Five Simple Reasons Why the Cleveland Browns Are the NFL's Best Franchise
by Jim Cantrell (Analyst)
June 01, 2008
Professional football, as we know it, came into existence in 1920, with the founding of the American Professional Football Association. The league changed its name to the National Football League two years later, and the landscape of American sports has never been the same.
Since that monumental year, there have been several debates as to which team and community could claim the mantle of the NFL's best franchise.
The Arizona Cardinals (originally the Chicago Cardinals) and the Chicago Bears (originally the Decatur Staleys) are the only founding members still in the league.
The Green Bay Packers, though in existence since 1919, did not join the league until 1921, but have the most NFL titles with 12.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots can each make an argument for years of dominion over their less talented foes.
The New York Giants and the New York Jets anchor the league's biggest television market.
But only one team and community defines what it means to be the NFL's best franchise.
Here are five simple reasons why that team is the Cleveland Browns.
1. The Cleveland Browns boast the League's greatest and most innovative coach.
Forget the talent evaluation and the players he scooped up while in the All-America Football Conference, which included Otto Graham, Marion Motley and Lou "the Toe" Groza.
Forget his ability to game plan.
Forget, if you can, his larger than life persona or the reputation as a no-nonsense straight shooter.
Paul Brown was a genius. Freakishly so.
Here are some of the "firsts" instituted by Paul Brown: filming games and keeping a library of those games, judging players by intelligence testing, classroom instruction during practice, face masks, using "messenger guards" to send plays into the huddle, using a radio transmitter to communicate with the players on the field.
Brown also used an offense, as directed by Graham, that many consider the predecessor of Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense, himself a protege of Brown.
And speaking of coaches, how impressive is this family tree?
Blanton Collier, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gillman, Chuck Noll, Ara Parseghian, Don Shula, the aforementioned Bill Walsh, and Sam Wyche.
Every one of them was directly influenced by Brown.
2. The Cleveland Browns boast the League's greatest player.
In 1957, the Cleveland Browns drafted the best running back the NFL has ever known.
Bigger than most of the lineman who tried to bring him down, faster than most of the defensive backs who tried to edge him to the sidelines, Jim Brown was a force of nature.
In a 14 game season in 1963, Brown rushed for 1,863 yards, a Browns single season record that still stands.
He is the only rusher in NFL history to average over 100 yards a game in a career.
But most impressively, Jim Brown averaged a mind boggling 5.2 yards per carry for his entire career. He essentially rushed for a first down every other time he carried the ball.
There will never be another player like James Nathaniel Brown.
3. The Cleveland Browns have distinct rivalries with all three opponents in their division.
The American Football Conference North Division is far from the best division in the NFL. But it may have the most animosity.
Unlike teams in other divisions that base their contempt on familiarity, the Cleveland Browns and its inter-division foes really have reason to despise each other.
The Baltimore Ravens were almost the Baltimore Browns, and Cleveland fans will never forget.
The Cincinnati Bengals were founded by Paul Brown, a blow from which many Browns fans still have not recovered.
And the Pittsburgh Steelers, the doormat of the Browns and the rest of the NFL in general for so many years, turned the tables in the 1970's, when a coach from the Paul Brown coaching tree, Chuck Noll, helped to build one of the greatest teams of all time. The history of the games played between these two teams could fill many books, and indeed have.
This rivalry may not only be the greatest in the NFL, but for some, it is the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
4. The Cleveland Browns are directly responsible for the success of Monday Night Football, and by extension, the League's lucrative television contracts.
Art Modell, former Browns owner and only elected NFL President (from 1967 through 1969), was also the NFL's broadcast chairman for 31 years.
As a member of the NFL's negotiating team in 1970, Modell was influential in convincing ABC to take on a truly groundbreaking show, Monday Night Football. Modell went so far as to volunteer to host the first game, which his Browns won against Joe Namath and the New York Jets, 31-21.
Television history was made, the wedding of football and television was complete, and the revenue that the new television contracts generated changed the game, for better or worse, forever.
Just as instrumental in the merger of the NFL and the AFL, Art Modell would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer if only he had been able to manage his own team's finances as well as he managed those early television deals.
5. The Cleveland Browns boast the greatest fan base in all of sports.
With 312 chapters and over 87,000 members, the Cleveland Browns Backers is one of the largest fan organizations in professional sports. It has clubs in every major metropolitan area of America, and can be found in places as remote as Sri Lanka and Australia.
The Cleveland Browns average over 70,000 fans per home game, which is 99.8% of total capacity. Television blackouts are a rarity.
The "Dawg Pound" is a force inside the stadium, rocking the rafters with the woofs and barks of thousands of loyal fans dressed to the "K-9's" and cheering on their beloved team.
But the most impressive display of Cleveland's love of all things Browns was shown during the most tumultuous period in the team's proud history. In the midst of the 1995 season, owner Art Modell announced that he had reached an agreement with the city of Baltimore to move the Browns and begin play there the following season.
Many other cities, faced with similiar circumstances over the years, had tried to protest and stop their teams from moving.
With an organized effort from city government, the local media, and fans far and wide, the Cleveland Browns fans created such an uproar for such an extended period of time that the NFL was forced to admit that leaving the cradle of football without a professional team would not only be bad for business, it would be bad for their piece of mind, as every fax machine and phone line to the league offices had been tied up for weeks.
To make a remarkable story even more, well, remarkable, the city was not only able to regain a new team, but it also was guaranteed the rights to the original name, colors and team history.
And in 1999, the Cleveland Browns were reborn.
WHO is this analyst? I'd bet he's sitting in a Browns Backers bar somewhere every sunday.