Time to Meet the Browns

February 15, 2010
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      This is going to be my last football column for awhile.

      Frankly, I had assumed that last week’s column was going to be my last football column for awhile.   But after all, February is such a dry month for sports.   Let’s all be honest about that.   Football is done, baseball hasn’t started yet, pro basketball teams are just trying to stay healthy for the playoffs, college basketball teams are looking ahead to March Madness, tennis is between majors, golf is dry and bracing for a Tigerless Masters, it’s too cold for meaningful horse racing, and even Little League has a couple of weeks to go before opening day.   And soccer and hockey don’t count.   So it’s back to football for one more week.

      Here’s what got me thinking football.  (again)

      During the last two seasons, the NFL has entertained and inspired us with two outstanding “rags-to-riches” stories.   First it was the Cardinals, the most pathetic and long-suffering franchise in league history, finally embracing excellence for the first time in about 60 years (literally), riding Kurt Warner’s magical right arm all the way to the Super Bowl and almost winning.   And then this year, even better.   The Saints.   Thanks to forty years of failure and a hurricane, they are suddenly America’s Team.   Amazingly, the same team whose fans used to watch the games with paper bags over their heads made it to the Super Bowl, and won.

      These were both immensely satisfying and heartwarming stories.   The Cards had won but one NFL title in their nearly-ninety years, and the Saints, forty-three years young, had never won a thing.   But that’s exactly what got me to thinking.   Neither of these teams had really ever been any good, neither has a legacy of greatness, they are franchises rife with nothing but failure.   So there was no redemption, no re-affirmation of something once sublime but recently beset by ill fortune.   In other words, wouldn’t it be great—great as in better—if next year’s Super Bowl is graced with the presence of a franchise that had once been mighty, had once been steeped in nothing but success, but then suffered a long and agonizing period of abject despair and failure, and then, somehow, managed to reach back into its own past to reclaim its rightful place within the pantheon of gridiron champions?

      Yes it would.   And I have just the vehicle to drive us there.

      The Cleveland Browns.

      Please don’t laugh.   A little respect, please.   The Browns weren’t always like this.   From 1946 to 1964 they were one of football’s proudest organizations….and BY FAR the most successful.   One of the founding members of the All American Football Conference, the Browns won all four AAFC championships in that league’s brief existence.   In 1948 they went 15-0, nobody even knows that.   They frequently offered to play NFL teams in exhibitions to showcase their talent, but for fear of being defeated by a team from a “lesser” league they were always refused.

      Then, in 1949, the AAFC folded.   The Browns (who, by the way, derive their team name from their first general manager and head coach, the legendary Paul Brown) were instantly amalgamated into the NFL, along with the two other top AAFC teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Colts.   And speaking of instantly, in 1950 the Browns won their first NFL championship in their very first year in the more established league.   They made it back to the title game each of the next three years, only to lose to the L.A. Rams and twice, narrowly, to the Detroit Lions, but then destroyed the Lions for the title in 1954 by a score of 56-10.   Revenge was just as sweet the following year, as the Browns thrashed the Rams 38-14 in the championship game in ‘55.   Therefore, in their first ten seasons of existence, the Browns made it to the AAFC or NFL title game ALL TEN TIMES, and won seven of them.   There has never been a run of success like that in professional football, and there never will be again.

      But then, right before the 1956 season, their quarterback, Otto Graham, one of the half dozen best quarterbacks to ever play the game, retired.   So much for championships for awhile.

      However, the good times were not over for the Browns.   In 1957 they drafted a running back out of Syracuse named Jim Brown.   Jim Brown was greatness in shoulder pads.   I mean right off the bat you just have to love the snap and symmetry of a great back named Brown coached by a guy named Brown while playing for the Browns!   Only in America.   And simply put, Jim Brown is (in the Sports Philosopher’s humble though decidedly expert opinion) the greatest football player of all time.   His 5.22 yards per carry is by far the highest ever.   He is the only back to ever rush for over 100 yards per game over his entire career.   In 1963 he became the only back to ever rush for over 150 yards per game for a full season (1863 yards in only 12 games) , and in his nine years in the league he led the league in rushing eight times.   And he did all this while going up against defenses designed and dedicated exclusively to stopping him.    Remarkable.

      Riding Brown’s broad back the Browns brought back big-time championship football to Cleveland, crushing the Colts in the 1964 title game 27-0.   That game essentially marked the end of the pre-Super-Bowl era.   In 1965 Green Bay took over, winning the first of three straight NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls.   Jim Brown retired.   And the Browns haven’t won a thing since.

      So what the hell happened?


      Well, lots of stuff.   Bad draft picks, bad quarterbacks, bad luck, bad karma.   And the Denver Broncos.

      Ah, the Broncos.  The bane of Browns fans everywhere.   Cleveland came close to Super Bowl glory three times in the 80s, reaching the AFC title game after the ’86. ’87, and ’89 seasons.   Each time they lost.   Each time they lost to the Denver Broncos.   The first one was the worst.   Cleveland was at home, the stadium was rocking, the Browns were leading 20-13 and the Broncos were backed up on their own two yard line with only five minutes to play.   Victory seemed assured.

      Enter John Elway.   The Broncos’ brilliant Hall-of-Fame quarterback engineered a masterful 98-yard drive to tie the score, and, predictably, the Broncos won in overtime, 23-20.   It was awful.   Worse yet, I got blamed for it.   By my best friend.   Dr. Paul Stanslaw of Baltimore, Maryland and, sadly, a lifelong Browns fan.   Paul blames me for the “The Drive” because earlier in the week I had made a very large bet in Las Vegas on this game, betting that there would be more than 42 points scored by both teams combined.   Paul believes to this day that my bet—a bet not on the Browns’ projected success but rather on some bizarre contrived tangent irrelevant to the actual outcome of the contest—destroyed the flow and karma of the game, and jinxed the Browns into defeat.   As if I, Brad Eastland, mild-mannered future Sports Philosopher late of Altadena, California could control the outcome of an NFL playoff game.   Perhaps more to the point, Paul knew I was rooting for Elway on that epic drive, naturally, so that after it got to 20-20 a subsequent field in overtime by either team would get me the money.   After the Broncos tied the score I tried to mollify my friend by rooting hard for the Browns in overtime (knowing that my over-42-points bet was secure no matter who won), but he’s a pretty bright guy and saw through it at once.   Oops.

      Worse yet for Paul and ‘Browns Nation’, that game also featured perhaps the unluckiest single play in NFL history.   During “The Drive” Elway was facing a difficult 3rd-and-18 situation, having just been sacked on 2nd down by the Browns’ Michael Dean Perry on the previous play.   The season was on the line.   Elway dropped back five yards behind center in “shotgun” formation.   The center snapped the ball.   However, Broncos wide receiver Steve Watson was running in motion left-to-right between the center and Elway, running perpendicular to the path of the snapped ball.   Elway had called for the snap a tad too soon, and the snapped ball actually struck Watson’s back as he ran by.   Unbelievable!   This occurrence should have been the break of the century for the Browns!   Blessed chaos should have reigned!   One of two things should have then happened: either, 1) the ball should have fallen to the ground, whereupon the Broncos might have recovered, setting up a nearly impossible all-or-nothing 4th-and 23 situation they doubtless would have failed to convert, or 2) the Browns would have recovered the fumble.   Either way the Cleveland Browns would have been in the Super Bowl.

      Neither happened.   Somehow the ball bounced off Watson yet stayed in the air, Elway’s left paw somehow snagged the errant, deflected snap, Elway planted his back foot and fired a 25-yard bullet into the gut of one of his receivers for a first down, then a couple more first downs, then the tieing touchdown, and finally the overtime field goal.   It’s been 23 years, and that’s as close as the Browns have ever come to reclaiming past glories.

      And to add insult to injury, Browns owner Art Modell announced in 1995 that he was moving the team to Baltimore in 1996.   Browns fans reacted with their usual calmness and maturity; in the season’s final home game, they tore out sinks and stalls from restrooms, tore seats from their moorings and threw them onto the field, set fires in the stands and assaulted several police officers.   During the game.

      Suddenly Cleveland was without football for three years.   Modell named his “new” team the Baltimore Ravens.   The Browns returned to Cleveland as an expansion franchise in 1999, and went 2-14.   In 2000 they posted a 3-13 record.   Yecch.   For the last twelve years they have been consistently one of the worst teams in the league.   Meanwhile, in 2000, the Baltimore Ravens, their core roster still replete with several members of the Cleveland Browns of 1995, won the Super Bowl.   That could have—and should have—been a Super Bowl victory for the Browns.   Makes me wonder why Paul would ever have moved to Baltimore in his life….

      Okay, that’s enough.   I can’t take it any more.   You get the idea.

      But alas there is Hope.   History affirms that pro football franchises can turn their fortunes around in a hurry.   A couple of good draft picks here, a free-agent signing there, it can happen unbelievably fast.   If the Cardinals can get there, if the Saints can get there, why not the Browns?   And if the Football Gods are listening, the Browns deserve a little love.   They deserve a Super Bowl more than those other two perennial sad-sacks did.   Their first 20 years of existence was the best 20-year stretch of any pro football team in history.   They deserve more than our pity.   They deserve success.

      So I say, let’s get 2010 off to a great start seven months before the first game is even played.   Let’s all get behind the Cleveland Browns’ drive to the Super Bowl.   Starting right now.   Let’s help them get to the big game.   And maybe help me to get my friend Paul off my back.   Okay?



Brad Eastland

Brad Eastland


The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, football fanatic, and sports nut, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of his best fiction work can be discovered within the links below :






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