Today, there’s no question about it: Being a Cleveland Browns fan is a tall order. In fact, most Cleveland teams have let us down for more than a generation. The city’s only championship since President Johnson was from the Cavaliers in 2016. However, gray-haired grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles can remember a time when Cleveland was a city of champions.
My hometown Browns haven’t won a world championship since 1964 when the Jim Brown and Frank Ryan-led Browns crushed John Unitas and the Baltimore Colts 27-0 at Municipal Stadium. That was almost 54 years ago and I barely remember that fateful day in ’64. Yet each year hope springs eternal in Cleveland. We pray that the draft is finally finished. Today, I live in Southern California, but I continue to passionately support the Browns, Cavaliers and Indians 2,000 miles away.
Cleveland was “Browns Town” during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Play began for the Browns at the old stadium in ’46 in the newly formed All-America Football Conference, rivals to the NFL. Behind the leadership of coach Paul Brown and led by the play of Graham, Groza, Lavelli, Motley and Speedie, the Browns created one of the great dynasties in football. The Browns completely dominated the AAFC by winning every title in the league’s existence between 1946 and 1949. Cleveland ruled alone. After the demise of the AAFC in ’49, the Browns and two other teams migrated to the NFL. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Browns played an incredible 10 NFL championship games. They won three titles between 1950 and 1955 and consecutive crowns in ’54 and ’55. The 1950s were a glorious decade for Cleveland sports. The Browns rolled opponents. We were a city of champions. The team’s regular season winning percentage of .746 in the ’50s was dominant. Over the next several decades, no team has matched Cleveland’s winning percentage, not the Packers (.721) in the ’60s, not the Steelers (.692) or Cowboys (.729) in the ’70s, not the 49ers in the ’70s. ’80s (.695) or ’90s (.706).
The Indians were also excellent in the late ’40s and ’50s: They won the ’48 Series over the Boston Braves behind the Lou Boudreau-managed club, but fell short in the ’54 Series against Willie Mays and the New York Giants. York. Cleveland had a big release in those days, starring Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Satchel Paige. Third baseman Al Rosen and shortstop Boudreau helped spark the offense. Rosen would go on to win AL MVP in ’53 by hitting .336, smashing 43 home runs, and driving in 145 RBIs.
During the 1960s, my father collected some of my fondest memories after Sunday religious school at University Circle and headed to Municipal Stadium in time for the 1:00 p.m. kickoffs. he could feel the electricity in the air; a sense the Browns wouldn’t want, couldn’t lose. And usually they didn’t. Even after their last NFL championship in ’64, the Browns played three more NFL title games in the ’60s, losing to the Packers in ’65, the Colts in ’68 and the Vikings in ’69. that period from 1965 to 1969, the Browns’ regular season total record was 49-20-1; close to the best in the game.
Fast-forward two decades and the Browns came within a few yards of reaching the Super Bowl by losing three AFC championships to the Denver Broncos in the ’80s. “The Drive” and “The Fumble” still shake our souls.
Today, the Browns are belly-floppers. They live in NFL purgatory and seemingly never-ending rise. The team’s record over the past two seasons is 1-28 for an abysmal .034 winning percentage. Jokes are made about them weekly across the country. Browns ghosts of legends past are now taking antacids. Our prayers for a championship have been derailed and frankly haven’t been answered since ’64. I just hope the Browns can get out of their hellish mess so my contemporaries and I can enjoy at least one more Cleveland Browns championship in the next 54 years. After that, all bets are off.