I am and always have been a big fan of history. History teaches us trends and shows us the context of current events. Being a Browns fan and a football fan in general got me to wondering about the beginnings of the NFL in Cleveland.
Most of us are probably aware of the beginning of the Browns in 1946 as a member of the now defunct All-American Football Conference but professional football in Cleveland had already existed for more than two decades. The NFL began September 17, 1920 at a meeting in Canton, Ohio. There were 10 teams represented from 4 states. From Ohio there were the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Dayton Triangles, and the Cleveland Tigers. From Indiana the Hammond Pros, and the Muncie Flyers. New York was represented by the Rochester Jeffersons, and Illinois with the Rock Island Independents, Decatur Staleys, and the Racine(Chicago) Cardinals. So you see Cleveland was there from the very beginning with the Tigers
Cleveland Tigers/Indians 1920-1921
This was the first franchise of 3 that went by the moniker of Indians. The Tigers/Indians only existed for 2 years. The Tigers changed their name to Indians after the 1920 season and then folded after 1921.
overall record was 5-9-2
Cleveland Indians/Bulldogs 1923-1927
Cleveland was again represented in the NFL in 1923 when boxing promoter Sam Deutsch purchased a team. After the 1923 season Deutsch purchased the rival Canton Bulldogs and merged the 2 in Cleveland. The Bulldogs brought Cleveland its first NFL championship in 1924 going 7-1-1 that season. The team moved to Detroit becoming the Wolverines following the 1927 season.
overall record in Cleveland was 23-14-6 (they didn't play in 1926), NFL Champions - 1924
Cleveland Indians 1931
The NFL once again attempted to get a team in Cleveland when a new franchise was awarded in 1931. They only played road games as the NFL searched for a suitable owner for the team. No one was found so the team folded after just one season.
overall record was 2-8
Cleveland Rams 1937-1945
Some of you may have already known that the St. Louis Rams were born in Cleveland. They actually started as an AFL team in 1936 but joined the NFL in 1937. They didn't play in 1943 due to the war. They had a poor overall record but went 10-1 in 1945 winning the 2nd NFL title for Cleveland. After that season they were granted permission to move the team to Los Angeles (Jan 11, 1946). Rams ownership didn't want to compete with the very popular Paul Brown who was the coach of the brand new AAFC team.
overall record in Cleveland was 35-50-2, NFL Champions - 1945
Cleveland Browns 1950-1995 (1946-1949 in the AAFC)
The Browns began with astounding success. They won all 4 AAFC championships and became the city's favorite team. Their domination eventually lead to the demise of the AAFC as other teams began having problems selling tickets. The NFL and the AAFC were in conflict pretty much from the inception of the AAFC. At the time the AAFC desired a "world series" of pro football. Until Elmer Layden, the NFL Commissioner, issued his statement ,"Let them get a ball, draw a schedule, and play a game. Then I will talk to them." The Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts were admitted to the NFL following the 1949 season. When the Browns came into the NFL in 1950 the NFL wanted to embarrass them to prove they were an inferior team. Their first game was scheduled on a Saturday night instead of Sunday and against the 2 time reigning champs the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL expected a blow out. They got one, just not the way they expected, a 35-10 victory by the Browns. The Browns then proceeded to embarrass the entire league all season eventually defeating the LA Rams in the championship. They won 3 more titles in 1954, 1955, and 1964. The city was betrayed and the team was moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season.
overall record was 385-285-10, NFL Champions 1950, 1954, 1955, 1964, AAFC Champions 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949
Cleveland Browns 1999-Present
You may notice I'm listing this current incarnation separately. I do not see them as the same franchise even though I love them as much as ever. The organization has no connection to the former outside of name and colors. They have been a much maligned team since the reinsertion into the league in 1999. The organization has lacked stability, vision, and an identity.
overall record 72-152
Conclusion and My Personal Opinion
The NFL has existed in Cleveland, off and on, since the very beginning, fielding teams all but 17 seasons (1922, 1926, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1996, 1997, 1998) since 1920. 5 of those seasons had teams in other leagues, AFL Rams 1936, AAFC Browns 1946-1949. It is a very historically rich region for professional football. Cleveland has witnessed 6 titles in the NFL, 4 in the AAFC. 4 current NFL teams owe their existence directly or indirectly to Cleveland, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, St. Louis Rams, and Baltimore Ravens
As I stated earlier, I don't see this current team as a continuation of the old Browns but a new franchise altogether. Maybe this is the reason they have struggled to find an identity. They claim to be that great team of yesteryear but they really aren't. They go on pretending, tarnishing the legacy of the former. The old franchise is dead. What we have now is a counterfeit going around wearing the name and colors as its own. Maybe, just maybe, what we need is a complete break from that false connection. Choose a new name, new colors and lay to rest that proud franchise. Maybe it would be good to let the old Browns go and move on. Start a new tradition with a cultural foundation in the rich history. Maybe then we can move on to bigger better things. No matter what, I have, and always will, love Cleveland football.