Is the best Cleveland Indians team of all-time the one they had in 1948?
It had a lot of stars - Bob Feller, Larry Doby, Lou Boudreau, Bob Lemon, Joe Gordon and Ken Keltner -- to name just a few - and captured one of the franchise's two World Series titles.
How about the Browns of that same year, 1948? Are they Cleveland football's equivalent of the 1948 Indians?
Maybe so. At least a strong argument could be made for such.
After all, how do you beat perfection? The 1948 Browns are one of just two teams in the "modern" era (1933-present) of pro football to have completed a perfect season (no losses and no ties).
The Browns, in just their third year of existence, finished the regular season 14-0 to win the Western Division crown and then routed the Buffalo Bills 49-7 to capture the AAFC championship for the third straight year.
Their final 15-0 mark compares to the 17-0 mark compiled by the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only other perfect team in that span.
There have been two other teams that have gone through a regular season perfect since the NFL adopted a division format in 1933, the 1934 and '42 Chicago Bears, who were 13-0 and 11-0, respectively. But both of those clubs lost in the league championship game, ruing their chances at complete perfection.
So the Browns are in a select group.
That certainly can't be the overriding reason for those who say the 1948 team is the best Browns club ever, but it certainly plays a large part in it. It obviously takes a lot for a team to go through a season without any kind of a blemish, or else a number of clubs would have done it.
The Browns had incredible talent, but it takes more than that. Sure, it takes a little luck as well, but it also requires a team to be ultra-sharp mentally and emotionally to withstand the constant challenges to their supremacy.
After winning the league crown the previous two years and posting a 26-3-1 record in the process, the Browns had clearly established themselves as the class of the AAFC. So by the 1948 season, they had a big target on their backs and were thus getting everybody's best shot.
Teams that had no chance of competing for a division championship could take solace in the fact that if they could beat the Browns - or, for that matter, just give them a real scare - it would make their season.
So the Browns had to bring their "A" game every time, which is hard to do for an entire 14-game season. It's like running a marathon at a sprinter's pace. It's just too exhausting.
But if the Browns could do it, with all the talent they had, they'd be fine.
This was a club that featured six future Pro Football Hall of Fame players in quarterback Otto Graham, running back Marion Motley, left tackle/place kicker Lou Groza, center Frank Gatski, wide receiver Dante Lavelli and middle guard Bill Willis.
Plus there were other great players such as wide receiver Mac Speedie, running back Dub Jones, right guard Lin Houston, left defensive end George Young, right linebacker Tony Adamle and cornerbacks Warren Lahr and Tommy James.
Yes, this was a star-studded cast with a HOF coach in Paul Brown to boot.
And that prowess showed in the Browns' nine easy wins that year. They defeated the Bills three times. In addition to the title game victory, the Browns won 42-13 and 31-14 in the regular season.
They also dumped the New York Yankees (35-7) and Baltimore Colts (28-7) in back-to-back games, then came back two weeks later to top the Yankees 34-21. Other no-sweat wins came over the Chicago Rockets (28-7), Brooklyn Dodgers (30-17) and Los Angeles Dons (31-14).
But because everybody got up to play the Browns, Cleveland had its share of tough games as well. The Browns edged the Dons 19-14 in the season opener, the Colts 14-10 and the San Francisco 49ers 14-7 and 31-28.
When it was all said and done, the Browns had scored 389 points in the regular season, or an average of 27.8 per game. The defense was good - the Browns held four regular-season opponents to seven points, kept six other teams to 14 points or less and allowed more than 21 points just once. The unit gave up an average of only 13.6 points per contest.
However, this was a team that was clearly driven by its offense.
Graham led the AAFC in passing for the second straight year, throwing for 2,713 yards and 25 touchdowns with just 15 interceptions.
Speedie topped the league in receptions with 58.
Motley was the AAFC's No. 1 rusher with 964 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
When a team has the top passer, receiver and runner in the league, it usually doesn't lose.
And the Browns didn't.
That had to be extremely frustrating for the 49ers, who spent all four years of the AAFC chasing the Browns. They scored 495 points, or an average of 35.4 per game, in 1948. Their quarterback, Frankie Albert, threw 29 TD passes with only 10 interceptions.
And they finished an impressive 12-2.
Yet, because they were in the same division with the Browns, they finished two games out of first place and thus didn't come close to making the playoffs.
Still not convinced these 1948 Browns are the best in franchise history? Then consider the following: The club played three games in eight days - on opposite sides of the country, no less -- and won them all, two of which by lopsided margins.
It may be the most impressive single accomplishment in Browns history.
After turning back the rival 49ers 14-7 in Cleveland on Nov. 14, the Browns went to New York to begin their eight-day odyssey with a Nov. 21 contest against the Yankees. The Yankees had some tradition behind them, too, in that they had lost to the Browns in the first two AAFC Championship Games. But the Browns triumphed 34-21, then got ready for a Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 25) road game against the Dons.
Cleveland won that one as well, 31-14, before heading up the West Coast for the rematch with the 49ers on Nov. 28. The weary Browns completed their three wins-in-eight days trek by getting a hard-earned 31-28 victory.
Finally, it was time to return to Cleveland.
But not for long.
The Browns had to go back to the East Coast on Dec. 5 to meet the Dodgers to see if they could complete their perfect regular season. No problem. They won 31-21.
Calling it an excruciating, painstaking, grueling stretch - not just for three games, really, but for five games -- would be an understatement. The fact the Browns got through it unscathed - and then came back two weeks later on Dec. 19 to rout the Bills and win the title in the AAFC's last year of existence - says volumes about this team.
And more than anything, it says these Browns may well have been the best of the best.
|9/3||W 19-14||Los Angeles Dons||60,193|
|9/12||W 42-13||at Buffalo Bills||35,340|
|9/17||W 28-7||at Chicago Rockets||30,874|
|9/26||W 21-10||at Chicago Rockets||37,190|
|10/5||W 14-10||at Baltimore Colts||22,359|
|10/10||W 30-17||Brooklyn Dodgers||31,187|
|10/17||W 31-14||Buffalo Bills||28,054|
|10/24||W 35-7||New York Yankees||46,912|
|11/7||W 28-7||Baltimore Colts||32,314|
|11/14||W 14-7||San Fransisco 49ers||82,769|
|11/21||W 34-24||at New York Yankees||52,518|
|11/25||W 31-14||at Los Angeles Dons||60,031|
|11/28||W 31-28||at San Fransisco 49ers||59,785|
|12/5||W 31-21||at Brooklyn Dodgers||9,821|
|12/19||W 49-7||Buffalo Bills||22,981|