A first-year team in a first-year league, the Browns went through the All-America Football Conference like a hot knife through butter in the 1946 regular season.
They romped past the Miami Seahawks, 44-0, in their opener on Friday night of Labor Day weekend at Cleveland Stadium, but it didn’t stop there. They beat their next six opponents as well, recording two more shutots -- 28-0 over the Buffalo Bisons and 7-0 over the New York Yankees -- and limiting all but one of them to single-digits scoring.
The Browns hit a speed bump in the middle of the season, losing back-to-back games to the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Dons, then got rolling again, winning their last five, including a 14-7 decision over the 49ers in the rematch.
They also beat the Chicago Rockets, 51-14, the Bisons, 42-17, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, 66-14, and completed a season series shutout sweep of Miami, 34-0.
When the regular season ended, the Browns had finished 12-2 and were in first place in the Western Division, three games ahead of the runner-up 49ers (9-5). Yes, the Western Division, which indicates just how much of an Eastern U.S.-based league the AAFC was.
The Browns had led the league in scoring with 423 points, 106 more than their nearest competitor, and were also tops in fewest points allowed with 137. The next-best team gave up 52 more.
And the Cleveland fans took notice of this dominance, as the Browns’ home attendance of just under 400,000 was more than twice as much as the No. 2 draw.
The Browns attracted 60,135 to their opener against Miami, which was the largest crowd ever to see a pro football game. Then later in the season, they twice blew that record away, drawing 71,134 to watch the Dons and 70,385 for the 49ers game.
Head coach Paul Brown said before the season that he wanted to make the Browns the New York Yankees of football -- that is, the best there was in every aspect, on and off the field.
It appeared he had succeeded.
But there was still one piece of unfinished business. For any of this regular-season prowess to really mean anything going forward, the Browns also had to win the league title and prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that they were indeed No. 1.
Their opponents in the AAFC Championship Game, played Dec. 22 at Cleveland, were the New York Yankees (10-3-1), who captured the Eastern Division crown by a whopping seven games over the runner-up Dodgers and Bisons.
It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but the Browns earned the title with a 14-9 comeback victory when Otto Graham threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dante Lavelli in the fourth quarter.
Marion Motley’s two-yard touchdown run accounted for the Browns’ only points as they trailed, 9-7, through three quarters.
Undaunted, Graham then capped off the first of his many great big-game performances as he and the Browns began to build their impressive legacy.
This Day in Browns History is presented by Cleveland Clinic.