Browns Fans Deserve Chance To Dream Big In 2013
By Steven King
Cleveland Browns fans have waited a long time for their next dream season.
Almost 50 years, to be exact.
It was in 1964 that the Browns won it all by stunning the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 27-0 to capture the NFL championship.
At the time, Browns fans — and the Browns themselves — thought that would be the beginning of several titles in a row. But it didn’t work out that way.
Here’s a history lesson to explain how it happened, and how it has gotten us to where we are today:
Cleveland made it back to the league championship game in 1965 and felt good about its chances against the host Green Bay Packers as they went to bed the night before in Appleton, Wisc., about 50 miles away. The good weather would mean a firm, fast track, which played right into Cleveland’s hands since it was a finesse team that had a big advantage in speed over the Packers.
But it unexpectedly snowed overnight, turning Lambeau Field into a cold, muddy mess, which played right into the Packers’ hands since they were a power team. They took full advantage of that, winning 23-12.
That was the last game the great Jim Brown played for the Browns, as he retired just before the 1966 training camp began to make movies.
The Browns, who had been 31-10-1 from 1963-65, went 9-5 the next two years, missing the playoffs in 1966 and then making it in ’67.
They got back to the NFL (NFC) Championship Game — one step short of Super Bowls III and IV -- in 1968 and ’69, running into a buzzsaw both times. They lost 34-0 to the Colts the first year and then 27-7 to the Minnesota Vikings.
The NFL-AFL merger took full effect in 1970, a year in which the Browns finished just 7-7. They returned to the AFC playoffs in both 1971 and ’72 but never won a game.
That was the end of the trail for that group of Browns. They got old all at one time and began retiring in droves.
Cleveland didn’t make the postseason again for eight years — the longest stretch in franchise history to that point — before the Kardiac Kids won the 1980 AFC Central title with an 11-5 record. They lost to the Oakland Raiders in their playoff opener in what has become known as the “Red Right 88” game.
No problem, everybody in Northeast Ohio thought. The Browns would come back again the next season and finish the job.
But the members of that team also got old all at the same in the ensuing offseason and began retiring in droves. The 1981 Browns were the Kardiac Kids again, but only this time they lost all the close games they had won the previous year, flipping their record upside down from 11-5 to 5-11.
Although the Browns made the playoffs at just 4-5 in the strike-shortened 1982 season and then went 9-7 and just barely missed the playoffs in ’83, that was the end of that group. QB Brian Sipe, the ringleader of the Kids, bolted for the big money of the USFL after the 1983 season to officially close the door on that era.
The Bernie Kosar era began in 1985. A very young but very talented group of players won the AFC Central title that first year with just an 8-8 record, beginning the franchise’s most successful span in the last 40-plus years. Cleveland made the playoffs all five seasons through 1989, capturing four division crowns and advancing to AFC Championship Game three times.
But those Browns never got to the Super Bowl, and in every instance, they were derailed in agonizing fashion.
Heavy underdogs to the Miami Dolphins in the 1985 divisional playoffs, Cleveland ran its way, literally and figuratively, to a resounding 21-3 third-quarter lead, only to lose 24-21.
The Browns went to the AFC title game in 1986 and seemed destined to get to the Super Bowl after forging ahead of the Denver Broncos 20-13 on Kosar’s 48-yard touchdown pass to WR Brian Brennan with kist under five minutes left. But then “The Drive” reared its ugly head and Cleveland lost 23-20 in overtime.
It was another trip to the AFC Championship Game against Denver in 1987, and another gut-wrencher, with “The Fumble” leading to a 38-33 Broncos victory.
Kosar was never the same after blowing out his elbow in the 1988 opener at Kansas City. Because of injuries, the Browns, who were the choice of the national media to go to the Super Bowl and win it, went through four quarterbacks but still finished 10-6 and made the playoffs as a wild card. They lost 24-23 to the Houston Oilers in their first game.
Marty Schottenheimer was fired as head coach after that frustrating season and replaced by Bud Carson. The 1989 Browns got to the AFC title contest once more, and once more lost to the Broncos, 37-21.
Then those Browns all got old at the same time and never were heard from again.
Cleveland didn’t make the playoffs for five years, until head coach Bill Belichick guided the 1994 team to an 11-5 record and a wild card berth. The Browns lost 29-9 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round.
But not to worry. The 1995 Browns were predicted to go to the Super Bowl. In its NFL preview issue, Sports Illustrated had Cleveland losing 34-13 to the San Francisco 49ers in the big game.
SI was right, in a sense. The Browns were indeed headed to a place they had never been before. Halfway through the 1995 season, it was announced the team would be moving to Baltimore after the year.
After Cleveland went the next three seasons without football, the expansion Browns debuted in 1999. It was a real struggle until 2002, when the club went 9-7 and made the playoffs as a wild card. The Browns led the Steelers at Heinz Field 24-7 in the third quarter, only to lose 36-33. The game ended with Cleveland at the Pittsburgh 29-yard line.
Despite the loss, it appeared the Browns had a bright future. But head coach Butch Davis tore the team apart in the offseason — supposedly for salary cap reasons — and Cleveland finished 5-11.
The Browns have had one winning season since then. That came in 2007 when they finished 10-6 but didn’t make the playoffs, losing out on tie-breakers to Pittsburgh for the AFC North title, and to the Tennessee Titans for the final wild-card spot.
There was all kinds of hype for the 2008 Browns, but, because of injurues and poor play, the season was over almost before it started, resulting in a 4-12 finish after which head coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Phil Savage got fired.
Oh, so close so many times, but never actually there.
That’s the been the theme of the Browns for almost a half-century.
Surprisingly, this year’s Browns are right there again. They started 3-2 — the first time they’ve been over .500 after five games since 2001 — and were tied with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens for first place in AFC North.
Will Browns CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi pull out all the stops to win the title in a very winnable division? Who knows?
But probably not. This regime seems intent on waiting for the 2014 NFL Draft to use all of its picks to fortify the club for what it hopes will be a sustained run of excellence. That’s all well and good — if the plan works. But many times for many years for many teams, the Browns and others, the plans don’t work.
So before Banner and Lombardi so quickly and completely turn the other cheek on this season, they need to keep in mind that situations like this one don’t present themselves all the time. The window of opportunity doesn’t stay open forever. In fact, it’s usually open only a very short period of time.
If this is a season in which that window is truly open — and it appears it is — can the Browns afford not to take full advantage of it, especially after the fact this fan base, the people buying tickets and merchandise and concessions at home games and thus paying all the bills, has waited so long through so much to watch its team get to the mountain top? Banner and Lombardi need to put themselves into those people’s shoes.
The people who were kids in 1964 when Frank Ryan’s three touchdown passes to WR Gary Collins throttled the Colts, are now nearing retirement age, if they’re not alrerady there.
And their parents are either gone or very, very aged. They never had the chance to see the Browns as champions again.
Will the kids suffer the same fate?
The clock is running. It’s been running since the Johnson administration.
God forbid if it runs out on this generation of fans before the Browns hoist the Super Bowl trophy.
Go for broke? Guess what would happen if they put that question to a vote of the fans, who have waited nearly a lifetime for tomorrow, only to never see it come?
They’re focused on today, which is the only thing that anyone in any situation, sports or otherwise, can control.
Sounds like a plan, if for nothing else, a plan no one running the Browns has been able to execute since there were big fins on big cars and a gallon of gas cost 16 cents.