Cleveland football fans may suffocate Sunday from the bags placed over their heads. At the very least, they'll gag on the performances of the Luke McCown-Terry Robiskie Browns. Sorry, folks, but Sunday's game against New England is going to be ugly.
But perhaps Clevelanders can comfort themselves by remembering the post-World War II Browns – the greatest dynasty in pro football history, a team that dominated not one but two leagues and an organization that literally changed the complexion of pro sports.
The story of the postwar Browns might sound familiar to fans in New England. They were led by a legendary coach who always seemed a step ahead of everyone else in football, a quarterback who didn't throw pretty passes but seemed to win every game he played, and a popular kicker whose last-second heroics captured an NFL championship. Heck, they were so good even the radio announcer was a beloved fan favorite.
The legendary coach was Paul Brown. He was so popular that fans voted to name the team after him. The quarterback was Otto Graham, a winner unmatched in the history of football and so dominant that Tom Brady and his .794 winning percentage pales in comparison. The kicker was Lou "The Toe" Groza, who played tackle and handled kicking duties. All are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The team's popular broadcaster was Ken Coleman, whose name is well known in New England. Coleman was the voice of the Boston Red Sox for 20 years. In Cleveland he handled radio and then TV duties during the Browns glory years.
The Browns were founded in 1946 as part of the old All America Football Conference (AAFC), which competed against the NFL for four years. It was a period of rejuvenation for pro football, which suffered during World War II (1941-45) like many other elements of society. Some teams were disbanded. The Eagles and Steelers played together as the Steagles. Twenty-one NFL players were killed in the war.
Suffice it to say, pro football was a welcome and popular relief in the postwar years. And the Browns dominated those years like no team has ever dominated football before or since. We turned to the Buddha of gridiron enlightenment, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, and can now declare in no uncertain terms that the postwar Browns are the greatest dynasty in pro football history. Here's why:
The Browns appeared in 10 straight championship games. The modern football public is amazed by the Bills of the early 1990s who appeared in four straight Super Bowls. The Browns played for a championship every year from 1946 to 1955. They won seven times ('46, '47, '48, '49, '50, '54, '55). The Vince Lombardi Packers appeared in six title games in eight years, winning five.
The Browns dominated two leagues. Cleveland won all four AAFC championships before the league merged with the NFL in 1950. The Browns proved they were no junior-league fluke with a 10-2 record and a victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950 NFL championship game. Groza's last-second field goal gave Cleveland the 30-28 victory. The Browns made it to the NFL title game but lost each year from 1951 to 1953. They returned to championship form in 1954 and 1955.
The 1948 Browns were undefeated. Like the 1972 Dolphins, the 1948 Browns went 14-0 in the regular season and won their league title. But because it happened in the AAFC, the NFL does not recognize the undefeated 1948 Browns -- the only other team to go through both the regular and postseasons without a loss. (The Dolphins played three postseason games and went 17-0; the Browns played just one postseason game and went 15-0).
Paul Brown changed the face of pro sports. Brown's Hall of Fame biography calls him the "master innovator." He was the first to test players for intelligence and institute classroom learning techniques that are an essential part of football today. He was the first to make extensive use of film study. Some say he created what's now known as the West Coast offense. In his spare time, he broke the color barrier in pro sports when he signed future Hall of Famers Marion Motley and Bill Willis in 1946, a year before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He posted a career record in Cleveland of 167-53-8 before he was fired by team owner Art Modell in 1962 – the same jerk who unceremoniously moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996. Brown founded the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968 (note the same colors as the Browns). The Bengals made the playoffs in 1970. At the time it was the earliest an expansion team ever made the postseason. The Bengals appeared in two Super Bowls with Brown the team's general manager.
Graham was the greatest winner in pro football history. Tom Brady is the greatest winner in football today but he couldn't hold a candle to Graham, who led the Cleveland offense during the entire 1946-1955 period. The Browns posted a 105-17-4 (.861) regular season record over those 10 years – gaudy even by the standards of college dynasties. Graham padded his stats with a 9-3 postseason record, four AAFC championships and three NFL championships. History shows that Graham was the glue that held together the Browns dynasty. The Graham-less 1956 Browns went 5-7 -- their first losing record -- and the Browns have made only three more title-game appearances since his departure. They lost to Detroit, 59-14, in 1957; beat Baltimore, 27-0, in 1964; and lost to Green Bay, 23-12, in 1965. The Browns have not been back to an NFL title game since.
Sorry, Browns fans, that's not about to change anytime soon. Otto Graham and Paul Brown aren't walking out on that field Sunday. Just Luke McCown and Terry Robiskie. These aren't your daddy's Browns.