Camp history unique

Posted Jul 9, 2008

The Browns first reported to training camp at Bowling Green State University in 1946.

Paul Brown

It was the case in 2005, when Romeo Crennel took over as Browns head coach and brought in his own people, and it will probably be that way again this year to some extent with all of the additions to the roster in the offseason.

But as pronounced as it may be, the unfamiliarity of the players with one another, and also with the coaches, in those two training camps is nothing as compared to what it was when the Browns convened camp at Bowling Green State University in that inaugural season of 1946.

Most of the players there had never played pro football before. Some had played little in college as well, their careers being interrupted by their service in World War II.

The majority of the coaches had never spent a day in the pro game, either. They had coached in college, with some of them also going into the service during the war.

The players and coaches came from all across the country, but most of them hailed from Ohio, having grown up in both small towns and big cities across the state. Some had never been far from home until their country called during World War II.

Maybe the only thing head coach Paul Brown, his players and his coaching staff had in common that first year was that they had all managed to survive the terrible struggles of the war and the Great Depression, and were now anxious to begin this peacetime era by seeing if they were good enough to get paid for playing a game.

In that regard, then, nothing has changed from 62 years ago. About 80 players, all of whom intent on making the Browns, will be at the team's training facility in Berea when the 2008 camp gets underway in two weeks.

But instead of practicing in front of a small group of fans, curious about this brand new team playing in this brand new league called the All-America Football Conference, thousands of fans will troop in and out the gates over the next several weeks to get their first glimpse of this year's AFC North club.

What happens in this year's camp from July 23 to Aug. 16 will be the result of the evolution of the Browns and pro football - and the fans' relationship with both - over the past six-plus decades.

The Browns were a success right away, winning the league title all four years in the AAFC and then doing it again in the NFL in 1950. Attendance at training camp picked up accordingly as fans were anxious to see this juggernaut and its long list of eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame players such as Otto Graham, Lou Groza and Marion Motley. The price was right, too. As at is today, admission to camp then was free.

The interest level continued to grow when the Browns moved camp to Hiram College in 1952 and trained there through '74. They held 23 camps there for their longest stay at any site. It was at Hiram where the 1964 Browns, made up of such stars as Jim Brown, Paul Warfield and Leroy Kelly, prepared to win what is the club's last NFL championship.

The Browns had a new head coach in Forrest Gregg when they began training at Kent State University in 1975. They remained there through 1981, which means the '80 team, led by Brian Sipe, got ready for its Kardiac Kids run there.

The biggest camp crowds in Browns history occurred when the team was at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland from 1982-91. Gatherings that swelled to upwards of 10,000 came out first to see the last vestiges of the Kardiac Kids, and then the popular teams of the last half of the 1980s that included Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome and Hanford Dixon.

The Browns decided to stay at home for camp in 1992 and train in Berea at the year-round facility they opened the previous August. The '94 team, which set several club defensive marks and had a young scout by the name of Phil Savage, readied itself there. That club, featuring Michael Dean Perry, Eric Turner and Eric Metcalf, was the last one from the original Browns to make the playoffs, defeating in the first round a New England team that had Crennel as a defensive assistant.

When the Browns returned in 1999, they began their second camp tenure at Berea. Most notable of the teams to train there in that time was the one in 2002 that made the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.

Now it's 2008, hope abounds and the crowds will be coming out in numbers to see if Crennel's team can capture some of the magic of those successful Browns clubs of the past. And if that happens, then fans will be able to say they saw the process start in training camp.


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