Established.... January 28, 1946
First Season.... 1946 with All-American Football Conference Western Div.
Stadium..... FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio
Conference..... All-American Football Conerence 46-48 / AFC Central 70-95 / 99-01 / North 2002-present
Team Nicknames..... Brownies, Kardiac Kids, Dawgs, Hounds, Mutts, Frowns, Brown Bears
1st Game Against BUCS..... Sunday, November 21, 1976
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their game debut against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, November 21, 1976 during a home game in Tampa Stadium, losing 07-24 the Buuccaneers came into the game winless after eleven games, they outplayed and dominated the first have of the game only to fall apart the second half and losing 07-24.
Tampa Bays first victory against Cleveland came on Sunday, October 13, 2002 in Raymond James Stadium, it was the fifth consecutive season victory winning 17-03.
This only includes games played under the Cleveland Browns franchise and not the transplanted Baltimore Ravens. Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played in seeveral pre-season games including a Browns 2015 victory to once again play in exhibition after 14 years.
Below click on ANY date to view extensive details of all gameday encounters. We have featured details of each opponent, highlights of each games statistics, players, scoring details, media coverage, photographs with a detailed game report. Below the listed dates we also include full details of the Opponent.
|ALL GAMES vs. BROWNS (H=home @=away)|
|H||Nov. 21, 1976||L||07-24||H||Sep. 28, 1980||L||27-34||@||Nov. 13, 1983||L||00-20|
|H||Nov. 05, 1989||L||31-42||@||Sep. 10, 1995||L||06-22||H||Oct. 13, 2002||W||17-03|
|@||Dec. 24, 2006||W||22-07||H||Sep. 12, 2010||W||17-14||@||Nov. 02, 2014||L||17-22|
|H||Oct. 21, 2018||W||26-23|
|PLAYOFF GAMES vs. BROWNS (H=home @=away)|
|NFC Championship||Score||NFC Championship||Score||NFC Championship||Score|
The Cleveland Browns are based in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the American Football Conference (AFC) North division. The Browns play their home games at FirstEnergy Stadium, which opened in 1999, with administrative offices and training facilities in Berea, Ohio. The Browns' official colors are brown, orange and white. They are unique among the 32 member franchises of the NFL in that they do not have a logo on their helmets and are the only team named after a specific person, original coach Paul Brown.
The franchise was founded in 1945 by businessman Arthur B. McBride and coach Paul Brown as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). The Browns dominated the AAFC, compiling a 47–4–3 record in the league's four active seasons and winning its championship in each of them. When the AAFC folded after the 1949 season, the Browns joined the National Football League along with the San Francisco 49ers and the original Baltimore Colts. The Browns won a championship in their inaugural NFL season, as well as in the 1954, 1955, and 1964 seasons, and in a feat unequaled in any of the North American major professional sports, played in their league championship game in each of the Browns' first ten years of existence. From 1965 to 1995, they made the playoffs 14 times, but did not win another championship or appear in the Super Bowl in that period.
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In 1995, owner Art Modell, who had purchased the Browns in 1961, announced plans to move the team to Baltimore, Maryland. After threats of legal action from the city of Cleveland and fans, a compromise was reached in early 1996 that allowed Modell to establish the Baltimore Ravens as a new franchise while retaining the contracts of all Browns personnel. The Browns' intellectual property, including team name, logos, training facility, and history, were kept in trust and the franchise was regarded by the NFL as suspended. A new team would be established by 1999 either by expansion or relocation. The Browns were announced as an expansion team in 1998 and resumed play in 1999.
Since resuming operations in 1999, the Browns have struggled to find success. They have had only two winning seasons (in 2002 and 2007), one playoff appearance (2002), and no playoff wins. The franchise has also been noted for a lack of stability with quarterbacks, having started 26 players in the position over the past 18 seasons. To date, the Browns' overall win-loss record since 1999 is 88–200.
Mascot: Brownie Elf
Brownie Elf (aka, “Brownie the Elf”) was the mascot for the team beginning in 1946 when the franchise was born. He first appeared on the covers of the Browns media guides (1946-49) in the All-America Football Conference.
The idea for an elf as mascot came from Arthur McBride, the team’s owner at the time when was looking for a new face for his team. Although McBride approved the idea, it is a mystery as to who drew the image of Brownie Elf. One source recalls the elf was taken from a Sears advertisement, while another claims the image came from a local Girl Scout Brownie troop.
Brownie the Elf made his first appearance in a newspaper ticket ad for the 1946 season opener against the Miami Seahawks at old Cleveland Stadium. The ad includes the elf, with a mean look on his face, running with a football. The ad also featured the phrase: “Here come the Brownies.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper helped popularize the elf when caricatures of the elf appeared on the sports section of the newspaper and the front page of the paper as a way to advertise the wins or loses of the Cleveland Browns. If the Browns won a game, Brownie elf was seen smiling, but if the team lost, the elf would appear battered and bruised with a black eye.
In 1953, The elf became so popular, that the management at the Browns contemplated putting Brownie the Elf onto the side of the club’s plain orange helmets. But they never followed through with that idea. In fact, today, The Browns are the only National Football League team without a helmet logo.
Over the years, the appearance of Brownie the Elf was updated. Alternate logos included an orange elf from 1950-69, and a halfback elf from 1960-69. After the Browns won the NFL title in 1964, Brownie was often depicted with a crown signifying the team’s achievement.
The elf remained the emblem of the Browns through the championship years of the 1950s until Art Modell bought the club on March 21, 1961 and phased out the elf as a team emblem. As Art was quoted, “My first official act as owner of the Browns will be to get rid of that little (elf).”
With Art Modell's move from Cleveland, In 1999, Brownie the Elf was resurrected, when the team returned to Cleveland. During the 2004 Season, images of The Brownie appeared on the Team’s ponchos and equipment trunks.
In 2013, a new “Brownie the Elf” returned in the form a person dressed in a costume of Brownie the Elf who cheers on the crowd and provides the good luck for the team.
NOTE: Before the resurgence of Brownie the Elf, the Cleveland Browns team mascot was a brown dog wearing a Cleveland browns helmet. The four real canines mascots used on the field were: CB a bull mastiff; Chomps a Lab; TD a German Shepherd, and Trapper a Weimaraner.
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The Browns official fan club is referred to as the Dawg Pound. The concept began in 1985 while Hanford Dixon barked with teammates on the field and fans in the east end zone seating joined in fray, hence the “Dawg Pound” was born.
“Here We Go, Brownies, Here We Go!”, followed by “Woof! Woof!” was the most common chant heard in the Pound, especially on drives (either offensive or defensive) going towards that end of the field. Late night talk show host Arsenio Hall adopted the “Woof! Woof! as his signature cry. He even name a section of the audience his “Dog Pound.”
A bullmastiff named "Swagger" lead the Browns into FirstEnergy Stadium. Bullmastiffs are known for their stout appearance and short muzzle. Perhaps the most popular is "Butkus," Rocky Balboa's dog. Swagger's role may be to display brute prowess, similar to the job of such collegiate mascots as Georgia's Uga and Auburn's War Eagle.
Swagger is an extension of the Dawg Pound, the east end zone bleacher section at FirstEnergy Stadium. Swagger is not the first Browns' mascot. Although not an in-person presence, according to the Browns' website, Swaggers' home is the Cleveland Browns Dog Pound. His favorite foods are roasted raven and baked Bengal tiger (where are the Steelers references?). There is no sign of Chomps kicking Swagger out of Cleveland.
Chomps is a dog-like figure, based on the team's Dawg Pound section at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
A 2006 study conducted by Bizjournal determined that Browns fans are the most loyal fans in the NFL. The study, while not scientific, was largely based on fan loyalty during winning and losing seasons, attendance at games, and challenges confronting fans (such as inclement weather or long-term poor performance of their team). The study noted that Browns fans filled 99.8% of the seats at Cleveland Browns Stadium during the last seven seasons, despite a combined record of 36-76 over that span.
Perhaps the most visible Browns fans are those that can be found in the Dawg Pound. Originally the name for the bleacher section located in the open (east) end of old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the current incarnation is likewise located in the east end of FirstEnergy Stadium and still features hundreds of orange and brown clad fans sporting various canine-related paraphernalia. The fans adopted that name in 1984 after members of the Browns defense used it to describe the team's defense.
Retired cornerback Hanford Dixon, who played his entire career for the Browns (1981–89), is credited with naming the Cleveland Browns defense 'The Dawgs' in the mid-1980s. Dixon and teammates Frank Minnifield and Eddie Johnson would bark at each other and to the fans in the bleachers at the Cleveland Stadium to fire them up. It was from Dixon's naming that the Dawg Pound subsequently took its title. The fans adopted that name in the years after. Due to this nickname, since the team's revival the Browns have used a bulldog as an alternate logo.
The most prominent organization of Browns fans is the Browns Backers Worldwide (BBW). The organization has approximately 305,000 members and Browns Backers clubs can be found in every major city in the United States, and in a number of military bases throughout the world, with the largest club being in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition, the organization has a sizable foreign presence in places as far away as Egypt, Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka, and McMurdo Station in Antarctica. According to The Official Fan Club of the Cleveland Browns, the two largest international fan clubs are in Alon Shvut, West Bank and Niagara, Canada, with Alon Shvut having 129 members and Niagara having 310.
Following former Browns owner Randy Lerner's acquisition of English football club Aston Villa, official Villa outlets started selling Cleveland Browns goods such as jerseys and NFL footballs. This has raised interest in England and strengthened the link between the two sporting clubs. Aston Villa supporters have set up an organization known as the Aston (Villa) Browns Backers of Birmingham.
The Cleveland Browns were the favorite team of Elvis Presley. This was because his friend Gene Hickerson - with whom he had played football in their common youth in Memphis - was contracted by the Browns in 1957 and played there during his entire career until 1973. Also defender Bobby Franklin, who had played from 1960 to 1966 for the Browns, was a friend of Presley. WWE Hall of Fame wrestler and commentator Jerry "The King" Lawler - though he has spent most of his life in Memphis - spent part of his childhood in the Cleveland area and is a fan of the Browns. Fellow WWE wrestlers The Miz and Dolph Ziggler (both Cleveland natives) are also fans. Another fan of the team is Baseball-legend Hank Aaron. Other famous Browns fans include Arsenio Hall, Drew Carey, Patricia Heaton (her father, Chuck Heaton, was a sportswriter for The Plain Dealer, which covered the Browns and wrote two books about the team), Terri Garr, Martin Mull, Condoleezza Rice, Valerie Bertinelli (her husband is from the Northeast Ohio area), Machine Gun Kelly, Paul Adelstein, Iron Chef Michael Symon, ESPN sportscaster Jay Crawford and Brad Paisley.
The Browns are the only National Football League team without a helmet logo. The logoless helmet serves as the Browns' official logo. The organization has used several promotional logos throughout the years; players' numbers were painted on the helmets from the 1957 to 1960; and an unused "CB" logo was created in 1965, But for much of their history, the Browns' helmets have been an unadorned burnt orange color with a top stripe of dark brown (officially called "seal brown") divided by a white stripe.
The team has had various promotional logos throughout the years, such as the "Brownie Elf" mascot or a Brown "B" in a white football. While Art Modell did away with the Brownie Elf in the mid-1960s, believing it to be too childish, its use has been revived under the current ownership. The popularity of the Dawg Pound section at First Energy Stadium has led to a brown and orange dog being used for various Browns functions. But overall, the orange, logo-less helmet continues as the primary trademark of the Cleveland Browns.
On February 24, 2015, the team unveiled its new logos and word marks, the only differences being minor color changes to the helmet with the helmet logo remaining largely as is.
The original designs of the jerseys, pants, and socks remained mostly the same, but the helmets went through many significant revisions throughout the years. The Browns uniforms saw their first massive change prior to the 2015 season.
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Over the years, the Browns have had on-again / off-again periods of wearing white for their home games, particularly in the 1970s and 80s, as well as in the early 2000s after the team returned to the league. Until recently, when more NFL teams have started to wear white at home at least once a season, the Browns were the only non-subtropical team north of the Mason-Dixon line to wear white at home on a regular basis.
Numerals first appeared on the jersey sleeves in 1961. Over the years, there have been minor revisions to the sleeve stripes, the first occurring in 1968 (brown jerseys worn in early season) and 1969 (white and brown jerseys) when stripes began to be silk screened onto the sleeves and separated from each other to prevent color bleeding. However, the basic five-stripe sequence has remained intact (with the exception of the 1984 season). A recent revision was the addition of the initials "AL" to honor team owner Al Lerner who died in 2002; this was removed in 2013 upon Jimmy Haslam assuming ownership of the team.
Other than the helmet, the uniform was completely redesigned for the 1984 season. New striping patterns appeared on the white jerseys, brown jerseys and pants. Solid brown socks were worn with brown jerseys and solid orange socks were worn with white jerseys. Brown numerals on the white jerseys were outlined in orange. White numerals on the brown jerseys were double outlined in brown and orange. (Orange numerals double outlined in brown and white appeared briefly on the brown jerseys in one pre-season game. In 1999, the expansion Browns adopted the traditional design with two exceptions: first, jersey-sleeve numbers were moved to the shoulders; and second, the orange-brown-orange pants stripes were significantly widened.
Experimentation with the uniform design began in 2002. An alternate orange jersey was introduced that season as the NFL encouraged teams to adopt a third jersey, and a major design change was made when solid brown socks appeared for the first time since 1984 and were used with white, brown and orange jerseys. Other than 1984, striped socks (matching the jersey stripes) had been a signature design element in the team's traditional uniform. The white striped socks appeared occasionally with the white jerseys in 2003–2005 and 2007.
Additionally in 2006, the team reverted to an older uniform style, featuring gray face masks; the original stripe pattern on the brown jersey sleeves (The white jersey has had that sleeve stripe pattern on a consistent basis since the 1985 season.) and the older, darker shade of brown.
On April 14, 2015, the Cleveland Browns unveiled their new uniform combinations, consisting of the team's colors of orange, brown and white.
Cleveland Stadium, commonly known as Municipal Stadium or Lakefront Stadium, was a multi-purpose stadium located in Cleveland, Ohio. It was one of the early multi-purpose stadiums, built to accommodate both baseball and football.
The Cleveland Browns, originally members of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), began playing at the facility in 1946, and played there through 1995. The stadium was the site of the AAFC Championship game in 1946, 1948 and 1949, all Browns wins. The Browns joined the NFL in 1950 and hosted the NFL Championship Game in 1950, 1952, 1954, 1964, and 1968, winning titles in 1950, 1954, and 1964.
The first Browns game at the stadium was also the first AAFC game, when the Browns hosted the Miami Seahawks on September 6, 1946. The Browns won the game 44–0 and drew 60,135 fans, what was then a record for a professional football crowd. During the 1980s, the center field bleachers at the east end of the stadium were home to many of the club's most avid fans and became known as the Dawg Pound after the barks that fans made to disrupt opposing teams' offensive plays. The fans were copying Browns players Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield, who frequently appeared to bark to each other and to the opposition. Some of the fans even wore dog masks and threw dog biscuits at opposing players. The Dawg Pound was included in the design of FirstEnergy Stadium, where the east end zone is also bleacher seating.
The stadium was also the site of two notable moments in Cleveland sports and Browns history. In a 1981 divisional playoff game on January 4, Browns quarterback Brian Sipe was intercepted in the end zone with less than a minute remaining in the game, resulting in a 14–12 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The game has since been referred to by the name of the pass play, Red Right 88. Six years later, during the 1987 AFC Championship game on January 11, John Elway led the Denver Broncos on what is referred to as The Drive, a 98-yard touchdown drive with 5:32 left that tied the game and sent it into overtime. The Broncos ultimately prevailed 23–20.
The final game in the stadium was held December 17, 1995, an emotional 26–10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns' final game before the franchise was officially deactivated until 1999, though the team actually moved to Baltimore and continued to play as the Ravens. At the end of that game, many fans cut and removed their seats.
Prior to the arrival of the Browns, the stadium was briefly the home field for two other NFL teams, the Cleveland Indians in 1931, and the Cleveland Rams from 1936 to 1937 and again from 1939 to 1941. The football Indians played two home games in their 1931 season, a 6-0 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers and a 14-0 loss to the Chicago Cardinals. The team drew a crowd of around only 2,000 spectators for the September 26th game against Brooklyn and 10,000 for the loss to the Cardinals on November 8.
The Rams were founded in 1936 as members of the second American Football League and joined the NFL in 1937. They played home games at the stadium their first two seasons, before moving to the smaller Shaw Stadium in 1938. The Rams returned to the stadium in 1939 and played home games there through the 1941 season before moving to League Park for the remainder of their time in Cleveland. The team returned to the stadium one last time to host the 1945 NFL Championship Game, a 15–14 win in what was the final Rams game in Cleveland before the team relocated to Los Angeles.
FirstEnergy Stadium, officially FirstEnergy Stadium, Home of the Cleveland Browns, is a multi-purpose stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, primarily for American football. It is the home field of the Cleveland Browns, and serves as a venue for other events such as college and high school football, soccer, and concerts. It opened in 1999 as Cleveland Browns Stadium and was renovated in two phases in early 2014 and 2015. The initial seating capacity was listed at 73,200 people, but following the first phase of the renovation project in 2014, seating capacity was reduced to 67,431. Since 2017, capacity is listed at 67,895. The stadium sits on 31 acres (13 ha) of land between Lake Erie and the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway in the North Coast Harbor area of downtown Cleveland, adjacent to the Great Lakes Science Center and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Browns' origins date to 1944, when taxicab magnate Arthur B. "Mickey" McBride secured the rights to a Cleveland franchise in the newly formed All-America Football Conference (AAFC). The AAFC was to compete with the dominant National Football League (NFL) once it began operations at the end of World War II, which had forced many professional teams to curtail activity, merge, or go on hiatus as their players served in the United States Armed Forces.
Early in 1945, McBride named 36-year-old Ohio State Buckeyes coach Paul Brown as the team's head coach and general manager and gave him a share in its profits. The move surprised and upset Buckeye fans, who had hoped he would resume his successful run at the school after the war. Brown, who had built an impressive record as coach of a Massillon, Ohio, high school team and brought the Buckeyes their first national championship, at the time was serving in the U.S. Navy and coached the football team at Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago.
The name of the team was at first left up to Paul Brown, who rejected calls for it to be christened the "Browns". The franchise and the local newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, then held a naming contest to publicize the team, promising a $1,000 war bond to the winner. In June 1945, a committee selected "Panthers" as the new team's name, named after a failed American Football League (AFL) franchise in Cleveland which only lasted part way through that professional league's single season in 1926 (although as a semi-professional team the Cleveland Panthers existed between 1919 and 1933). It is unclear whether "Panthers" was the highest vote-getter, or if it was second-highest behind "Browns", which was again rejected by Paul Brown. George T. Jones, who been the secretary for the Panthers under the AFL team owner General Charles X. Zimmerman (who died in November 1926), had become manager of the re-established semi-professional Cleveland Panthers in 1927 and had the rights to the name. Jones apparently demanded several thousand dollars from the new franchise owner, Arthur McBride, for the use of the name. McBride refused to pay, reopened the contest, and selected the Browns name for his team. At this point, Paul Brown bowed to popular sentiment and agreed to the "Browns" name.
Brown remained uncomfortable with the idea of the team being named after him. For some time after, he would occasionally cite an alternate history of the team name, claiming that they were actually named after boxer Joe Louis, whose nickname was "The Brown Bomber". This alternate history of the name was even supported by the team as being factual as recently as the mid-1990s, and it continues as an urban legend to this day. However, Paul Brown never held fast to the Joe Louis story, and later in his life admitted that it was false, invented to deflect unwanted attention arising from the team being named after him. The Browns and the NFL now both support the position that the team was indeed named after Paul Brown.
As the war began to wind down with Germany's surrender in May 1945, the team parlayed Brown's ties to college football and the military to build its roster. Negotiations with players were handled by John Brickels, the team's acting manager, as Brown was still in the Navy. The first signings were Otto Graham, a former star quarterback at Northwestern University, and Herb Coleman, a center at Notre Dame, both of whom were then in the military. The Browns later signed kicker and offensive tackle Lou Groza and wide receivers Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie. Fullback Marion Motley and nose tackle Bill Willis, two of the earliest African Americans to play professional football, also joined the team in 1946.
The Browns' first regular-season game took place September 6, 1946, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium against the Miami Seahawks before a record crowd of 60,135. That contest, which the Browns won 44–0, kicked off an era of dominance. With Brown at the helm, the team won all four of the AAFC's championships from 1946 until the conference's dissolution in 1949, amassing a record of 52 wins, four losses, and three ties. This included the 1948 season, in which the Browns became the second unbeaten and untied team in professional football history, 24 years before the NFL's 1972 Miami Dolphins duplicated the feat. Cleveland's total undefeated streak stretched to 18 wins and included the 1947 and 1948 AAFC championship games.
The Browns had few worthy rivals among the AAFC's eight teams, but the New York Yankees and San Francisco 49ers were their closest competition. Cleveland met the Yankees in the 1946 and 1947 championships and faced the 49ers for the title in 1949, winning all of those games. One of the highlights of the AAFC years was a contest between the 49ers and Browns in 1948. Both teams came into the game undefeated, with the Browns 9–0 and the 49ers 10–0. Behind a stiff defense and helped by San Francisco turnovers, the Browns won the "clash of the unbeaten" by a score of 14 to 7 before a crowd of 82,769, a professional football attendance record at the time.
While the Browns excelled on defense, Cleveland's winning ways were driven by an offense that employed Brown's version of the T formation, which emphasized speed, timing, and execution over set plays. Brown liked his players "lean and hungry", and championed quickness over bulk. Graham became a star under Brown's system, leading all passers in each of the AAFC's seasons and racking up 10,085 passing yards. Motley, who Brown in 1948 called "the greatest fullback that ever lived," was the AAFC's all-time leading rusher. Lavelli was the league's top receiver in 1946, while Speedie won those honors in 1947 and 1949. Brown and six players from the Browns' AAFC years were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Graham, Motley, Groza, Lavelli, Willis, and center Frank Gatski.
The Cleveland area showered support on the Browns from the outset. Brown's celebrity was cresting in the late 1940s, thanks to his success with teams at the high school, college, and now professional levels. Meanwhile, the Browns unexpectedly had Cleveland to themselves; the NFL's Cleveland Rams, who had continually lost money despite winning the 1945 NFL championship, moved to Los Angeles after that season. The Browns' on-field feats only amplified their popularity, and the team saw a record-setting average attendance of 57,000 per game in its first season.
The Browns, however, became victims of their own success. Their dominance exposed a lack of balance among AAFC teams, which the league tried to correct by sending Browns players including quarterback Y. A. Tittle to the Baltimore Colts in 1948. Attendance at Browns games fell in later years as fans lost interest in lopsided victories. Despite an undefeated season in 1948, only 23,891 people showed up to see the Browns beat the Buffalo Bills in the championship game. These factors – combined with a war for players between the two leagues that raised salaries and ate into owners' profits – ultimately led to the dissolution of the AAFC and the merger of three of its teams, including the Browns, into the NFL in 1949. The NFL has so far refused to acknowledge AAFC statistics and records because the Browns' achievements – including their perfect season – did not take place in the NFL or against NFL teams, and not even in a league fully absorbed by the NFL.
The AAFC proposed match-ups with NFL teams numerous times during its four-year existence, but no inter-league game ever materialized. That made the Browns' entry into the NFL in the 1950 season the first test of whether their early supremacy could continue into a more established league. Some people suggested Cleveland was at best the dominant team in a minor league, while others were confident of its prospects in the NFL. The proof of Cleveland's mettle came quickly: its NFL regular-season opener was against the two-time defending champion Eagles on September 16 in Philadelphia. The Browns quashed any doubts about their prowess in that game, amassing 487 yards of offense—including 246 passing yards from Graham and his receivers—en route to a 35–10 win before a crowd of 71,237.
Behind a potent offense that featured Graham, Groza, Motley, Lavelli, and running back Dub Jones, the Browns finished the 1950 regular season with a 10–2 record, tied for first place in their conference. Cleveland then won a playoff game 8–3 against the New York Giants on December 17 behind a pair of Groza field goals, turning the tables on a team that handed the Browns both of their regular-season losses. That set up the NFL championship match a week later in Cleveland, between the Browns and the Rams, the NFL team that had moved from Cleveland just five years earlier. The Browns won the championship game, 30–28, on a last-minute Groza field goal. Fans stormed the field after the victory, carting off the goalposts, ripping off one player's jersey, and setting a bonfire in the bleachers. "There never was a game like this one," Brown said.
After five straight championship wins in the AAFC and NFL, the Browns appeared poised to bring another trophy home in 1951. The team finished the regular season with 11 wins and a single loss in the first game of the season. Cleveland faced the Rams on December 23 in a rematch of the previous year's title game. The score was deadlocked 17–17 in the final period, but a 73-yard touchdown pass by Rams quarterback Norm van Brocklin to wide receiver Tom Fears broke the tie and gave Los Angeles the lead for good. The 24–17 loss was the Browns' first in a championship game.
The 1952 and 1953 seasons followed a similar pattern, with Cleveland reaching the championship game but losing both times to the Detroit Lions. The Browns finished 8–4 in 1952, but lost that year's championship game 17–7 after a muffed punt, several Lions defensive stands and a 67-yard touchdown run by Doak Walker scuttled their chances. The team finished 11–1 in 1953, and narrowly lost the championship game to the Lions by a score of 17–16 on a 33-yard Bobby Layne touchdown pass to Jim Doran with just over two minutes left.
While the championship losses sowed bitterness among Cleveland fans who had grown accustomed to winning, the team continued to make progress. Len Ford, whom the Browns picked up from the defunct AAFC Los Angeles Dons team, emerged as a force on the defensive line, making the Pro Bowl each year between 1951 and 1953. Second-year wideout Ray Renfro became a star in 1953 with 722 yards receiving and 352 yards rushing, also reaching the Pro Bowl.
Meanwhile, in a November 15, 1953 game against the 49ers, Otto Graham took an elbow from linebacker Art Michalik that put a gash on his face requiring 15 stitches. Graham's helmet was fitted with a clear plastic mask and he was sent back on the field. While the use of face masks was not unheard-of – Y.A. Tittle was using one that season as he nursed a fractured cheekbone – the injury contributed to their development. Brown is often credited with inventing and patenting the single-bar face mask. Riddell, a sports equipment manufacturer, claims the "bar tubular" mask was invented by G.E. Morgan for Graham in 1955, although by the end of that year many players were already wearing some form of face protection.
During the summer before the 1953 season, the Browns' original owners sold the team for a then-unheard-of $600,000. The old stockholders were Arthur B. "Mickey" McBride and his son Edward, along with minority owners including McBride business associate Dan Sherby, Brown, and four others. The buyers were a group of prominent Cleveland businessmen: Homer Marshman, an attorney, Dave R. Jones, a businessman and former Cleveland Indians director, Ellis Ryan, a former Indians president, Saul Silberman, owner of the Randall Park race track, and Ralph DeChairo, an associate of Silberman. McBride said he made the deal simply because he "had his fling" with football and wanted to move on to other activities. McBride's tenure as owner was viewed favorably, partly because of the Browns' on-field success, but also because he gave Brown a free hand to sign players and coaches. One of the new ownership group's first acts was to assure Cleveland fans they would give Brown the same kind of leeway.
The Browns came into 1954 as one of the most powerful teams in the NFL, having reached the championship in each of their first four years in the league, but the future was far from certain. Graham, whose leadership and throwing skills had been instrumental in the Browns' championship runs, said he planned to retire after the season. Motley, the team's best rusher and blocker in its early years, retired at the beginning of the season with a bad knee. Star defensive lineman Bill Willis also retired before the season. Still, Cleveland finished the regular season 9–3 as Graham and Lavelli excelled on offense and linemen Len Ford and Don Colo held up the defense. The Browns met Detroit on December 26 in the championship game for a third consecutive time. And this time the Browns dominated on both sides of the ball, intercepting Bobby Layne six times and forcing three fumbles while Graham threw three touchdowns and ran for three more. The Browns, who lost the last game of the regular season to the Lions only a week before, won their second NFL crown 56–10. "I saw it, but still hardly can believe it," Lions coach Buddy Parker said after the game. "It has me dazed."
The Browns kept rolling in 1955 after Brown convinced Graham to come back and play, arguing that the team lacked a solid alternative. Chuck Noll had a productive season at linebacker with five interceptions, Graham passed for 15 touchdowns and ran for six more, and the team finished the regular season 9–2–1. The Browns went on to win their third championship game in six NFL seasons, beating the Los Angeles Rams 38–14. It was Graham's last game; the win capped a 10-year run in which he led his team to the league championship every year, winning four in the AAFC and three in the NFL.
The end of the Graham era, however, was also the end of the Browns' dominant streak. The team floundered in 1956 as it struggled to find a permanent replacement for Graham. The season began with long-time backup George Ratterman at quarterback, but Babe Parilli took his place when the starter was injured. After Parilli was hurt, relative unknown Tommy O'Connell took up the position for the remainder of the season. None of them threw more touchdowns than interceptions, and Cleveland's 5–7 finish was its first losing season ever. Dante Lavelli and Frank Gatski retired at the end of the season, leaving Groza as the only original Cleveland player still on the team.
While the Browns' on-field play in 1956 was uninspiring, off-the-field drama developed after a Cleveland-based inventor named George Sarles let Brown test a helmet with a radio transmitter inside. After trying it out in training camp, Brown used the helmet to call in plays during a September 15 preseason game against the Lions with Ratterman behind center. The device allowed the coach to direct his quarterback on the fly, giving him an advantage over franchises which had to use messenger players to relay instructions. The Browns used the device off and on into the regular season, and other teams began to experiment with their own radio helmets. The NFL's commissioner at the time, Bert Bell, banned the device in October 1956. Today, however, all NFL teams use in-helmet radios to communicate with players.
With Otto Graham and most of the other original Browns in retirement, by 1957, the team was struggling to replenish its ranks. Cleveland was coming off a series of bad drafts, including in 1954, when the team selected quarterback Bobby Garrett with the first pick. Garrett, Graham's presumed successor, did not play a single game for Cleveland, which traded him to Green Bay, brought him back three years later, then released him for good after he could not overcome a stutter that made calling plays in the huddle difficult.
In 1957's draft, however, Cleveland took fullback Jim Brown out of Syracuse University in the first round. In his first season, Brown was the NFL's leading rusher with 942 yards in a 12-game regular season and was voted rookie of the year in a United Press poll. Led by Brown's running and quarterback Tommy O'Connell's passing, Cleveland finished 9–2–1 and again advanced to the championship game against Detroit, but the Lions dominated the game, forcing six turnovers and allowing only 112 yards passing in a 59–14 rout, Detroit's last league championship to date.
Before the 1958 season, Cleveland was again in search of a quarterback. O'Connell had played well in the previous two seasons – he led the league in passing in 1957 – but lacked the stature and durability Paul Brown wanted in a starter. He stood at just 5 feet, 10 inches tall and was hurt numerous times, including a sprained ankle and a broken bone in his leg that kept him out of the last two games of the 1957 regular season. Due in part to these injuries, O'Connell retired early in 1958 to take a coaching job in Illinois, and Milt Plum was named the starter. Cleveland, however, was relying increasingly on the running game, in contrast to its pass-happy early years under Graham. As the team built up a 9–3 regular-season record, Brown in 1958 ran for 1,527 yards – almost twice as much as any other back and a league record at the time.
Entering the final game of the 1958 season, Cleveland needed to either win or tie against the New York Giants to clinch the Eastern Conference title and the right to host the championship game. On the game's first play from scrimmage, Brown raced 65 yards for a touchdown, giving Cleveland a 7–0 lead. Entering the fourth quarter, the Browns held a 10–3 advantage, but the Giants tied it then won it with two minutes left on a 49-yard field goal by Pat Summerall under snowy conditions. That set up a playoff between the Browns and Giants the following week. In that game, Brown was held to eight yards and the team committed four turnovers in a 10–0 loss. The Giants went on to play the Baltimore Colts in the championship, a game often cited as the seed of professional football's popularity surge in the U.S.
Cleveland's campaigns in 1959 and 1960 were noteworthy for Brown's league-leading rushing totals in both seasons. Plum became established as the starting quarterback, bringing a measure of stability to the squad not seen since Graham's retirement. The Penn State product led the team to a 7–5 record in 1959, and one year later, he turned in one of the greatest statistical seasons at his position in NFL history. Nonetheless, in 1960, the Browns dropped three games by a total of 10 points, finished with an 8–3–1 record and out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Art Modell, a 35-year-old advertising executive from Brooklyn, purchased the team in 1961 from a group of shareholders led by National Insurance Company. The beginnings of a power struggle between Paul Brown and Art Modell took its toll. Journalist D.L. Stewart recounted in Jeff Miller's book on the AFL, Going Long, "As you well can imagine, Jimmy Brown and Paul were not thick. The buzz was that Jimmy had Modell working for him, and Paul took exception to that." 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.
After a 7–6–1 record in 1962, Modell fired Paul Brown on January 9, 1963, and replaced him one week later with longtime assistant Blanton Collier. Many of the Browns' younger players, such as Jim Brown and quarterback Frank Ryan, had chafed under Brown's autocratic coaching style; in contrast, Collier ran the club with a much looser grip. He installed a much more open offense and allowed Ryan to call his own plays. In Collier's first season, the Browns won their first six games, but a damaging midseason slump ended up costing them the Eastern Division title as they finished one game back with a 10–4 mark. On an individual level, Jim Brown won Most Valuable Player accolades with a record 1,863 yards rushing.
In 1964, the Browns went 10–3–1 and reached their first title game in seven years. They throttled the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 27–0, with receiver Gary Collins catching three touchdown passes to earn the MVP award. The following year, the Browns again reached the title game, but came up short against the Green Bay Packers.
That 1965 title game marked the final game in a Browns uniform for Jim Brown. During the start of the subsequent training camp, Brown was in England filming scenes for The Dirty Dozen due to production delays, and on July 14, Brown announced his retirement from football to concentrate on his acting career. The Browns were able to blunt the effect of Brown's departure with the emergence of third-year running back Leroy Kelly, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the next three seasons, leading the league during the latter two years.
After missing out on the postseason in 1966, the Browns rebounded with a 9–5 season the following year. However, they were quickly eliminated by the Dallas Cowboys, 52–14 in the first round of the playoffs for the Eastern Conference title. In each of the next two seasons, the Browns took revenge on the Cowboys in the playoffs, winning by scores of 31–20 in 1968 and 38–14 in 1969. However, both victories were in turn followed by stinging defeats, preventing them from reaching the Super Bowl.
In May 1969, the Browns, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Colts, agreed to move in 1970 to the postmerger American Football Conference. Inconsistent performances throughout the 1970 campaign proved to be fatal to postseason hopes as the team finished one game behind Paul Brown's upstart Cincinnati Bengals with a 7–7 record. Late in the 1970 season, Collier officially announced his retirement due to increased hearing problems, and was replaced by the team's offensive coordinator Nick Skorich.
Skorich led the Browns to a division title in 1971 and a wild-card berth in 1972. In the latter year, the Browns battled the undefeated Miami Dolphins before losing 20–14, as the Dolphins went on to capture their first Super Bowl title with a spotless 17–0 mark. In 1973, the Browns were handicapped by a struggling offense, but remained in contention until the closing weeks of the season, finishing with a 7–5–2 record.
However, the team's era of success came to a crashing halt as it dropped to 4–10 in 1974. Neither quarterback Mike Phipps nor rookie Brian Sipe was effective behind center; they threw 24 combined interceptions to only 10 touchdowns. The Browns allowed 344 points, most in the league. It was only the second losing season in franchise history, and it cost Skorich his job.
Assistant coach Forrest Gregg took over in 1975, but the Browns stumbled out of the gate 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 Pruitt paced 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 record in 1976 as Brian Sipe firmly took control at quarterback. Sipe had been inserted into the lineup after a Phipps injury in the season-opening win against the New York Jets on September 12. After a 1–3 start brought visions of another disastrous year, the Browns jolted the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Steelers with an 18–16 victory on October 10. Third-string quarterback Dave Mays helped lead the team to that victory, while defensive end Joe "Turkey" Jones' pile-driving sack of Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw fueled 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. The Browns rattled off wins over the Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers, before a 21–6 loss to their cross-state rivals, the Paul Brown-owned Bengals. The Browns rebounded and picked up wins over the Houston Oilers, Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, and a second victory over Houston, giving the Browns a series sweep for the season. A 39–14 blow out loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the regular season finale cost them a share of the division title, but running back Pruitt continued his outstanding play by rushing for exactly 1,000 yards, his second-straight four-digit season. Sipe finished the season completing 178 passes in 312 attempts, for 2,113 yards. He also had 17 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions.
The Browns continued to roll in the first half of the 1977 season, but an injury to Sipe by Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert on November 13 proved 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 Modzelewski served as interim coach in the team's 20–19 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
On December 27, 1977, Sam Rutigliano was named head coach, and he aided a healthy Sipe in throwing 21 touchdowns and garnering 2,900 yards during the 1978 NFL season. Greg Pruitt and Mike Pruitt (no relation) led a rushing attack that gained almost 2,500 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 Grogan of 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 1,294 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 going 3–3 in the first six games, 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 Vikings on the last play when a Hail Mary pass was tipped into the waiting hands of Ahmad Rashād. Sipe passed for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns with only 14 interceptions (enough for him to be named the NFL MVP), behind an offensive line that sent three members to the Pro Bowl: Doug Dieken, Tom DeLeone, and Joe DeLamielleure. The "Kardiac Kids" name stuck. A fourth-quarter field goal by Don Cockroft in the final game against the Bengals helped the Browns capture the division with an 11–5 mark, with the Oakland Raiders their opponent in the team's first playoff game in eight years. However, a heartbreaking end to this dramatic season came in the closing seconds when Rutigliano called what became known as "Red Right 88" and had Sipe pass 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.
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 1,004 yards receiving for six touchdowns.
In 1982, Sipe split 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 again 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 3,566 yards, while Mike Pruitt ran for 10 scores on 1,184 yards. Cleveland even won two games in overtime and another in the fourth quarter. A fourth-quarter loss to the Oilers in 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.
In 1984, a rebuilding year, Brian Sipe had defected to the upstart United States Football League after the 1983 season, and Paul McDonald was named the starting quarterback. Mike Pruitt missed much of the season and later ended up with the Buffalo Bills. Coach Sam Rutigliano lost his job after a 1–7 start as Marty Schottenheimer took over. The Browns coasted to a 5–11 record.
In 1985, the Browns selected University of Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar in the supplemental draft. As a rookie, Kosar learned through trial by fire as he took over for Gary Danielson midway 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 ten games Kosar started. Two young rushers, Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack, played a large part in the team's success, as well; each ran for 1,000+ yards. The Browns' 8–8 record gave the team the top spot in a weak AFC Central, and they looked poised to shock the heavily favored Miami Dolphins in the divisional 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 Browns' 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 one of the league's stingiest defenses featuring five Pro Bowlers (Chip Banks, Hanford Dixon, Bob Golic, Clay Matthews, and Frank Minnifield), the Browns dominated the AFC Central with the best record in the AFC and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In the divisional playoffs, 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 third and 24 situation. Mark Gastineau was called for roughing the passer, which gave Cleveland a first down. The drive ended with Kevin Mack running into the end zone for a touchdown. After going three-and-out, the 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 Moseley kicked 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 what had become the second-longest game in NFL history, a 23–20 victory for the Browns.
In the 1986 AFC championship game, the Denver Broncos arrived in the windswept, hostile confines of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. No one knew at the time, but the Broncos would become Cleveland's nemesis of the Kosar era, having only lost once to the Browns in a span that still continues to this day. As with the divisional playoffs of the previous week, the AFC title game would also prove to be an overtime heart-stopper. But this time, John Elway and the Broncos came away the victors. Pinned in on the Denver two-yard line with 5:11 left to play and the wind in his face, Elway embarked on his now-famous 98-yard march downfield, which is now known by NFL historians as simply "the Drive". With 34 seconds on the clock, Elway's five-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 left upright to win the game 23–20 for Denver early into overtime.
The Browns' success was replicated in 1987, with 22 touchdown passes and 3,000 yards for Kosar and eight Pro Bowlers (Kosar, Mack, Dixon, Golic, Minnifield, linebacker Clay Matthews, wide receiver Gerald McNeil, and offensive lineman Cody Risien). Cleveland won another AFC Central crown with a 10–5 record and easily defeated the Indianapolis Colts 38–21 in the divisional playoff to set up a rematch with the Broncos in the AFC championship game, this time in Denver. With the score 21–3 in favor of the Broncos at halftime, Kosar led a third-quarter comeback with two touchdowns by Earnest Byner and another by Reggie Langhorne. Early in the fourth quarter, Webster Slaughter's four-yard touchdown catch tied the game at 31–31. The Broncos regained the lead with a 20-yard Sammy Winder touchdown with less than five minutes to go, setting the stage for one final drive by the Browns. Kosar drove the Browns to the Broncos' 8-yard line with 1:12 to go, and handed off to Byner. Just when it looked like he had an open route to the end zone, Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille stripped him of the ball. The Broncos recovered what became known as "The Fumble". After taking an intentional safety, the Broncos had 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 Municipal Stadium over the Houston Oilers clinched them a wild-card playoff spot and a home game rematch against the Oilers in the first round. After Mike Pagel, in for an injured Don Strock (the recently signed ex-Dolphins quarterback), threw a touchdown pass to Webster Slaughter late 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.
Schottenheimer left 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. The Kansas City Chiefs quickly hired Schottenheimer for the 1989 season. Bud Carson was his replacement in Cleveland, but his tenure was short—only one and a half years.
The 1989 season opened with the Browns defeating the rival Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh 51–0, which as of 2010 remains the most lopsided game in the rivalry, as well as the all-time worst loss for the Steelers. The rest of the season was headlined by Slaughter's Pro Bowl-worthy 1,236 yards receiving, and was a success at 7–3 until a 10–10 tie with Schottenheimer's Chiefs in November led to a three-game losing streak. Two comeback wins over the Minnesota Vikings and 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 Steelers at 9–7. The Browns narrowly survived a scare from the Buffalo Bills in their divisional playoff game, when Scott Norwood missed an extra point that would have pulled Buffalo within three points and, later, when Jim Kelly's desperation pass to the end zone on the final play of the game was intercepted by Clay Matthews.
Cleveland's 34–30 win set them up for another game with the Broncos in Denver for the AFC championship. While their two previous matchups went down to the wire, the result of this particular game was never in doubt. The Broncos led from start to finish, and a long Elway touchdown pass to Sammy Winder put the game away 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 Bowl champion New York Giants, was named head coach.
The Browns had only a slight improvement under Belichick in 1991, finishing 6–10. Kosar was markedly better, with a ratio of 18 touchdowns to nine interceptions, and Leroy Hoard had a breakout season. The next season, with Kosar sitting out much of the season and Mike Tomczak in under center, Cleveland was in the thick of the AFC Central race before dropping their final three games to finish 7–9.
The 1993 season had Belichick make the controversial decision of cutting Kosar while backup Vinny Testaverde, who had been signed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was injured. The Browns were in first place at the time and the Browns faltered as Todd Philcox became the starter. Kosar was signed by the Dallas Cowboys and a few days later led the Cowboys to a win in place of an injured Troy Aikman. Kosar won a ring that season as the Cowboys won the Super Bowl with a healthy Aikman. Cleveland won only two of its final nine games, finishing 7–9 once again.
Cleveland managed to right the ship in 1994, although the quarterback situation had not quite improved. A solid defense led the league for fewest yards allowed per attempt, sending four players (Rob Burnett, Pepper Johnson, Michael Dean Perry, and Eric Turner) to the Pro Bowl. The Browns finished 11–5, making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. In the AFC wild card game against the New England Patriots, the Browns' defense picked off Drew Bledsoe three 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.
Modell announced on November 6, 1995, that he had signed a deal to relocate the Browns to Baltimore in 1996—a move which would return the NFL to Baltimore for the first time since the Colts relocated to Indianapolis after the 1983 season. The very next day, on November 7, 1995, Cleveland voters overwhelmingly approved an issue that had been placed on the ballot at 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. Taxpayers ultimately paid close to $300 million to demolish the old stadium and construct a new stadium for the Browns on the site of Municipal Stadium.
Browns fans reacted angrily to the news of Modell's plan to relocate the Browns. Over 100 lawsuits were filed by fans, the city of Cleveland, and a host of others. Congress held hearings on the matter. Actor/comedian Drew Carey returned to his hometown of Cleveland on November 26, 1995, to host "Fan Jam" in protest of the proposed move. A protest was held in Pittsburgh during the Browns' game there—one of the few instances that Steelers fans and Browns fans were supporting each other, as fans in Pittsburgh felt that Modell was robbing their team of their rivalry with the Browns. Virtually all of the team's sponsors immediately pulled their support, leaving Municipal Stadium devoid of advertising during the team's final weeks.
The 1995 season was a disaster on the field, as well. After starting 3–1, the Browns lost three straight. They split the next two games, but the announcement of the move to Baltimore cut the legs out from under the team. They finished 5–11, including a 1–6 record in the seven games after the announcement. Fans in the Dawg Pound became so unruly during their final home game against the Bengals that all offensive plays had to be run from the opposite end of the field. Rows of empty seats were torn from the stadium and thrown on the field. Stalls and sinks in the restrooms were torn from the walls. Several fans set fires in the stands, especially in the "Dawg Pound" section, and assaulted security officials and police officers who tried to quench the growing fires. The Browns won their final home game. Belichick was fired by Modell by telephone in February 1996, exactly one week after the switch to Baltimore was made official. The new team became the Baltimore Ravens.
After extensive talks between the NFL, the Browns, and officials of the two cities, Cleveland accepted a legal settlement that would keep the Browns legacy in Cleveland. In February 1996, the NFL announced the Browns would be 'deactivated' for three years, and a new stadium would be built for a new Browns team, as either an expansion team or a team moved from another city, that would begin play in 1999. Modell would, in turn, be granted a new franchise, the NFL's 31st, for Baltimore, the Baltimore Ravens, retaining the current contracts of players and personnel. The Browns ceased play at the end of the 1995 season when Modell relocated the organization to Baltimore. The Browns franchise was then reactivated, and its roster restocked by an expansion draft before resuming play in the 1999 season. The team would be new, but the Browns' name, colors, history, records, awards, and archives would all remain in Cleveland. The move fueled a proliferation of 12 new stadiums throughout the NFL. Using the NFL–City of Cleveland agreement's promise to supply a team to Cleveland by 1999, several NFL franchises used the threat of relocation to coerce their respective cities to build new stadiums with public funds.
Cleveland NFL Football LLC (Cleveland Browns Trust) was formed by the NFL. The president of the trust was Bill Futterer, and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was the trustee. The trust represented the NFL in the stadium design and construction, managed the sale of suites and club seats, and sold permanent seat licenses and season tickets. Additionally, the trust reorganized the Browns Backers fan clubs across the United States, resumed coaches' shows on television and radio throughout the state of Ohio, and conducted a dramatic one-year countdown celebration that incorporated the first live Internet broadcast in NFL history. The trust operated its campaign under a "Countdown to '99" theme, using Hall of Famers such as Lou Groza and Jim Brown extensively, and sold nearly 53,000 season tickets—a team record in 1998. It remains the only time in professional American football history that a league operated a team in absentia to preserve the history of the franchise and to build value in that franchise for the future owner. The NFL sold the Browns as an expansion team in 1998 to former Browns minority owner Al Lerner. The purchase price was a then- North American record $530 million, more than double any previous selling price for a professional sports team. Commissioner Tagliabue announced that the Browns would be an expansion team, rather than a relocated team, at the owners' meeting in March 1998.
Officially, the National Football League, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Browns, and Ravens all recognize the current Browns team as a continuation of the team founded in 1946. The Ravens 1998 Fan and Media Guide referred to longtime staffers as having worked for "the Modell organization" before the Ravens were created in 1996.
Cleveland returned to the NFL in 1999 with high hopes and expectations, featuring deep-pocketed ownership in Al Lerner. The team's football operations appeared to be in solid hands in the form of president and CEO Carmen Policy and general manager Dwight Clark, both of whom had come from the San Francisco 49ers. Chris Palmer, former offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars, was hired as head coach. The team was rebuilt from a special expansion draft and the regular NFL draft; the latter included the number one selection, QB Tim Couch.
The resurrected Browns were expected to struggle at first, as for all practical purposes, they were an expansion team. However, the Browns' first two seasons were awful even by expansion standards. The 1999 season started with a home game against the rival Steelers on ESPN Sunday Night Football, with Cleveland native Drew Carey participating in the opening-game coin toss. However, that was the only highlight for the Browns that night. The Steelers beat the Browns 43–0 in their first game back. It was the team's worst shutout loss ever, topped later only by a 48–0 loss to Jacksonville on December 3, 2000.
The 1999 season Browns start was 0–7 en route to a 2–14 finish, the worst in franchise history until 2016. The 2000 season was slightly better, with a 3–13 finish—the lone highlight being the Browns' first home win in five years, against the Steelers on September 17. Compounding the fans' frustration was the Baltimore Ravens' win over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV that season. Though the Ravens were considered a "new franchise", the team still had players such as Matt Stover and Rob Burnett, who had played for the Browns before the Modell move. Palmer was fired after the season and replaced by University of Miami coach Butch Davis.
Under Davis, the Browns became more competitive, finishing 7–9 in 2001, three games out of the playoffs. With the team apparently close to being a contender again, Clark was forced to resign after the season, and Davis was named general manager, as well as coach. In 2002, the Browns finished 9–7, and due to multiple tiebreakers, made the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Facing Pittsburgh in the first round, the Browns led 33–21 with five minutes to go, but ultimately lost 36–33. Their largest lead in the game was 17 points—they led 24–7 in the third quarter; after that, the Steelers outscored them 29–9. Also during the 2002 season, owner Al Lerner died on October 2, and ownership then was taken over by his son Randy.
The Browns could not sustain the momentum from 2002, finishing with double-digit losing records in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. Davis resigned November 30, 2004, with the team shouldering a 3–8 record; Policy had resigned earlier in the year. Offensive Coordinator Terry Robiskie was named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2004 season.
Before the 2005 season began, Romeo Crennel, a one-time Browns assistant coach under Chris Palmer and, at the time, defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, was named the Browns head coach. The team also hired Phil Savage – who had been Ravens VP/GM Ozzie Newsome's top aide – as a new general manager. But despite the changes, the Browns losing trend continued for 2005 and 2006, with records of 6–10 and 4–12, respectively. Prior to the Browns' final game of the 2005 season, ESPN reported that team president John Collins was going to fire Savage. However, the resulting uproar from fans and local media was strong, and on January 3, 2006, Collins resigned instead. The role of team "President and CEO" was vacated until 2008, with owner Randy Lerner filling in as de facto CEO until Michael Keenan was hired.
In the 2007 season, the team had a remarkable turnaround on the field. After opening the season with a 34–7 defeat by the Steelers, the Browns traded starting quarterback Charlie Frye to 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, tying the franchise record of five touchdown passes in a single game. The Browns finished the 2007 season a surprising 10–6, but missed the playoffs due to a tie-breaker. Nevertheless, the record was the team's best since 1994. Six players earned Pro Bowl recognition, with Anderson starting for the AFC in place of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Coach Crennel agreed to a two-year contract extension.
The Browns entered the 2008 season with high expectations, and many pundits predicted the team would win the division. The highlight of the season was an upset of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Monday Night Football. However, inconsistent play and key injuries led to a disappointing 4–12 record. The Browns ended up using four starting quarterbacks during the season: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, and Ken Dorsey were lost to injury; the fourth, Bruce Gradkowski, was signed midseason. Ending with six straight losses, the Browns finished with a franchise-first two consecutive shutouts. Savage and Crennel were subsequently fired.
On January 5, 2009, the Browns hired former New York Jets coach Eric Mangini as head coach. Mangini, who started his career as a ballboy in Cleveland, worked as an assistant under former Browns coach Bill Belichick until becoming head coach of the Jets in 2006. On January 25, the team hired George Kokinis as the team's general manager. The Browns continued to struggle as they became accustomed to a completely new coaching staff. Throughout the preseason, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson competed for the starting quarterback position. Quinn ended up winning the job, but after three games marked by team inconsistency (and an 0–3 record), he was benched in favor of Anderson. On November 1, the team announced the firing of GM Kokinis after only eight regular-season games (and a 1–7 record), with his duties essentially being assumed by Mangini. Soon afterwards, Mangini decided that a quarterback switch was to be made again, and Quinn given the starting job back. After being 1–11 at the three-quarters point in the season, the team went on a four-game winning streak and finished with a record of 5–11, highlighted by the team beating the Steelers after 12 consecutive losses against their rival.
On December 21, 2009, as Mangini's first season was coming to a close, former Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren was hired as team president and was given authority over the team's football operations. This hire was made after Browns owner Randy Lerner announced he wished to bring in a "serious, credible leader" to steer the team in the right direction. After much public speculation by the media that Holmgren and Mangini would not be able to coexist, Holmgren announced the retention of Mangini and the entire coaching staff for the 2010 season. The following week, Holmgren hired former Philadelphia Eagles general manager Tom Heckert to become the new GM for the Browns.
After taking control as president, Holmgren decided to release Anderson and trade away Quinn (getting back eventual 1,100+ yard rusher and fan favorite running back Peyton Hillis in return). He signed veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who had led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003, along with veteran backup Seneca Wallace from the Seattle Seahawks. During the 2010 draft, the team of Holmgren, Heckert, and Mangini focused mostly on improving the team's defensive secondary, although they also managed to acquire the University of Texas's Colt McCoy in the third round; McCoy has the most recorded wins as a starting quarterback in NCAA history.
Despite heading into the 2010 season with an overall sense of optimism, the Browns started off poorly. They set an NFL record when they lost their first three games after leading in the fourth quarter. They finally won their first game against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 4. However, both Delhomme and Wallace injured their ankles over the first five games, forcing Colt McCoy to start in week 6 against the Steelers, though Mike Holmgren stated he would sit and learn the entire season. Though McCoy lost his first NFL start against the Steelers, he was able to win the following week when the Browns upset the defending Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. With this victory, the Browns defeated the defending Super Bowl Champions three years in a row, becoming the seventh NFL team to achieve this feat. The Browns continued this positive streak by outplaying the New England Patriots for a 34–14 victory in their next game. However, they lost to the New York Jets in overtime the following week, despite a late fourth-quarter, game-tying touchdown drive by McCoy. On January 3, 2011, after losing four games in a row to end the season, Holmgren and the Browns decided to fire head coach Eric Mangini, who posted a record of 10–22 in his two seasons as head coach. Eleven days later, Holmgren signed St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to become the new head coach, and former Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears head coach Dick Jauron as their defensive coordinator.
While potentially hamstrung in attempts to install a new offensive system by the NFL lockout, the Browns played through the first half of the 2011 season at or near the bottom of the league in almost every offensive category. Starting several rookies, Shurmur's team was frequently beset by confusion in personnel and play-calling at critical junctures. Early in the year, the defense surrendered a touchdown on a failure to break the defensive huddle, and the team's chances in several games were compromised by a host of special-teams mistakes and meltdowns. At the midpoint of the season, in a telling series in which Shurmur called for a conservative ball-protection strategy, the Browns recovered their own fumble resulting from a mistakenly called handoff to a third-string tight end lined up at fullback, only to botch a short go-ahead field goal attempt with a failed snap and uncoordinated line movement.
The Browns went 4–12 in Shumur's first season, including losing six in a row to end the 2011 campaign. During that same season, comedian and frustrated Browns fan Mike Polk made a video to complain about the team's futility, screaming "You are a factory of sadness!" to the Browns' home stadium; the colloquial "Factory of Sadness" name for the stadium has stuck ever since.
New owner Jimmy Haslam announced on October 16, 2012, that Holmgren would stay on through the 2012 season in a lesser role (though still officially listed as president), and would then retire. On November 25, CBS reported and the Browns confirmed Holmgren would officially step down following the Browns 20–14 win over the Steelers.
After two seasons of inconsistent play and numerous off the field incidents, Manziel was waived by the team on March 11, 2016. In July 2012, owner Randy Lerner announced he planned to sell the Browns to businessman Jimmy Haslam. The sale was finalized on August 2, 2012, in excess of $1 billion. Haslam officially was approved as the new owner on October 16, 2012, at the NFL owners' meetings, and the very next day former Eagles president Joe Banner was named as the Browns' new CEO.
The Browns began the 2012 season by losing their first five games. Having lost their last six games to end the 2011 season, this marked an 11-game losing streak, tied for the longest in team history with the 1974–75 teams. On October 12, the Browns defeated the Bengals 34–24 in Cleveland, behind two touchdown passes from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden (on his 29th birthday) to end the streak. On December 31, 2012, head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert were fired. Shurmur went 9–23 in his two seasons as head coach.
After interviewing numerous candidates such as Chip Kelly and Ken Whisenhunt, the Browns decided to hire former offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, Rob Chudzinski, on January 10, 2013.
On January 15, 2013, Haslam / Banner announced the naming rights to Cleveland Browns Stadium were sold to FirstEnergy, and the stadium would be renamed FirstEnergy Stadium. The name change officially received Cleveland City Council approval on February 15, 2013.
On January 18, 2013, the Browns hired Michael Lombardi – who had a previous stint with the Browns in the player personnel department in the 1980s and 90s – as Vice President of Player Personnel (two months later he was officially given the title of general manager), making him Tom Heckert's replacement.
The Browns would finish with a 4-12 record in the first season under the new regime, finishing last in the AFC North Division, and losing seven in a row to finish the 2013 campaign. Following the 2013 season finale on December 29, 2013, the Browns fired Chudzinski after only one year as head coach.
On January 24, 2014, the Browns hired Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as the 15th full-time head coach in team history.
On February 11, 2014 the Browns announced that Lombardi would be replaced by Ray Farmer as GM, and that Joe Banner would resign as CEO.
In the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Browns selected cornerback Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State with the eighth pick, and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M with the 22nd overall pick.
Beginning in the 2014 season, the Browns use a live bullmastiff named "Swagger" as their new mascot.
On October 5, 2014, the Browns staged the largest rally in team history, when after trailing the Tennessee Titans 28-3 with 1:09 left in the second quarter, Cleveland scored 26 unanswered points to win the game 29-28. This was also the largest rally by a road team in NFL history. After a 7-4 start, the Browns would lose their final five games to finish the 2014 season at 7-9, last in the AFC North.
In February 2015, the team made headlines when two high-profile players were in the news due to substance abuse issues. On Monday February 2, it was announced quarterback Johnny Manziel had checked himself into a treatment center, reportedly for alcoholism. The following day, wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for the 2015 season due to failing a drug test.
On February 28, it was revealed that former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown had signed a three-year deal with the Browns.
On March 30, the NFL announced that Browns general manager Ray Farmer would be suspended for the first four regular season games, and that the team would be fined $250,000 (U.S.) for Farmer text messaging the coaching staff during games in the 2014 season, which is against NFL rules. The story had been dubbed "Textgate" due to its scandalous nature.
On April 14 at a ceremony at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, the team unveiled their new uniforms. They feature brown, white, and orange jerseys along with brown, white, and orange pants that can be worn in any combination. Unique features include the word "Cleveland" across the front of the jersey, the word "Browns" going down the pant leg, and the words "Dawg Pound" on the inside collar - all first of their kind features on NFL uniforms. Browns President Alec Scheiner compared these new jerseys to those of the Oregon Ducks football team, as the Ducks are known for their various uniform combinations.
In the 2015 NFL draft, the Browns had two first round picks, selecting nose tackle Danny Shelton from Washington at #12, and offensive lineman Cameron Erving from Florida State at #19.
On September 8, 2015, the Browns announced that they indefinitely suspended offensive line coach Andy Moeller after an alleged domestic assault incident at his home during Labor Day weekend. This meant that at the beginning of the 2015 regular season, the team had a player (Josh Gordon), a coach (Moeller), and a front office executive (Ray Farmer) all suspended for various league and legal infractions. Moeller would subsequently be fired on September 29.
After starting 2-3, the Browns lost 10 of their last 11 games to finish the 2015 season at 3-13. This stretch included a 33-27 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens in which Ravens safety Will Hill return a blocked field goal 64 yards for a touchdown on the game's final play. The Browns lost at home 37-3 to the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals the following week, dropping the team´s record to 2-10 and making them the first team in the 2015 season to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. On January 3, 2016, soon after the final game of the season (a 28-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers), both Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine were fired from their respective positions as GM and head coach.
In January 2016, the Browns made headlines when after firing Farmer and Pettine, promoted general counsel Sashi Brown to Executive VP of Football Operations, and hired longtime baseball executive Paul DePodesta as chief strategy officer. These moves were viewed nationally as the Browns trying to take a more analytics intensive approach to building the team, taking a page from the "Moneyball" style of Major League Baseball teams like the Oakland Athletics - of which DePodesta helped pioneer during his time as an assistant to Athletics GM Billy Beane. With Brown essentially taking over GM duties, this marks the fourth different head of personnel (either as GM or similar job title) under the Haslam ownership era, which began in 2012.
On January 13, 2016, the Browns hired Bengals offensive coordinator (and former Oakland head coach) Hue Jackson as head coach - making him the eighth full-time head coach since the team's return in 1999 and fourth since 2012, when the Haslam ownership era began.
On January 28, the Browns hired Andrew Berry - a longtime scout with the Indianapolis Colts - as VP of Personnel. Berry, being a Harvard alumnus like DePodesta and Sashi Brown, has been noted as furthering the Browns new analytic approach, and the trio has been dubbed as the "Harvard Connection" (and other similar monikers) by local and national media.
On March 4, team president Alex Scheiner announced he would be stepping down from his post effective March 31, and would remain with the team as a consultant for the rest of the year. With this move, Paul DePodesta essentially became the top ranked executive of the team in his role as Chief Strategy Officer. This makes DePodesta the fourth different top executive of the team under the Haslams' ownership.
On March 11, following two seasons of inconsistent play on the field and numerous highly publicized incidents off the field, the Browns waived quarterback Johnny Manziel.
On March 24, the Browns signed quarterback Robert Griffin III to a two-year contract.
Going into the 2016 NFL Draft, the Browns had the #2 overall pick. They traded that pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the #8 pick in the first round (along with various later round 2016 picks, and Philadelphia's first round pick in 2017). On draft night they traded the #8 pick to Tennessee in exchange for the #15 pick in the first round (and later round picks). With the #15 pick in the 2016 draft, the Browns selected wide receiver Corey Coleman from Baylor.
The 2016 season began with the Browns losing their first 14 games, which combined with losing their last three games in 2015, gave the team a franchise record 17 game losing streak. On December 24, in a game that has since been dubbed "The Christmas Miracle", the Browns defeated the San Diego Chargers 20-17. The Browns would lose their last game of the season to finish 1-15 - the worst record in team history. With that final game loss, the Browns clinched the #1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, with which the Browns selected Myles Garrett, a defensive end from Texas A&M.
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