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3 things you probably didn’t know about the Browns

Illustrious franchise has had many odd things happen since 1946

1951 NFL Championship Game - Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Rams - December 23, 1951
Marion Motley wearing a white leather helmet 1951

The Cleveland Browns have had a very long history. In fact, this upcoming season earmarks 75 years since their very first season of 1946.

The Browns have won eight league championships in all those years – four in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) from 1946 through 1949, and then four NFL titles in 1950, 1953-1954 and 1964.

During their most successful reign, they were the New England Patriots of their era. As a fan, how much do you know about them?

Here’s 3 things you probably didn’t know about the Browns (in no particular order).

1. Paul Brown founded two NFL teams and both were named after big cats

The NFL is comprised of 32 clubs. Two of those teams were founded by one man: Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown. He is the Father of both the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. But did you know that both franchises were originally named after big, ferocious, carnivorous cats?

Cincinnati is a given because they are still called the “Bengals” after the species of tigers that originated in India called the Bengal tiger; which is one of the largest wild cats on the planet.

Cleveland was born in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), an NFL rival league that began in 1946 with eight clubs. Coach Brown put the roster together while he was still employed by the U.S. Navy. The owner of the new Cleveland AAFC franchise was Mickey McBride, who had deep pockets and allowed Coach Brown to make all decisions as head coach and GM.

In May of 1945, McBride sponsored a “Name the Team” contest in the Cleveland Plain Dealer with the winner chosen to get a $1,000 war bond. A committee was formed and from the entries chose the team name “Panthers.”

OG/T Jack Sack of the 1926 Cleveland Panthers

The “Cleveland Panthers” were not a new name, but a retread of an older club formed in 1919. The former Panthers, whose colors were brown, gold and white, were an independent team which played NFL franchises plus other independent clubs every season until 1926 when they joined the first American Football League (AFL), another NFL rival league that began with nine teams. The Panthers’ home field was the Luna Bowl at Luna Park, an amusement facility in Cleveland.

The Panthers, owned by World War I Brigadier General Charles Zimmerman, finished 3-2-0 to poor attendance, but the AFL floundered the entire season and folded at season’s end. The Panthers continued to play and went back to its independent status before folding in 1933.

When it was announced that the new AAFC club would be christened the “Cleveland Panthers”, a man by the name of George T. Jones contacted McBride. Jones had been the personal secretary to Zimmerman and also the Panthers’ secretary and assumed ownership of the Panthers (despite being defunct) and everything related to the old team after Zimmerman’s death.

Jones also held ownership to the name “Cleveland Panthers.” He approached McBride seeking a deal after reading an article in the Plain Dealer about the new club’s team name. He offered to relinquish the name “Panthers” to McBride for several thousand dollars.

1946 Browns vs. Miami Seahawks program

McBride came from humble beginnings and was now a very shrewd, successful businessman. Realizing he could name the new football team anything he wanted, McBride passed on Jones’ offer and then opened up the contest again for another name.

At the time, Coach Brown was the most famous person in the State of Ohio and had already won six state high school championships plus a national championship as the head coach of Ohio State. Most folks were already referring to the new Cleveland club as “Paul Brown’s team.” The most submitted team name this time around was “Browns.”

2. Several Cleveland Browns’ owners have won championships outside of the Browns

Before becoming the original owner of the AAFC Browns, Mickey McBride was previously a minority owner of the NFL Cleveland Rams.

The Rams began in the second league that called itself the American Football League (AFL) in 1936. They finished 5-2-2 and were set to host the league championship game against the 8-3-0 Boston Shamrocks. However, the game was canceled when the Boston players refused to play because of numerous unpaid games. The AFL was a very disorganized league and the maiden season was anything but a pleasant experience to anyone involved. After just a single season, Rams’ owner Homer Marshman applied to the NFL for entry into their league.

The timing was perfect. The NFL had a problem of their own in 1936; that being they had only nine teams, and an odd number of clubs was a issue each week. This caused a problem each week because while all the other teams were playing a game, the odd team was forced to be idle or find an independent team to fill their schedule and attempt to draw a crowd. And since these type games were usually blow-outs, the gate was never good.

Three different pro football groups submitted applications to become that 10th club at a meeting in Chicago: Los Angeles, Houston and Cleveland. Marshman was called into the meeting first, and then was instructed to wait outside while the other groups made their presentations and subsequently left. The owners then voted for Cleveland as their newest franchise. It seems the owners preferred to keep all their teams in the East and Midwest.

Cleveland Rams Teammates Posing on Field
Cleveland Rams teammates posing at the Polo Grounds in New York City

In 1945, the Rams captured the NFL crown against the Washington Redskins at frozen Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

McBride was part of that championship.

The Columbus Crew joined Major League Soccer in 1996 as one of the charter teams. The Crew posted first place conference titles in 2004, 2008 and 2009 and won the MLS Cup in 2008. They were the first pro soccer team in MLS to build their own soccer-specific stadium which now almost every team in the league has.

In 2017, the Crew announced intentions on relocation to Austin, Texas. After some wrangling that involved the Mayor of Columbus plus the Ohio Attorney General, the franchise was sold to Jimmy and Dee Haslam in 2018. The Haslams announced that the Crew would remain in Columbus.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Columbus Crew SC
Columbus Crew SC owner Jimmy Haslam (left), head coach Caleb Porter
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

This past season the Crew went 12-6-5 (41 points) and finished in third place in the Eastern Conference. The club then defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-2 in the opening round of the playoffs, beat Nashville SC 2-0, and then the New England Revolution 1-0.

This placed the Crew in the MLS Cup against the reigning league champs the Seattle Sounders. Columbus won 3-0 in front of a home crowd, the franchise’s second crown.

The Haslams were part of that championship.

And, of course Art Modell won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens after the 2000 NFL season. He was also the owner of the Browns when Cleveland won the 1964 NFL Championship Game. Technically, the Ravens were the old Browns, but according to NFL records, that franchise - although a relocation of an existing franchise - is considered an entity of its own. When the new Browns were formed in 1999 as technically an expansion club, they instantly owned the history, colors, team name, logos and all records associated with their former team.

3. The Browns wear an orange helmet today because of a rule

For their first four seasons of existence, the Browns wore solid white leather helmets. When the Browns merged into the NFL in 1950 from the AAFC, there was an NFL rule that no team could wear white or light-colored helmets during night games.

The reason? At the time, the NFL used a white football for all night games. The rational for the lighter helmets was that the owners felt is was dangerous for players to go after a white helmet thinking it was a fumble.

So, several NFL clubs decided to sport an alternate dark helmet for the night games including the Detroit Lions (blue-night, silver-day), Chicago Cardinals (red-night, white-day), New York Yanks (blue-night, white-day) and San Francisco 49ers (red-night, white-day).

Browns WR Mac Speedie #58 during a night game 1950 holding a white football wearing the orange night headgear

Instead of changing their traditional white helmets all together, Coach Brown had his Browns do the same and play in white leather helmets during day games, and then had his equipment manager paint the hats all burnt orange for night games. This went on for two seasons.

Plastic helmets were invented in 1939 by John T. Riddell. But, there were lots of issues. The plastic used wasn’t very strong and would often crack upon impact. This meant having to buy several helmets for each player in a time when the bottom line was usually more towards the bottom. The biggest problem was that the small tab below the ear hole would crack.

In 1952, better technology with stronger plastic was developed by Riddell’s company the Riddell Sports Group out of Rosemont, Illinois. Because of the workload and expense of having to paint and re-paint constantly, Coach Brown made a decision and ordered every player a solid orange helmet and dismissed the white version altogether.

A single white stripe went down the center of each helmet, a design they kept through the 1956 season when each player’s jersey number was added to the helmet sides. However, the solid orange helmet with a single white stripe was the choice for all pre-season games through 1959.

After the 1955 season, the NFL discontinued the use of the white ball for night games.