professional football team and one of six teams in the Central Division
of the American Football Conference (AFC) of the National Football
League (NFL). Under the league’s realignment plan, which will take
affect in 2002, the Browns will play in the North Division of the AFC.
The original Cleveland Browns franchise moved to Baltimore, Maryland,
and took the name Baltimore Ravens in 1996, but in 1998 the NFL granted
ownership of a new Browns franchise to a group of investors headed by
businessman Al Lerner and former San Francisco 49ers president Carmen
Policy. Using their traditional team colors of orange, brown, and white,
the Browns rejoined the NFL in 1999. The team plays in Cleveland Browns
The original Browns were one of the NFL’s most consistent teams, posting
just 12 losing records in 46 seasons. Head coach Paul Brown collected
three league championships and seven division titles from 1950 to 1962.
One of Cleveland’s first stars, running back Jim Brown, became one of
the most prolific runners in professional football history, capturing
eight rushing titles during his nine-year career. Cleveland made the
playoffs seven times during the 1980s, including three AFC Championship
Game appearances. These teams featured players such as quarterback
Bernie Kosar and running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack.
The Browns became a charter member of the All-America Football
Conference (AAFC) in 1946, with Paul Brown as head coach and general
manager. Cleveland dominated the AAFC, losing just four regular-season
games while winning every championship during the league’s four-year
existence. The Browns boasted several future Hall of Fame members,
including quarterback Otto Graham, tackle-placekicker Lou Groza, end
Dante Lavelli, and halfback Marion Motley.
Cleveland joined the NFL in 1950 and immediately became one of the
league’s best teams. That year, with Motley leading the league in
rushing (810 yards), the team captured the first of six consecutive
division crowns and the NFL title. (The Super Bowl was not played until
1967.) Directed by Graham, who led Cleveland’s top-rated offense, the
team also won NFL titles in 1954 and 1955. The Browns fielded the
league’s toughest defense six times from 1951 to 1957; it was anchored
by future Hall of Fame end Len Ford.
After Cleveland’s one-year absence from the postseason in 1956, rookie
sensation Jim Brown carried the team back into the playoffs in 1957.
Brown, a strong runner with great speed, earned top rookie honors and
the first of his eight rushing titles. Behind Brown and rookie wide
receiver Paul Warfield, Cleveland won the NFL title in 1964, besting the
Baltimore Colts (now Indianapolis Colts) in a 27-0 victory in the
championship game. The following season Brown was named player of the
year. He retired with a total of 12,312 career rushing yards.
Running back Leroy Kelly replaced Brown as Cleveland’s main offensive
threat and won rushing championships in 1967 and 1968. Under head coach
Blanton Collier the Browns won division titles in 1968 and 1969, but
they lost in the championship game both years.
The Browns’ dominance faded in the 1970s. Cleveland’s playoff
appearances in 1971 and 1972 ended in first-round losses, and the team
failed to reach the postseason from 1973 to 1979. However, in 1980 the
Browns won the AFC Central Division. Cleveland suffered early playoff
losses in 1980 and then again in 1982.
The Browns drafted Bernie Kosar in 1985. He teamed with Earnest Byner
and Kevin Mack to power Cleveland’s resurgence in the mid-1980s. The
Browns made the playoffs from 1985 through 1989, and Kosar became one of
the NFL’s top-ranked quarterbacks. Cleveland reached the AFC
Championship Game in 1986, 1987, and 1989, but each time, the Browns
lost to the Denver Broncos. These matchups made the rivalry between the
two teams one of the most celebrated in the NFL.
The Browns suffered five losing seasons in their final six years in
Cleveland. Midway through the 1995 season, team owner Art Modell
announced plans to move the team to Baltimore. Three months after the
announcement, which shocked loyal Browns fans and the city of Cleveland,
the NFL granted Cleveland a team and rights to the Browns’ name, colors,
During a special expansion team draft in February 1999, the Browns
drafted a number of veteran players, including center Jim Pyne of the
Detroit Lions and cornerback Antonio Langham of the San Francisco 49ers.
In April of the same year the Browns used their number-one pick in the
NFL amateur draft to select quarterback Tim Couch of the University of
Kentucky. The new Browns struggled during their first season, finishing
with a win-loss record of 2-14.
The Cleveland Browns have never played in the Super Bowl.
NFL History Guide