Twenty-five years ago, the NFL unveiled their “75th Anniversary Team.” This month, the league is set to unveil their “100th All-Time Team.”
On Friday November 22, NFL Network debuted their series for the “NFL 100 All-Time Team” and will air new episodes each Friday night until all positions have been announced. Up first, were the running backs and two coaches, both former Browns coaches Paul Brown and Bill Belichick.
An even dozen running backs were selected with three clubs with two running backs each: Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago.
The Browns were well-represented by Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Marion Motley. The 100th list does not rank players from 1-12 but instead has them grouped equally.
The NFL began in 1920, although there were plans to start the league in 1919, but was set back a year. This 2019 season marks 100-years for the league.
Paul Brown had won six Ohio high school championships plus coached Ohio State to its first National Championship. He was hired as head coach of the Cleveland entry into the new NFL rival league the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) to begin in 1946.
The AAFC lasted four years before closing down although three teams were merged into the NFL. The Browns won all four championships and basically dominated each season. Their records were as follows: 1946: 12-2-0, 1947: 12-1-1, 1948: 14-0-0 and 1949: 9-1-2.
Every year when an NFL team begins their season undefeated, TV viewers are reminded of the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only unbeaten/untied team. In the NFL, that is. The fact is, there have been numerous pro football clubs who finished their respective seasons without a loss or a tie, and the 1948 Browns are one of them.
Paul Brown was a proud man and passionate about his players. He did not have a single bone in his body that was dedicated to bigotry or hatred towards other races. He was a stern cuss, but he was a stern cuss to everyone. And that filtered down to his players. There was many an instance where a white player would come to the defense of their fellow black teammate. Although the Browns only had two black players in 1946, throughout subsequent years the team signed many as their position needs dictated.
The Browns winning all four years of the AAFC would prove to become the league’s demise. At one point Cleveland had won 18 straight games over parts of three seasons. They scored 1,551 points for an average of 28.7 points per game versus 683 points allowed (12.6 point average). They led the league in scoring three of four years and their defense allowed the fewest points every single season.
AAFC was hemorrhaging money each and every season mainly because of player payroll. For the 1950 season, the NFL accepted the Browns, 49ers and Colts into their fold.
Way back in 1946 when the AAFC began, then-NFL commissioner Elmer Layden had commented that the NFL’s worst team could defeat the AAFC’s best club at any time and in any season.
Now a member of the NFL, the 1950 Browns won all five preseason games and then was scheduled to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on the road in their very first official NFL contest. The Eagles were not only the current NFL Champions, but were back-to-back NFL champs. Of course the schedule-maker forced the Browns to play the one NFL club that was set to defend their title against the new kids on the block boasting the fact that they were the four-time AAFC Champions.
The Cleveland Browns would capture the 1950 NFL Championship - their very first year in the established league. The franchise would then play in five more consecutive NFL Championship Games, winning in 1954 and 1955. From 1950-1969, the Browns played for the league title an astounding 11 times, winning four.
Paul Brown is credited with being an innovator including inventing the draw play, installing helmet communicators in 1956, invention of the face mask, the practice squad, timed players’ speed in 40-yards instead of the standard of 100-yards, first to have “scripted plays” to start each game, first to house players at a hotel the night before a game, first to call all plays instead of the QB (pre-cursor to offensive coordinators), first to have a six-man coaching staff, first to institute psychology testing, first to scout opponents, first to hire year-round assistant coaches, and the stadium home of the Cincinnati Bengals is named for him.
While with Cleveland using accumulated AAFC and NFL statistics and records from 1946-1962, Coach Brown won 158 games, lost 48 and tied eight. His Browns’ teams would capture 12 division crowns, played in the league championship game 11 times, won the title game seven times, and he was named Coach-of-the-Year four years. In that 17-year span, his Browns’ teams would have only one losing season and at one point won 10-straignt division titles.
Paul Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. He has since been referred to as, “The Father of Modern Football.”
Motley was signed to play for the Browns in their inaugural year of 1946 in the AAFC.
Motley came to the Browns in an unorthodox manner. Coach Paul Brown had signed the AAFC’s first black player in defensive tackle Bill Willis and needed a roommate for him since there weren’t any other black players on the team. Back then, different races didn’t room together. At the time Motley was working in a steel mill, was married and with four kids. Assistant coach Blanton Collier urged Coach Brown to bring in Motley for a look whom Brown had coached at Great Lakes during World War II. What ensued became magic.
Motley was inked to a one-year $4,500 contract. He was given the number 76 as he was expected to become a linebacker – a position in which he excelled. Instead, he soon became the featured back in a very potent offense led by quarterback Otto Graham, and wide receivers Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie. He led the league in rushing that first year and when the AAFC merged with the NFL, he had been the AAFC’s All-Time rushing leader.
With his crashing running style and his extreme blocking abilities, in 1951 he started having knee issues. The next few seasons were not productive years for Motley as his knee issues continued to get worse for the 33-year old. Reluctantly, he retired prior to the 1954 season. After a year off he returned to play LB for the Pittsburgh Steelers for a single season.
In his eight seasons in Cleveland he rushed for 4,720 yards on 828 attempts, 1,107 receiving yards, scored 38 TDs and averaged an amazing 5.7 yards per carry and 13.0 yards per reception. He won five championships, was the rushing leader in both the AAFC and the NFL, and was named to both the NFL “1940s All-Decade Team” plus the NFL “75th Anniversary Team.” In 1968, he was inducted into the charter group of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The only wretched part regarding Jim Brown is how his career became so abbreviated in Cleveland’s backfield.
The end result of the first-round of the 1957 draft netted four Hall of Famers plus seven Pro Bowlers. Oddly, Jim Brown was not the first-overall pick in this draft as he was actually the 6th pick. The Los Angeles Rams had the 2nd overall pick and were in need of a running back. Their scouting department had the best grades on Brown, however, the Rams’ co-owner wanted local boy Jon Arnett from USC and so the Rams took him. Coach Paul Brown wanted one of the two highly-touted quarterbacks in that year’s draft with either John Brodie or Len Dawson, but both were selected before the Browns picked. So, they settled on the fullback Brown.
His rookie season is one of only two that he did not gain over 1,000 yards, but he scored nine TDs in a 12-game schedule and was an immediate and powerful impact. His best two seasons were 1963 (1,863 yards) and his final year of 1965 (1,544 yards). Jim Brown was a man among boys and a holy terror coming around the outside with either lead blocker Lou Groza or Mike McCormack plowing the way.
With Jim Brown, Coach Brown had one of the greatest forces of brutishness he could have ever imagined, but his personality was one that dictated patience and endurance. He was a total team player but also understood his value to the club. And he didn’t any crap from anyone regardless of their position, religion, race or status. Coach Brown did not tolerate racial bias in any form - which pleased his fullback - but at the same time the coach was a shrewd disciplinarian who had little bend with rules and procedures. But he had to watch how he handled Jim Brown.
Often, Coach Brown would chew a player out for being late when in essence his anger was aimed at his celebrated fullback; who would be standing right there and usually the one that was late. Simply put, Jim Brown was not the sort of man you hollered at. So, the coach had to resort to a sideways method of messages.
This often caused a rift between the league’s star player and the league’s star coach. All during Jim Brown’s years the franchise was successful and he led the league in rushing in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964 and 1965.
Jim Brown ended his career in a dispute with owner Art Modell. After the 1965 season Brown was named NFL MVP and led the league in rushing. He had a 5.3 yards per carry average. He was the cover of the November issue of “Time” magazine.
Jim Brown had the opportunity to be in his second movie during the off-season and was on location in London for the war picture “The Dirty Dozen.” He was supposed to be finished before the veterans were to report to training camp in Hiram, Ohio but production ran over. When he communicated this to Modell that he would be several weeks late, Modell informed him that a daily fine of $100 would be imposed for every day he was not in camp. Plus, Modell reiterated to Brown that if the club waited for him, this would set a precedent with other players down the line. Since Brown had only one year left on a $60,000 a year contract, he called his friend guard John Wooten and told him that he was going to announce his retirement.
At the age of 30.
From a game in which nobody could stop him. As the league’s leading rusher. Sports editor Hal Lebowitz of the Cleveland Plain Dealer then contacted Brown in London who then broke the story. From 1964-1982 Brown would play the lead in 21 movies and has appeared in 46 including 2014’s “Draft Day” (which featured the Browns).
Jim Brown went to nine Pro Bowls (every year during his tenure), was named NFL MVP three times, 1957 Rookie of the Year, won one NFL Championship, five-time rushing TD leader, eight-time rushing leader, was named to the NFL “1960s All-Decade Team”, the NFL “75th Anniversary Team”, had his number 32 retired by the Browns, and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. In the end he had amassed 12,312 rushing yards, 2,499 receiving yards with 100 combined TDs.
Even today, Jim Brown is the standard by which any running back’s greatness is measured.
Originally the NFL was named the “American Professional Football Conference” at a loosely-held meeting in Canton, Ohio at an automobile showroom. The name was a nod to college football which utilized the moniker “Conference” in their various regional groupings. In those days, the two major sports were Major League Baseball followed by college football.
One month later, another meeting was held with more prospective clubs in attendance. It was voted on to begin the league in September 1920 and then the name changed to the “American Professional Football Association.” In 1922, the name again changed to the “National Football League.”
From the on-set, the NFL was based solely in small to medium market cities. The only big city teams from that maiden year were the Chicago Cardinals, Chicago Tigers, and the Cleveland Tigers.
To view the complete list of the NFL 100 All-Time Team, visit https://www.nfl.com/100/all-time-team/. So far, the Browns have been well-represented.