Cleveland Browns Team History and Timeline

Updated on May 21, 2020
JesseUnk profile image

Jesse is a lifelong sports fan with a passion for finding the facts. His writing has been recognized and published by Sports Illustrated.

The Cleveland Browns became a franchise in 1946. Above is an original game day program featuring the Brownie elf mascot.
The Cleveland Browns became a franchise in 1946. Above is an original game day program featuring the Brownie elf mascot. | Source

Cleveland Browns History and Ownership

The Cleveland Browns' history began in 1944 when Arthur McBride, a successful Cleveland business owner, acquired a franchise in the All-American Football Conference. His first course of action was to hire Paul Brown as the new coach and general manager. Brown was a highly respected coach at the high school, college, and service levels. His innovation and football intelligence led to the Browns dominating the AAFC. After their creation in 1946, the Browns won four straight championships before the AAFC dissolved in 1949. During that time their record was 52-4-3. The Browns went on to win their first season entering the NFL as well, posting a record of 10–2 along the way.

How Did the Cleveland Browns Get Their Name?

Arthur McBride wanted to name the Browns in honor of Paul Brown, but Brown strongly opposed the idea. McBride decided to hold a competition to decide what the franchise would be called, resulting in the Cleveland Browns being the top choice. Brown’s opposition to the idea led to the team choosing another entry name, the Panthers, however, a local businessman owned the rights to the name from a failed former football team.

The next choice was the Cleveland Browns. Brown would often deny the team was named for him, instead of saying that the team was named after heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, also known as the Brown Bomber. He claimed the name was later shortened to Browns. This myth lived on for many decades until Brown admitted he fabricated it later in life.

Paul Brown's Influence on Football

Paul Brown is a Hall of Fame coach who is considered widely as one of the greatest coaches to ever step on a field. Not only did he amass a record of 167-53-8 while coaching the Browns, he also won four AAFC championships and three National Football League championships. Brown's accomplishments reached beyond a record number of wins, he also innovated techniques, plays, and processes that are still used in the NFL today.

He was the first coach to give his players playbooks to study, to use film to scout opponents, and to hire a full-time team of assistant coaches. After a terrible face injury to star quarterback Otto Graham, Brown used plexiglass to create the league's first-ever face mask. Upon Graham's retirement, Brown used radio technology to send plays to his QB through his helmet, a method of play calling that is still used today. He created a new offensive blocking scheme known as "the cup," where lineman blocked in the shape of a curve to protect the QB, which is a major influence on blocking schemes to this day.

Brown was also the first coach to time the 40-yard dash to see how quickly his players would be able to reach a punt returner, which at the time averaged about 40 yards away. He also was one of the first coaches to integrate African-American ballplayers onto his team. These innovations led to the Browns early dominance of the '40s and '50s.

Sep 8, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; A general view of the newly erected statue of former Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham outside of FirstEnergy Stadium.
Sep 8, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; A general view of the newly erected statue of former Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham outside of FirstEnergy Stadium. | Source

Cleveland Browns Championship History

After 1949, the Browns joined the NFL, along with the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Colts. The NFL was seen as the superior league at the time, and despite the Browns' dominance in the AAFC, many people believed they would struggle after entering the NFL. The Browns went on to upset the former champion Philadelphia Eagles and win the NFL championship. They would win the Eastern Conference championship six years straight, as well as the NFL championship in 1950, 1954, and 1955. During this time the team was led by Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham. Graham made it to 10 straight championship games, winning seven before he retired from football in 1955.

In 1957, the Browns added another future Hall of Fame player to their roster when they drafted a fullback named Jim Brown from Syracuse. Brown was regarded as the greatest football player to ever step on a field, amassing 12,312 yards in only nine seasons. This record stood for 22 years. Brown also has a tied record of five rushing touchdowns in a single game, which still stands unbroken to this day. Brown's statue can be seen outside of First Energy Stadium, the home of the Cleveland Browns, and he is also recognized in the team's Ring of Honor. He helped lead the team to their only championship victory in the '60s in 1964.

Cleveland Browns Championship Record

Browns Score
Opponent Score
Browns 14
Yankees 9
Browns 14
Yankees 3
Browns 49
Bills 7
Browns 21
49ers 7
Browns 30
Rams 28
Browns 17
Rams 24
Browns 7
Lions 17
Browns 16
Lions 17
Browns 56
Lions 10
Browns 38
Rams 14
Browns 14
Lions 59
Browns 27
Colts 0
Browns 12
Packers 23
The Browns are 8-5 all-time in championship games.
Brian Sipe was the leader of the Kardiac Kids in Cleveland.
Brian Sipe was the leader of the Kardiac Kids in Cleveland. | Source

The Kardiac Kids

In 1970, Art Modell moved the Browns to the American Football Conference. That season the Browns played in the first-ever Monday Night Football game against the New York Jets. They won the game 31-21. Unfortunately, the Browns lost a step throughout the '70s and had to go through three new head coaches, plenty of losses, and a fall from grace in the eyes of the NFL before they finally hired Sam Rutigliano as head coach in 1978.

Rutigliano was a native of Brooklyn, New York who had spent his time with four NFL teams before joining the Browns. Over the next few years, his team would include players such as Most Valuable Player QB Brian Sipe, running back Greg Pruitt, running back Mike Pruitt, and Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. The talent of these players led to them being one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

In 1980, a slew of last-minute comeback wins led to them earning the nickname the "Kardiac Kids." During that season, 12 of their 16 games were decided by seven points or less. They would defeat the Bengals by three points to finish the season as the Central Division Champions. The Browns faced the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoff round on January 4th, 1981.

Red Right 88

The city of Cleveland felt that there was no chance that a California team like the Raiders could compete with them in severe weather. The temperature that day was 0 degrees with winds gusting as high as thirty miles per hour. Mounds of snow covered the field, making the field dangerous and difficult to run on.

Just as they had done all season, the Browns were in a close game, needing a field goal to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter. Brian Sipe led the Browns 73 yards down the field into Raider territory. With the conditions on the field and the intense weather, Rutigliano decided to go for the touchdown to seal the win. The play call was "Red Right 88." Ozzie Newsome came off the line clean, beating Raider linebacker Mike Davis off the line of scrimmage. Sipe threw the ball and Davis was able to catch up just in time to intercept the pass, essentially ending the game and the Browns' playoff hopes. The Browns lost 14-12.

Swagger, the bull mastiff, is one of the few living mascots in the NFL.
Swagger, the bull mastiff, is one of the few living mascots in the NFL. | Source

Why Is the Cleveland Browns Mascot a Dog?

Marty Schottenheimer took over as the Browns coach after Rutigliano, leading them throughout the '80s. During that time, cornerbacks Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon led the Browns defense as one of the best in the NFL. Dixon and Minnifield nicknamed the defense the "dawgs," barking to one another to hype themselves up during games. Dixon said, "I think all great defenses have to have something they can identify themselves with." Soon, the barking caught on with fans and the dawg ideology and mascot was adopted almost overnight. To this day the Dawg Pound is set apart in First Energy Stadium with bleacher seats and rabid fans on the eastern endzone. The Browns run out Swagger, a bullmastiff, as one of the league's few living animal mascots.

Who Is Bernie Kosar?

Along with Dixon and Minnifield, Bernie Kosar joined the Browns in 1985 by way of the league's supplemental draft. Kosar was an Ohio native who went on to play for the University of Miami. In the fifth game of the season, an injury led to Kosar entering the game. He earned the starting role from that day forward. Kosar led the Browns to multiple AFC Championship games and is known in Cleveland as a legend. Along with thousand-yard running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack, Ozzie Newsome, and wide receiver Webster Slaughter, the Browns would become one of the best teams in the NFL once again. The Browns entered the playoffs in 1986 as one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

John Elway and "The Drive"

After defeating the Jets in overtime, the Browns faced the Denver Broncos and future Hall of Fame QB John Elway in the AFC Championship. The winner would go on to play in the Super Bowl. The Browns played in a close game until finally scoring a game-leading touchdown with five minutes and forty-three seconds left to play. The following kickoff resulted in the Broncos mishandling the ball, forcing them to start their drive from the two-yard line, needing a 98-yard drive to tie the game. It appeared that the Browns' Superbowl ticket had been punched.

Schottenheimer opted to use the prevent defense, a scheme that protects against deep passes and allows shorter plays in hopes of preventing a score. Elway led the Broncos on a fifteen play drive to tie the game, taking the wind out of the stadium while forcing overtime. The Broncos received the ball to start overtime, drove down the field once again, and kicked a controversial game-winning field goal. The kick was above the uprights of the goalposts, leaving it up to the eyes of the official to determine if it was inside or out. Many fans believe the kick missed wide right of the posts but was called as a good kick, resulting in the Broncos going to the Super Bowl. This series of plays is known in Cleveland as "The Drive."

"The Fumble"

The following season, the Browns came back for vengeance, dominating the NFL once again with the hopes of redeeming themselves. The season began with a three-game strike, and the Browns came out hot despite the late start. The Browns finished that season with a record of 10-5, ranking first in offense and second in defense. They made it to the AFC Championship game, and the Broncos stood in their way once again.

The Browns fell behind in the game due to fumbles, turnovers, and dropped passes. At halftime, they were losing 21-3. After halftime, the team came out firing on all cylinders. Led by Kosar and Earnest Byner, the Browns came back to tie the score at 31-31. With four minutes left, Elway scored a touchdown to take the lead 38-31. Kosar had the opportunity to do to the Broncos what they did to Cleveland the year before. They drove down to the 10-yard line with one minute and twelve seconds to go. The Browns handed the ball to Byner, who had helped to keep the Browns alive with multiple big plays that day. He bounced to the left of his offensive line and just before he broke the plane of the endzone, he was hit by Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille and fumbled the ball on the 2-yard line. The Browns would lose the game and their Super Bowl hopes were dashed for the second year in a row. They would never return to an AFC Championship game again. "The Fumble" became another part of the Browns dark history of missteps and letdowns.

Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1995.
Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1995. | Source

Cleveland Browns Relocation Controversy: The Move to Baltimore

In 1961, the Browns were purchased by Art Modell for a record $4 million. He instantly became a controversial and influential presence in the NFL. He began his ownership by firing Paul Brown in 1962, eventually leading to Paul creating, co-owning, and coaching the Cincinnati Bengals. Modell was also the NFL's broadcast chairman from 1962 to 1993 and had a big role in the creation of Monday Night Football. Modell's most controversial act, however, was when he tried to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore to start a new franchise.

Municipal Stadium Controversy

In 1975, Modell signed a 25-year lease of Municipal Stadium, the home of both the Browns and Indians at the time, that allowed him to partially own the stadium and obtain revenue from the two teams' games. The rent for the stadium in the first five years was $150,000 yearly, and $200,000 every year after. Modell refused to share any of the suite revenue with the Indians, ultimately leading to them pushing for the city to build a new stadium solely for the baseball team. Jacob's Field was built as a result, and Modell's profits began to plummet. He didn't realize the amount of revenue he would lose once the 81 home Indians games were no longer taking place in his stadium. Modell claimed to have lost $21 million in 1993 alone.

Modell watched as Jacob's Field thrived and the Gund Arena was built for the Cavaliers while his bank account began to shrivel. He approached the city for a similar offer to renovate and refurbish Municipal Stadium for a total of $175 million in tax dollars. The city resisted the idea initially, as they had just invested millions in tax dollars in the other stadium projects in the city. When this happened Modell announced, seemingly out of nowhere, that the team was going to be moving to Baltimore. He had previously fought the moves various other NFL franchises, including the Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders, swearing publicly that he would never move the Browns. The day after the move was announced, the proposal for the stadium renovations passed overwhelmingly. Modell decided to move the team anyway.

Protests and Lawsuits

At that moment, the city of Cleveland rallied to fight the decision. The city sued Modell for a breach on his lease contract, claiming that the Browns were legally required to play their home games for years to come in Municipal Stadium. Fans marched in the streets in protest and season ticket holders sued the NFL. Drew Carey, a Cleveland native and comedian, led a protest at a game in Pittsburgh with the full support of the Browns' hated rival. The Steelers and Buffalo Bills were the only two franchises to vote against the move.

Despite the strong outcry of opposition, the team would move to Baltimore the following season. After a promising 3-1 start, the Browns fell to 5-11 on their final season. They ended the season winning their final home game against the Bengals 26-10 while fans cried with signs of protest in the stands. Many fans brought hacksaws and drills to remove the seats that they felt rightfully belonged to them. When the game finished, the entire team stayed afterward to embrace their fans one last time.

After the immense backlash from fans and the city of Cleveland, the league finally reached a settlement. Modell would be granted the rights to the players' contracts and team personnel, as well as the right to begin a new franchise in Baltimore. The Baltimore Ravens were born and continue their franchise to this day. The city of Cleveland would be allowed to retain the team colors, history, and records that they earned while in Cleveland. They were granted a new stadium and would have a new team in 1999 that would begin as an expansion team. As part of this agreement, the Browns would also be placed in a division that included the Bengals, Steelers, and newly-founded Ravens to ensure their longstanding rivalries could live on.

Delayed Ownership Decision Hinders Comeback

While this decision made the city of Cleveland happy, the fans would soon find out that they were set up to fail. The Browns new owner, Al Lerner, wasn't confirmed by the NFL until 1998, giving the team nearly half the time to hire a coach and front office regime than any other modern expansion franchise. While the Texans, Panthers, and Jaguars all had between 642 and 1,068 days to prepare, the Browns were only given 369 days. Meanwhile, the NFL spent 911 days deciding on the approval of Lerner's ownership. This resulted in the team being thrown together with little time to scout new players for the upcoming draft, time to work on schemes or playbooks, or time to decide on the identity of the team.

On top of the lack of time, the Browns also had to build their team through an expansion draft. An expansion draft is when a new team gets to take existing players from other franchises in order to build a roster of decent playmakers. When the Browns picked their players, the league allowed for five players to be unprotected and available for selection. However, the league did not allow for punters or kickers to be selected, and if the Browns selected a player from a team, they had the right to protect one of their four remaining unprotected players. This meant the Browns were allowed to select, at most, two players from any particular franchise to build their roster. This was one player less than Jacksonville or Carolina were allowed to select. The league also allowed for injured or retiring players to remain on the list, allowing teams to leave them in one of their five unprotected spots and further reduced the talent available for Cleveland to select. The Browns were doomed from the start, and because of these stipulations, they had a hard time hiring a coach. Many thought any coach would be fired within the year because it would be impossible for the team to perform.

To this day, the Cleveland Browns fan base vocally fights against the induction of Art Modell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite his decorated career as an owner who strongly influenced the game. He's one of the city's greatest villains who broke the hearts of millions in the northeast Ohio area.

The Browns' first preseason game was played in Canton in 1999, their first game after their return to Cleveland.
The Browns' first preseason game was played in Canton in 1999, their first game after their return to Cleveland. | Source

When Did the Browns Come Back to Cleveland?

The Browns returned as an expansion team in 1999. Due to the various issues that occurred with their rushed scouting and problems acquiring talent, their previous dominance of the NFL never returned. For twenty years, the Browns looked for coaches and quarterbacks who could possibly turn the team around. Between 1999 and 2018, the Browns had 29 starting QBs and 10 head coaches. Their record over that time was 95-224-1. They averaged 4.75 wins per season in that time period and finished last in their division 15 of the 20 seasons. They didn't win the division once. Despite two decades of failures, the worst came in 2017 when the team became just the second team in NFL history to lose every single game, going 0-16.

The winless season spurred fans into a satirical protest, organizing a "Perfect Season Parade" to show their disgust once and for all. The parade funds went to the local food bank, generating over $17,000 towards meals despite the negative-zero temperatures on the day. An estimated 3,000 people attended the parade.

Hue Jackson's Record With the Browns

In 2016, the Browns hired Hue Jackson as the new head coach. He had a stellar resume of taking average QBs, something Cleveland was plagued with, and turning them into stars. He coached the 2010 season with the Raiders and led them to an 8-8 record, despite their 7-4 start to the season. He was fired following the season. Despite this questionable year, Cleveland and many professionals praised the hiring, believing that he would be the coach to turn the team around.

His first season in Cleveland resulted in only one win. The Browns general manager at the time was Sashi Brown, a man who believed in analytical approaches to the game that led to cutting expensive players, regardless of their talent level. Beloved players such as cornerback Joe "Mr. Cleveland" Haden were let go. The team had the highest amount of cap space available out of any team in the NFL, and the talent reflected that number. With this lack of talent and the GM's apparent opposition to spending money on new players, the Browns won one game in a two-year span. Luckily, these two years would lead to two very promising young prospects that would both be selected first overall in the 2017 and 2018 NFL drafts: defensive end Myles Garrett and quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Sep 8, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide recievers Odell Beckham (13) and Damion Ratley (18) along with quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) welcome teammates onto the field before a game against the Tennessee Titans at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Sep 8, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide recievers Odell Beckham (13) and Damion Ratley (18) along with quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) welcome teammates onto the field before a game against the Tennessee Titans at FirstEnergy Stadium. | Source

John Dorsey and the Cleveland Browns

After the 0-16 season, the Browns fired Sashi Brown and hired former Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey. Dorsey was known for having an eye for talented players, and for spending money on players. Dorsey selected Baker Mayfield first overall, hoping for him to take the reigns as the franchise QB the Browns had been searching for. He also drafted Nick Chubb at running back and traded for star wide receiver Jarvis Landry. In 2018 the Browns went 7-8-1, and Mayfield broke the rookie record for passing touchdowns, with 27 total in only 13 games. Chubb rushed for 997 yards while only starting the final nine games of the season.

Dorsey followed that impressive season with one of the most impactful offseasons in NFL history. He signed superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants, as well as their Pro Bowl defensive end Olivier Vernon. He signed Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and drafted Greedy Williams, a college star cornerback from Louisiana State University. Running back Kareem Hunt was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs during the season, leading to Dorsey taking a chance on signing the former league-leading rusher despite his eight-game suspension. With this infusion of talent and strong back to back drafts, the Browns are thrown into the spotlight for the first time in nearly thirty years. Cleveland hoped that their days of Hall of Fame talent and playoff games were returning, unfortunately that wasn't the case.

During the 2019 season, new head coach Freddie Kitchens failed to capitalize on this new influx of talent. Baker Mayfield regressed in his second season, and the team played inconsistently. Despite high expectations, the Browns only won six games and ranked 22nd in team offense and 20th in team defense. The fans in Cleveland were devastated and angry, and consequently, the team fired Dorsey and Kitchens.

The Future of the Cleveland Browns

In 2020, the Browns hired Andrew Berry as their new general manager and Kevin Stefanski as their new head coach. Berry had spent a few years with the former analytics teams from Hue Jackson's era, leaving shortly with the Philadelphia Eagles as their vice president of football operations. Berry began his career with another great offseason of talent acquisition, signing Pro Bowl talents like tight end Austin Hooper and tackle Jack Conklin. Many people praised him for his free-agent signings as well as his drafting abilities that brought in highly praised rookies like tackle Jedrick Wills and safety Grant Delpit.

With the COVID-19 pandemic occurring in the offseason of 2020, it's hard to know how the team will do this upcoming season. Stefanski runs a new system of offense, and with regulations that are placed nationwide, the team has had to do physicals, workouts, and teaching virtually. Despite the loaded roster, the Browns may be looking at yet another rough year of football in Cleveland, but the hope is always there that the team will begin to turn their fortunes around.


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    • JesseUnk profile imageAUTHOR

      Jesse Unk 

      11 months ago from Ohio


      I appreciate the kind words! Hopefully I'll have a top games article soon, or a chance to update this one with more info! Thanks for reading!

    • Antonio Martinez1 profile image

      Antonio Martinez 

      11 months ago from Kearny, New Jersey

      Good afternoon Jesse,

      This was a wonderful article that you outlined. It is still hard to believe that even after 20 years, Cleveland is still searching for an identity.

      I believe that if you wanted to add other notable games or seasons with this article (or as an addendum) perhaps the one season that sticks out the most was in 2001, where it was one of promise when Cleveland started 4-2. There was the collapse in Chicago where it allowed two touchdowns in the last 32 seconds after leading 21-7, only for Chicago to win a second straight game on a Mike Brown interception. Obviously for Cleveland fans, the season had the infamous "Bottlegate" match (ironic since Terry McAulay has gone on to have a distinguished career, but that is for another time).

      In 2002, the club's owner Al Lerner died and it was fitting for the Browns to defeat the New York Jets in its first game since his death. That helped inspire Cleveland to reach the playoffs, which it did courtesy of a victory against Atlanta. Then there was the collapse in the wild card round in Pittsburgh (which often gets overlooked because it was on the same day when New York Giants lost to San Francisco).

      But 2007 must sting also because they had won 10 games and it a way, it was almost a reincarnation of the Kardiac Kids, especiall how it won in Baltimore that year with Phil Dawson's field goal.

      Again great job, and look forward to reading more articles. The funny thing is that one of my first memories about following the NFL was the 1999 Hall of Farme Game between Cleveland and Dallas and one of my first teacher in summer class while preparing to go to high school was a Cleveland Browns fan.


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