Did the AFL/NFL merger kill the Cleveland Browns? Like the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns may trace their history back to days when the NFL was not a unilateral power among football associations. Even more so that the Lions, the Browns were nearly perpetually a powerhouse until 1970. And like the Lions, the Browns are just one of four teams that has never played in a Super Bowl (the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texas, born in 1995 and 2002, respectively).
So yes, only the sexagenarians and the well-versed in NFL history can truly recall a dominant Cleveland Browns team. Read solely from the webpages of history, the story of the Browns is truly a tale of two teams.
Cleveland was granted a team in the newly-formed All-American Football Conference in 1946 and originally was to be known as the Panthers. However, a semipro team claimed rights to the name, and the team was named for head coach Paul Brown, who’d been wooed over from the insanely popular Ohio State program.
The AAFC lasted but four seasons, and the Browns were the dictionary definition of dominant, going 51-4-3 including four consecutive championship game wins; their sole losses had come against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Dons, and along with the 49ers and Baltimore Colts, the Browns were subsumed by the NFL for the 1950 season. There, the winning continued: In their first six NFL seasons, the Browns were 3-3 in championship games and completing the 10-peat of championship appearances. The Browns added another title game appearance in ’57.
Also of note in 1957: The rookie season of Jim Brown, quite possibly the greatest ever to play the game and inarguably the greatest Cleveland Browns player ever. Brown stayed around through the 60s, when the team enjoyed a decade of winning seasons, five playoff appearances and one more NFL championship. Through the 1969, the Browns cumulative all-time win-loss record was 280-74-11, a crazy .782 winning percentage.
After the merger of AFL and NFL, however, the expressions “Cleveland Browns” and “winning season” have usually been mutually exclusive. The Browns have made the playoffs just 11 times in the 48 seasons starting in 1970, and five of these came in the five-year span of 1985 to ’89; those were the years of Bernie Kosar at QB and (mostly) Marty Schottenheimer as head coach. Yet even in what may be considered the golden age of modern-era Cleveland Browns ball, the late 80s Browns are today mostly known for The Fumble of Earnest Byner and as victims in The Drive by John Elway.
In the 1990s, things got worse. Browns fans suffered the ignominy of a Seattle Supersonics-like move that temporarily deprived one of America’s football-maddest cities (You don’t have to be crazy to be a Browns fan, but it definitely helps) of their beloved team as a sop to the city of Baltimore. Cleveland was re-granted the Browns franchise for the 1999 season and, um, the highlights have come few and far between since then.
In fact, the team in the 21st century have become instant trivia fodder, as in “Which four NFL teams have never played in a Super Bowl?” and “Who was head coach of the last Browns team to win 11 games?” and “Which was the first AFC team to post an 0-16 record?”
O, and the Browns record since the merger: That would be 229-412-2 for a winning percentage of .358, or an average season just under 6-10. Yikes.
For the official Cleveland Browns website, click here.