abilities, which brought in highly praised rookies like tackle Jedrick Wills and safety Grant Delpit.
During the 2020 offseason, Stefanski ran a new system of offense, but due to nationwide COVID-19 regulations, the team had to do physicals, workouts and teaching virtually. What the future holds for the Browns is unclear, but as always, fans remain hopeful of great things to come.