The 1946 season.
This is where it all started for the Browns.
Without this season, in which they did so well in their debut, it's quite possible that all of the success they enjoyed in the following years might not have come - or at least would not have come to such a great extent.
Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Paul Brown told his players at the beginning of that first training camp at Bowling Green State University that he wanted the Browns "to be the New York Yankees of football." And the club took a big step toward that in the 1946 season in the brand-new, eight-team All-America Football Conference.
The Browns got on a roll in that maiden season and just kept going, as they compiled a 12-2 record to win the Western Division and then topped the New York Yankees 14-9 in the league title game.
The Browns won their first seven games, and only one of them - the next-to-last one, a 7-0 decision over the Yankees - was close. Included were three shutouts, one of which came in the opener when the Browns overwhelmed the Miami Seahawks 44-0 on a warm Saturday night before just over 60,000 fans at Cleveland Stadium. The lopsided victory hooked the Cleveland community.
Just one of their foes in those first seven games - the last one, the Los Angeles Dons, who fell 31-14 -- was able to score more than seven points. Overall in that stretch, the Browns outscored their opponents 180-34, or an average of 25.7 to 4.9 per contest.
After the Browns lost their only two games of the year, 34-20 to the San Francisco 49ers and 17-16 to the Dons, they got rolling again. They won their last five contests, adding their fourth shutout of the year, and outscored their foes by 207-52, or an average of 41.4 to 10.4 per game.
A total of 193 of those points came in the final four contests, when the Browns crushed the Chicago Rockets 51-14, the Buffalo Bisons 42-17, the Seahawks 34-0 to record a shutout-style season series sweep, and the Brooklyn Dodgers 66-14. It is the most overwhelming four-game span in team history.
The win over the Dodgers represents the most points ever scored by the Browns, although that's not the official team mark since it failed to occur in the NFL.
On the year as a whole, the Browns scored 423 points and surrendered just 137. Hall of Fame running back Marion Motley averaged a staggering 8.23 yards per carry, getting 601 yards on 73 rushes. Edgar "Special Delivery" Jones had a 7.0 yards-per-carry average with 539 yards on 77 tries.
Another Hall of Famer, quarterback Otto Graham, passed for 1,834 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Hall of Fame wide receiver Dante Lavelli had 40 receptions and eight TDs, and Mac Speedie added 24 catches and seven scores.
But maybe the most eye-catching statistic is one that involves defense. The Browns recorded a total of 41 interceptions, averaging about 3.5 per game. Cornerback Tom Colella had 10, while safeties Cliff Lewis and - get this - Graham had five each.
Remember, players - even the most star-studded ones of that era -- played both ways. This was clearly a team that started the season way ahead of its competition and remained there.
Lewis is the answer to an interesting trivia question. He, and not Graham, started the opening game.
So the Browns' top two passers were also among their top interceptors, illustrating the fact those early teams were made up of great, all-around athletes.
Who won a lot of games -- and championships -- right from the very start.
|9/6||W 44-0||Miami Seahawks||60,135|
|9/13||W 20-6||at Chicago Rockets||51,962|
|9/22||W 28-0||at Buffalo Bisons||30,302|
|9/29||W 24-7||New York Yankees||57,084|
|10/6||W 26-7||Brooklyn Dodgers||43,713|
|10/12||W 7-0||at New York Yankees||34,252|
|10/20||W 31-14||Los Angeles Dons||71,134|
|10/27||L 20-34||San Francisco 49ers||70,385|
|11/13||L 16-17||at Los Angeles Dons||24,800|
|11/10||W 14-7||at San Francisco 49ers||41,061|
|11/17||W 51-14||Chicago Rockets||60,457|
|11/24||W 42-17||Buffalo Bisons||37,054|
|12/3||W 34-0||at Miami Seahawks||9,038|
|10/8||W 66-14||at Brooklyn Dodgers||14,600|
|12/22||W 14-9||New York Yankees||40,469|