Feb 2, 2012, 7:46 PM EDT
Well, another February, another fight between my mailman and I over which is the best team in NFL history. He claims it’s the Steelers, and his reasoning is simple: they’ve won six Super Bowls, more than any other team. He reminds me of this every year on Super Bowl week in his own whimsical fashion, by tossing all of my mail haphazardly onto the front lawn, and filling my mailbox with dog poop. At least I think he’s the one doing that: It’s frightening to think that the dog is behind it.
Anyway, my rebuttal is always the same. Just two simple words, sure to cause ripples of derisive laughter in the neighborhood, in addition to occasional vandalism of my car and shed: “Cleveland Browns.”
Hey, who threw that brick?!
It’s one of my pet peeves that during Super Bowl week, everyone on the planet seems to forget that the NFL was open for business for many years before 1967, when the first Super Bowl was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (they didn’t officially call it the Super Bowl then: it got that name retroactively. Lamar Hunt thought it up while watching his kids play with a Super Ball. Considering how fussy the NFL gets when someone uses its “Super Bowl” trademark, Wham-O, the makers of the Super Ball, should sue them).
The NFL got started in 1920, when the Akron Professionals won the title with an 8-0-3 record. In 1932 the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans both finished the regular season tied for first place, and so they had a playoff to determine the NFL championship. And that was apparently so much fun that the league instituted a playoff championship game the following year, between the winners of the Eastern and Western Divisions. The Bears won the first NFL Championship Game, beating the New York Giants 23-21 at Wrigley Field.
So now let’s jump ahead a bit, to 1950 — when men were men, George McFly was just in grade school and the goal posts were at the front of the end zone (ouch!). This was the Brownezoic Era in professional football. Oh yeah, the Green Bay Packers were great (9-2 in NFL Championship Games between 1936-69), and the Giants (3-11), Bears (6-4) and Lions (4-1) were always willing to stomp on your throat. But the Browns were a shade above.
Consider this: Between 1950 and 1969, the Browns appeared in 11 NFL Championship Games — including six straight from 1950 through ’55, and seven of eight from ’50-’57. Could you imagine a single team going to seven Super Bowls in an eight-year span? Because that would be today’s equivalent. Imagine the Patriots doing that: they would become so despised throughout the rest of the country that we’d break off that portion of Massachusetts and float them out to sea.
The Browns won three titles over that span. But before 1950, the Browns were in the All-America Football Conference, where they won four straight titles from their inception in 1946 through ’49. Then proving that the AAFC was pretty much as good as the NFL all along, the Browns proceeded to win the NFL title when they joined up in 1950.
So counting the AAFC, that’s 10 straight title game appearances (and 11 of 12), where they went 7-3. And 15 appearances from 1946-69.
What a heady time for Cleveland. The year before the Browns’ 10-year streak began, the Cleveland Rams won the NFL title in 1945. The Rams then moved to Los Angeles the following year. Hmm, I wonder how that turned out?
The Browns were led by quarterback Otto Graham, who signed with the team in 1946. He won three NFL championships, four AAFC titles, and was named All-Pro nine times. It could be argued that Graham, who died in 2003 at the age of 82, was the best quarterback of all time. That’s debatable, but what cannot be denied is that he’s the best quarterback to ever wear No. 60. And of course when you’re talking best running back of all time, you can’t go far wrong with Jim Brown (1957-65).
These days the city of Cleveland seems as if it’s cursed, from the exploits of Bernie Kosar and LeBron James to the Indians having not won a World Series since 1948. But there was a time, my friends, when Cleveland football was king, and the road to the NFL Championship ran through Euclid Avenue. Or was it East 9th?
Whatever street it was, someone there is probably receiving my mail.
Rick’s Cafe Americain appears on Thursdays. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com.
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