Passan: Cleveland Browns (1946-95)

Rich Passan argues that Cleveland football should have started over in 1999. Agree/disagree? Rich is a frequent visitor to the Watercooler and holds court in the Subscriber Lounge.

I'm old school and I'm about to prove it.

What follows will offend a lot of people. It will anger others and perplex a few more. Some, not enough unfortunately, will understand.

Nonetheless, it must be said.

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, the current Cleveland Browns should not be the Cleveland Browns. The Cleveland Browns we all knew and loved are dead. The players born out of the 1946 All-America Conference Cleveland Browns are no more.

They were buried that fateful November Monday in 1995 when their owner announced their demise. When he turned his back on a city that made him famous. When he took the money and ran like a scared animal.

That's when the Cleveland Browns died. Their legacy now resides in Baltimore under a different name.

And that infuriates a lot of long-time pro football fans with strong, unbreakable emotional ties to the old Browns.

Fact of the matter is that after Cleveland demanded that the former owner give up the nickname and colors, they should have been retired and preserved for posterity to be remembered as one of the storied franchises of the National Football League.

They should have been allowed to rest comfortably in peace with a legacy that was usurped by a man consumed with greed and selfishness.

They should have been remembered for producing more than a dozen members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; for winning four championships in their first six seasons and five overall; for gifting the NFL with one of the most ardent and passionate fan bases in the history of the game; and for being the only team named after its coach.

Instead, they have been reincarnated from expansion status into one of the worst franchises in the league. All in the name of a name and colors that have been sullied by the performance of the new Browns.

It would have been much easier to let the name "Browns" flourish forever in the annals of pro football history and renamed the new team.

There is no connection whatsoever between the old Browns and the new Browns. The history that was the Cleveland Browns resides in Baltimore. Just like the history of the Baltimore Colts resides in Indianapolis.

When Robert Irsay cowardly moved the Colts to Indianapolis under the darkness of night, he took everything with him, including the team records.

Baltimore did not want the name back. It did not want the colors and records back. The records belonged to the team that moved to Indianapolis.

All Colts records followed the team to Indianapolis and remain there to this day. John Unitas and Raymond Berry and Alan Ameche and Gino Marchetti and Lenny Moore all played for the Colts, who started in Baltimore.

Cleveland fought hard for the name, colors and history. But it did not have to fight for the name. I don't know this for a fact, but there was no way Art Modell was going to name that team the Baltimore Browns.

The NFL archives recognize that team as the Cleveland Browns (RIP, 1946-95).

Jim Brown and Otto Graham and Lou Groza and Dante Lavelli played for the Cleveland Browns, a team that has no ties with the current team other than the name and colors. Yes, the records came back to Cleveland and appear in the media guide of the current team. Still can't figure out why the NFL allowed that.

The chain was broken forever following the 1995 season after 50 years in Cleveland. A three-year gap with no football represents a void, emotional and otherwise.

The team that represents Cleveland now is called the Browns, but the real Browns are gone. There are those of us old-timers who firmly believe that. We follow the current team and root for the players to win, of course. But we know deep down it's not the same.

It never will be.

And don't blame Baltimore. Blame the NFL for permitting one of its standard-bearer franchises to move. Blame Al Lerner for providing the private jet (and the infamous secret knock) for the move. Blame the politicians for the move. But don't blame Baltimore.

Baltimore fans did not seek the Browns. They wanted an expansion team and should have been granted one in the early 1990s. They were as surprised to learn the Browns were moving there as we were to learn the same thing.

Judging from the many vituperative posts on the subject in this Web site, the younger generation doesn't see it that way. Threads are started deliberately to incite Ravens fans who surf this Web site. It's almost as though they delight in ferreting out those Baltimore fans for target practice.

Let's stop playing "Let's Pretend." These are not the Browns of Graham, Lavelli, Groza, Willis, Brown and Speedie. These are not the Browns of the Dawg Pound, Red Right 88 and Ryan to Collins thrice in the 1964 title game.

These are the Browns of Couch, Pyne, Wohlabaugh, Miller, Johnson and Roye. These are the Browns of Bottlegate and Carmen Policy and Butch Davis and bad football.

These are not the Browns of the past. They never will be.

Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Bernie Kosar or the staff of


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