Today, there’s no doubt about it: being a Cleveland Browns’ fan is a tough go. In fact, most Cleveland teams have disappointed us for more than a generation. The city’s lone championship since President Johnson was by the Cavaliers in 2016. However, gray-haired grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles can recall a time when Cleveland was a city of champions.
My home town Browns haven’t won a world championship since 1964 when the Browns led by Jim Brown and Frank Ryan smashed John Unitas and the Baltimore Colts 27-0 at Municipal Stadium. That’s almost 54 years ago and I barely remember that fateful day in ’64. Yet, each year hope springs eternal in Cleveland. We pray the draught finally ends. Today, I live in Southern California but still root passionately for the Browns, Cavaliers and Indians 2,000 miles away.
Cleveland was “Browns Town” during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Play began for the Browns at the old stadium in ’46 in the newly formed All-America Football Conference – rivals to the NFL. Behind Coach Paul Brown’s rule and spearheaded by the play of Graham, Groza, Lavelli, Motley and Speedie, the Browns created one of football’s great dynasties. The Browns completely dominated the AAFC by winning all titles in the league’s existence from 1946-1949. Cleveland ruled alone. After the demise of the AAFC in ’49, the Browns and two other teams migrated to the NFL. During the ’50s and ’60s the Browns played in an amazing 10 NFL championship games. They won three titles from 1950-1955 and back-to-back crowns in ’54 &’55. The 1950s was a glorious decade for Cleveland sports. The Browns rolled opponents. We were a city of champions. The team’s regular season.746 winning percentage in the ’50s was dominant. During the decades to follow, 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, and not the 49ers in the ’80s (.695) or ’90s (.706).
The Indians were excellent, too, in the late ’40s and ’50s – winning the Series in ’48 over the Boston Braves behind Lou Boudreau’s managed club but coming up short in the ’54 Series against Willie Mays and the NY Giants. Cleveland had great pitching in those days- starring hall of famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Satchel Paige. Third baseman Al Rosen and shortstop counterpart Boudreau helped trigger the offense. Rosen would go on to win the American League MVP in ’53 by hitting.336, smashing 43 home runs and driving in 145 RBIs.
During the 1960s, some of my best memories were being picked up by my father after Sunday religious school at University Circle and scooting to Municipal Stadium,in-time, for the 1pm kickoffs. Upon entering the old stadium you could feel the electricity in the air; a sense the Browns would not, could not lose. And, they usually didn’t. Even after their last NFL championship in ’64 the Browns played in three more NFL title games in the ’60s – losing to the Packers in ’65, the Colts in ’68 and the Vikings in ’69. During that stretch from 1965-1969, the Browns total regular season record was 49-20-1; close to tops in the game.