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Browns: 6 memorable Week 1 victories

Cleveland has been dismal in season openers since 2004, but there have been some memorable Week 1 wins in franchise history.

Jim Brown Running with Football

The Cleveland Browns will open the 2022 regular season on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers looking to break one of the stranger streaks in NFL history.

Since defeating the Baltimore Ravens to open the 2004 season, the Browns have been on a 17-season winless streak in Week 1 games, the longest by far in NFL history.

Over the past 17 seasons there have been close losses - 19-14 to the New Orleans Saints in 2006, 17-14 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010, 17-16 to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012 - blowout losses - 34-7 to Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007, 28-10 to the Dallas Cowboys in 2008 and 43-13 to the Tennessee Titans in 2019 - and even one tie - 21-21 to the Steelers in 2018 - but still not one single victory to be found.

It hasn’t always been that way, of course, as the Browns have had some memorable opening games throughout their history.

While we wait to see if the Browns can finally break their Week 1 streak, let’s take a look back at six memorable season-opening wins throughout the years. As always, a major tip of the hat to Jonathan Knight’s Browns Bible, an indispensable resource for Browns fans.

Cleveland 35, Philadelphia 10
September 16, 1950

The Cleveland Browns dominated the All-America Football Conference during its four years in existence, losing just four games and bringing home the league championship every season.

Just three days after picking up that fourth championship, the league folded and the Browns, along with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts, joined the NFL for the 1950 season.

The NFL decided that it needed to send a message to the Browns that their days of rolling over teams like the New York Yankees, Chicago Hornets and Los Angeles Dons were coming to an end now that they were playing with the big boys of professional football. To that end, the Browns were scheduled to open the season on the road against the two-time defending champion Philadelphia Eagles.

The Browns did not follow the script as after falling behind 3-0 in the first quarter, they ripped off 28 consecutive points to shock the Eagles. Cleveland opened their account when quarterback Otto Graham hit running back Dub Jones for a 59-yard touchdown pass, the first of three on the day by Graham, who also added a touchdown run.

Cleveland finished with 448 yards of total offense in a 35-10 victory that put the NFL establishment on notice that there was a new force to be dealt with in the Browns.

Blanton Collier Watching a Football Game

Cleveland 37, Washington 14
September 15, 1963

For the first time in franchise history, the Browns took the field with someone other than Paul Brown on the sidelines as head coach.

In place of Brown, who had been fired by owner Art Modell after the previous season, was Blanton Collier, who had served as an assistant coach under Brown from 1946 to 1953 before heading to the University of Kentucky as head coach from 1954 to 1961.

Perhaps because they wanted to show the rest of the league that they were more than just Brown, or because they were still too talented, the Browns did not miss a beat as they made Collier a winner on his debut.

Cleveland bullied the Washington defense by rolling up 542 yards of total offense, led by running back Jim Brown, who ran for 162 yards and added 100 receiving yards. Brown also scored three touchdowns, including an 83-yard touchdown pass and an 80-yard touchdown run.

The defense also got in on the fun by holding Washington to just 272 total yards of offense and forcing three turnovers.

If the rest of the league was relieved that they no longer had to match wits with Paul Brown, the Browns wasted no time in letting everyone know they were still a team to be reckoned with.

Cleveland Browns Brian Sipe

Cleveland 25, New York Jets 22 (OT)
September 2, 1979

The Kardiac Kids made their debut in Week 1 with a wild overtime win over the Jets at Shea Stadium.

The Browns were holding a 19-13 lead in the fourth quarter when head coach Sam Rutigliano gambled on a fourth-and-inches play at New York’s 14-yard-line that was stuffed by the Jets defense. New York capitalized on that play by marching down the field for a game-tying touchdown but did not take the lead after placekicker Nick Leahy missed the extra point.

Kick returner Ricky Feacher fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Jets recovered, and Leahy redeemed himself by converting a 21-yard field goal to put the Browns down by three points just after the two-minute warning.

Cleveland quarterback Brian Sipe then drove the Browns from their own 14-yard-line to New York’s 18 and, with the clock ticking, placekicker Don Cockroft sent the game into overtime with a 35-yard field goal.

Both teams struggled in overtime to get anything going on offense, but the Browns grabbed one final opportunity after defensive back Oliver Davis intercepted a pass from New York quarterback Matt Robinson and returned it to New York’s 31-yard-line.

Sipe hit wide receiver Dave Logan to bring the Browns into field-goal range and Cockroft sealed the win with a 27-yard field goal, his fourth successful kick of the day.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Cleveland 51, Pittsburgh 0
September 10, 1989

In one of the most memorable Week 1 games in franchise history, and arguably the high point of the Bud Carson era as head coach, they absolutely dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.

The defense led the charge with six sacks and eight turnovers, and held the Steelers to just 53 yards of total offense. The Browns defense converted three of the turnovers into touchdowns, including a pair by linebacker David Grayson, who returned a fumble 28 yards for a score and an interception 14 yards for another touchdown.

Cleveland’s offense was efficient as running back Tim Manoa had a pair of rushing touchdowns and running back Mike Oliphant, who the Browns picked up in the offseason as part of the ill-advised trade of running back Earnest Byner, closed out the scoring with a 21-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter - the only touchdown of his three-year NFL career.

Cleveland Browns Eric Metcalf... SetNumber: X46816

Cleveland 28, Cincinnati 20
September 4, 1994

Cleveland turned two touchdowns on special teams and a final defensive effort to open the 1994 season on a winning note.

After jumping out to an 11-0 lead that included punter Tom Tupa scoring the first two-point conversion in league history, the Bengals got on the scoreboard with a one-yard touchdown run by Derrick Fenner.

That is when Cleveland’s special teams took over as running back Randy Baldwin took the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. A few minutes later, running back Eric Metcalf fielded a punt on his own eight-yard-line and returned it 92 yards for a score, making it the first time since the 1958 season that the Browns returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same game.

The offense stalled in the second half and would score just three points, allowing the Bengals to work their way back into the game.

Leading by eight points and time running out, the Browns saw the Bengals drive to the Cleveland 10-yard-line with about a minute left to play. Cincinnati quarterback David Klinger took a shot into the end zone, but rookie defensive back Antonio Langham came up with the interception to seal Cleveland’s second consecutive Week 1 victory.

This is currently the last time the Browns won their opening game on the road.

Ravens v Browns Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Cleveland 20, Baltimore 3
September 12, 2004

Quarterback Jeff Garcia made a memorable debut as he led the Browns past the Baltimore Ravens for Cleveland’s first win in a season-opening game since their return to the NFL in 1999.

Neither offense got much going through almost three quarters, but with the game tied at three, Garcia hit wide receiver Quincy Morgan with a 46-yard touchdown pass to push the Browns into a 10-3 lead. Garcia would add a three-yard touchdown run near the end of the fourth quarter to put the finishing touches on the win.

Cleveland’s defense was on top of its game that day as it held the Ravens to just three points, picked off Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller two times, limited running back Jamal Lewis to 57 rushing yards, and posted three sacks by defensive end Kenard Lang.

It was a fine day for the Browns, but little did anyone know it would currently be the last time the team would walk off the field as winners in the opening game of a season.