Despite boasting eight professional championships - four in the All-America Football Conference and four in the NFL - the Cleveland Browns remain just one of four current teams to never make an appearance in the title game in the Super Bowl era. (The others: the Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions and Houston Texans.)
That is not for lack of trying of course, as the Browns have come oh so close on five occasions since the first Super Bowl was played on January 15, 1967.
As we wait for tonight’s kick off, let’s take a look at those games. (Big shoutout to Jonathan Knight’s invaluable The Browns Bible as a resource.)
1968 NFL Championship Game
The Browns were not really expected to make an appearance in the title game following the 1968 season, but a big win over the 12-2 Dallas Cowboys in the Eastern Conference Playoff set up a meeting on December 29 against the Baltimore Colts at Cleveland Stadium.
The Browns had beaten the Colts in October - the only loss for Baltimore during the regular season - and the Colts took their revenge on Cleveland in a 34-0 beating.
The Cleveland defense gave up 184 total rushing yards and Tom Matte had three rushing touchdowns for the Colts, while the Browns offense managed juste 173 total yards, turned the ball over three times and allowed four sacks.
The Colts would go on to lose to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III in one of the game’s biggest upsets.
1969 NFL Championship Game
The Browns made it back to the league title game the following season after once again taking down the Dallas Cowboys in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Cleveland traveled to Metropolitan Stadium on January 4, 1970, to take on the Minnesota Vikings in what would be the final NFL Championship game played under that title. The two teams had played in November in the same stadium and the Vikings rolled over the Browns, 51-3.
It was more of the same in the title game, as Minnesota put up a pair of touchdowns in the game’s opening eight minutes and built a 24-0 lead by halftime. The Browns defense allowed 222 rushing yards, and the Minnesota rushing attack was so dominant that quarterback Joe Kapp only threw 13 passes on the day.
On offense, the Browns turned the ball over three times and only avoided a shutout when quarterback Bill Nelsen hit wide receiver Gary Collins with a three-yard touchdown pass to make the final score 27-7 in favor of the Vikings.
Minnesota would go on to lose Super Bowl IV to the Kansas City Chiefs, which is currently the last Super Bowl title in franchise history for the Chiefs.
1986 AFC Championship Game
The Browns finally looked ready to make it to the Super Bowl following the 1986 season after finishing the season at 12-4 and earning home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Cleveland opened the scoring when quarterback Bernie Kosar hit running back Herman Fontenot with a six-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. The Broncos would eventually fight back to take a 13-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter, setting up one of the most memorable finishes in league history.
The Browns took a 20-13 lead when Kosar hit wide receiver Brian Brennan with a 48-yard touchdown pass with just 5:43 remaining in the game. Things continued to go in Cleveland’s favor on the ensuing kickoff after the Denver receiver could not control the ball and was tackled on his own two-yard line.
Denver quarterback John Elway had other ideas, however, and took the Broncos on a 15-play, 98-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mark Jackson with 37 seconds remaining that sent the game into overtime.
The Browns had the ball first in overtime, but went three-and-out. Elway took over and led the Broncos on a 60-yard drive that finished with a game-winning 33-yard field goal by Rich Karlis. (The field goal was no good, despite what the game officials said; no one will ever convince us otherwise.)
The Broncos would go on to lose to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI.
1987 AFC Championship Game
A year later the Browns and Broncos met up again, this time at Denver’s Mile High Stadium.
The game could not have gotten off to a worst start for the Browns, as Cleveland turned the ball over on each of its first two possessions of the game and the Broncos built a 21-3 lead at halftime.
The Browns came out firing in the second half, however, and scored three touchdowns in the third quarter - on an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Langhorne, a 32-yard touchdown pass to running back Earnest Byner and a four-yard touchdown run by Byner - and went into the fourth quarter trailing by just seven points.
Cleveland tied the game at 31 when quarterback Bernie Kosar hit wide receiver Webster Slaughter with a four-yard touchdown pass with 11 minutes left in the game.
All that was just prelude to another impending heartbreak.
After Denver quarterback John Elway hit Sammy Winder with a 20-yard touchdown pass to reclaim the leader, Kosar and the Browns offense took over at their own 24-yard-line. The offense drove to the Denver eight-yard-line with a little more than a minute remaining and a chance to tie the game.
But on a draw play, Byner was stripped of the ball at the Denver two-yard-line, the Broncos recovered, and the Super Bowl dream was over for the Browns for another year.
The Broncos would go on to lose to the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII.
1989 AFC Championship Game
For the third time in four years, the Browns and the Broncos would meet in the AFC Championship Game. This was not a memorable game, however, as the Browns allowed Denver quarterback John Elway to pass for 385 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-21 win.
The Broncos built a 24-7 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, but the Browns fought back behind a 10-yard touchdown pass by wide receiver Brian Brennan and a one-yard touchdown run by running back Tim Minoa but the lead to just three points heading into the fourth quarter.
The Browns were shutout in the fourth quarter, however, and the Broncos closed out the win with a 13-point fourth quarter.
The game was the final playoff game for Kosar in a Cleveland uniform, and remains to this day the last conference championship game appearance by the Browns.
Denver would go on to lose to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV.