Most modern-day NFL football fans are familiar with the dynasty of the New England Patriots from 2001 to 2018. The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, the SF 49ers of the 1980s, and the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. They might even be familiar with the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s.
But only the genuinely hard-core football historian knows how good the Cleveland Browns were from 1946 to 1973. If not for one bad season in 1956, the Browns would have gone 27 years without a losing season. The Dallas Cowboys hold the record with twenty in a row.
The Browns franchise dates back to 1946, when they played in the All-American Football Conference. During their four years of play in that league, they won 52 games, lost only four, and tied three times. In 1948, they had a perfect season, going 15–0!
Cleveland Browns Join NFL Ranks
When the Browns joined the NFL in 1950, critics said the team would falter now that they were playing in a superior league. The Browns responded by winning all five of their preseason games. From there, they destroyed the defending NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles 35-10 in the opening regular season game.
The Eagles Coach Greasy Neale had difficulty giving the Browns proper credit for the victory, stating, “The Browns rely on the pass like a basketball team.” Those words would come back to haunt him.
The following week, Cleveland beat the Colts 31–0 and finished the regular season with a 10–2 record. On December 3rd, the Browns played the Eagles in a rematch. Remembering the words of Greasy Neale, Paul Brown ordered his players not to throw a single pass. Cleveland had only one first down the entire game and gained a total of 69 yards.
But they won the game 13–7 by playing great defense and forcing four Eagles turnovers.
The Browns played the New York Giants in the playoff game and won 8–3. On Christmas Eve, the Browns defeated the LA Rams 30–28 to win the NFL Championship. That put an end to talk of the AAFC being an inferior league.
Cleveland went 11–1 in 1951 but lost the NFL Championship game to the Rams 24–17. Quarterback Otto Graham won the NFL MVP, and Paul Brown won “Coach of the Year.”
Browns - Rest of the 1950s
The Browns would return to the NFL Championship in 1952 and 1953, but they lost to the Detroit Lions both times. Otto Graham and Paul Brown won NFL MVP and “Coach of the Year” again in 1953.
Cleveland got their revenge against the Lions in 1954 with a resounding 56–10 victory to claim their second NFL title. In 1955, the Browns returned to the Championship game for the 6th year (10th in a row, including their four years in the AAFC). They beat the Rams 38–14 for their third NFL title. Otto Graham also won his third NFL MVP.
Graham retired during the offseason, and the Browns were not the same team without him. They finished the 1956 season with a disappointing 5–7 record. But they bounced back the following year, reaching the NFL Championship game for the seventh time in eight years.
They played Detroit, and the Lions hadn’t forgotten the beating the Browns gave them two years earlier. Detroit got their revenge with a 59–14 victory. Jim Brown won Rookie of the Year and NFL MVP.
The Browns finished the 1958 season with a 9–3 record, and Jim Brown won the MVP again. But they lost their playoff game to the New York Giants, and their season ended. They had an off year in 1959, finishing 7–5.
The Browns in the 1960s
Over the next four years, the team went 33-18–3 but failed to reach the Championship game. In 1963, Blanton Collier took over as head coach, and Jim Brown won his third NFL MVP. They returned to the NFL title game in 1964. Their opponent was the powerful Baltimore Colts, who were heavily favored to win this game. But someone forgot to tell the Browns, who blasted the Colts 27–0 to win their fourth NFL title.
Cleveland had another excellent season in 1965, finishing with an 11–3 record. They played the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship game but lost 23–12. Jim Brown won the NFL MVP for the fourth time in his career.
Brown retired before the start of the 1966 season. Losing the best running back in football was a huge loss, but they did have future Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly to take his place.
The Browns finished 9–5 in 1966, but it wasn’t good enough to qualify for the playoffs. They finished 9–5 again in 1967; it was good enough to reach the playoffs. But they took a terrible beating at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. The final score was 52–14!
In 1968, they went 10–4 and avenged their loss to the Cowboys, beating them 31–20 in the playoffs. Cleveland was one game away from going to their first Super Bowl, but they were crushed by the Colts 34–0.
The team went 10–3–1 in 1969 and beat the Cowboys again in the playoffs, this time 38–14. Browns fans had high hopes for their first NFL title since 1964, but those hopes were dashed by the Minnesota Vikings 27–7.
Rest of the Browns Dynasty (Early 70s)
After thirteen winning seasons in a row, the Browns finished 7–7 in 1970. In 1971, they went 9–5 but lost to the Colts 20–3 in the playoffs. In 1972, they went 10–4 and came close to spoiling the Miami Dolphins perfect season. They were ahead 14–13 in the fourth quarter before losing 20–14.
In 1973, the Browns finished the season 7–5–2. From 1974 to 1985, the team had only four winning seasons. The dynasty was over.
From 1946 to 1973, the Browns had 26 winning seasons, only one losing season, and one season with a .500 record. They played in eight playoff games, four AAFC Championships, and eleven NFL Championships. They won four AAFC titles and four NFL titles.
Fourteen Browns players and one coach from that era are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fullbacks Jim Brown and Marion Motley, running back Leroy Kelly, halfback & flanker Bobby Mitchell. Receivers Max Speedie, Dante Lavelli, and Paul Warfield. Quarterback Otto Graham, center Frank Gatski, guard Gene Hickerson, tackles Mike McCormick and Lou Groza (also their kicker). Defensive ends Len Ford, Bill Willis, and coach Paul Brown.
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Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond. He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area.
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