It was crucial for the Browns, in that inaugural season of 1946 in the All-America Football Conference, to get started off on the right foot.
And they did. The title they won that year paved the way for all the success that would follow.
The same could be said for the 1950 Browns, who captured the NFL championship in their first year in the league. They had to do all the things the 1946 squad had to do, and more.
The 1950 team not only had to get the franchise going in a positive direction in terms of the NFL, but it also had to validate all of the things the Browns had done in the AAFC. It wasn't enough just to win in their new league. The Browns also had to win impressively, and even with a little flair.
The stodgy, old-guard NFL people scoffed at the Browns' domination of the AAFC, saying it was a vastly inferior league to theirs. Thus, they thought the Browns were phonies whose cover would be blown once they began playing in the "big leagues."
To hasten the Browns' rude awakening, the NFL pitted them against the two-time defending league champion Philadelphia Eagles -- in Shibe Park, no less -- in the season opener. The Eagles, who had also appeared in three straight NFL title games (losing in 1947 to the Chicago Cardinals), had posted a league-best 11-1 regular-season record in '49.
This was the best the NFL had at the time. Surely they would teach these upstarts from Cleveland a lesson.
But the Browns, fresh off four straight titles in the AAFC, were up to the challenge - and then some. They blew out the Eagles 35-10, and it wasn't even that close. The Browns had prepared for this game for months, and it showed with their thorough domination from beginning to end.
The following week, the Browns won again in a rout, blanking their old foes from the AAFC, the Baltimore Colts, 21-0. They crushed another former AAFC opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, 34-14 late in the year.
But they also recorded some one-sided wins over established NFL clubs, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-7 and the Washington Redskins 45-21 in the regular-season finale.
The Browns didn't set out just to win these games, but also to prove a point - that is, that they truly belonged in the NFL.
For instance, after their victory in the opener, Eagles head coach Buck Shaw lamented that the Browns, who had passed his team silly, had used finesse to win the game. He claimed the Browns couldn't muscle up and beat Philadelphia in the trenches by using the running game.
So when the teams met again 2.5 months later in Cleveland, Browns head coach Paul Brown ordered his club not to throw a pass all day -- not one. The Browns still triumphed, though, 13-7.
The only team that was able to beat the Browns during the 1950 regular season was the New York Giants, who did it twice in the span of four games, 6-0 and 17-13. Fortunately for the Browns, the Giants lost to Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cardinals, so Cleveland and New York ended the regular season tied for first place in the American Conference at 10-2.
The clubs then met in a special playoff game at Cleveland to decide the conference's representative in the league title contest, and the Browns finally figured out the Giants' "umbrella" defense and came away with a hard-earned 8-3 win.
A week later at Cleveland, on Christmas Eve, the Browns met the Los Angeles Rams, who, when the Browns were formed in 1946, had bolted their former home of Cleveland despite having won the NFL crown in '45. Like the Browns, the Rams also had to capture a special playoff game the previous week to make it to the title contest, defeating the Chicago Bears 24-14 after those teams had finished tied atop the National Conference at 9-3.
The Rams led the Browns 28-20 after three quarters in the championship game before the hosts rallied for a 30-28 triumph, achieved when Lou Groza booted a 16-yard field goal with 28 seconds left.
Indeed, this was a Browns team that, all year long, rose to the occasion.
Quarterback Otto Graham didn't have a great season statistically, throwing just 14 touchdown passes while having 20 interceptions, but just like the club overall, he made plays when they were needed to be made. Graham really helped himself with his running ability, rushing for six TDs, tying him for the team lead with Dub Jones.
Jones gained just 384 yards but averaged 4.6 yards per carry, the same as the team. Marion Motley averaged 5.8 yards per rush en route to gaining 810 yards.
Mac Speedie topped the club in receptions with 43, but it was Dante Lavelli and Jones who did the most damage receiving-wise, both catching five TD passes. It was people like the versatile Jones who really made this offense go.
Defensively, the Browns gave up 144 points, or an average of just 12 per contest. They allowed only 16 points in their first three games combined, then, in the first five contests of a season-ending six-game winning streak, they permitted but 49 points.
The Browns intercepted 31 passes, with cornerback Tommy James leading the way with nine. Fellow cornerback Warren Lahr had eight (two of which were returned for scores), with safety Ken Gorgal adding six.
Every member of this squad - on both sides of the ball -- contributed in some way. The same goes for special teams. Don Phelps averaged 13.4 yards per punt return with a TD, and averaged 27.1 yards per kickoff return. Groza made 13-of-19 field-goal tries and led the club in scoring with 74 points.
When it was all said and done, they did as they had hoped and got started off in the NFL on the right foot, something they had also accomplished four years previously in the AAFC.
|9/16||W 35-10||at Philadelphia Eagles|
|9/24||W 31-0||at Baltimore Colts|
|10/1||L 0-6||New York Giants|
|10/7||W 30-17||at Pittsburgh Steelers|
|10/15||W 34-24||Chicago Cardinals|
|10/22||L 13-17||at New York Giants|
|10/29||W 45-7||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|11/5||W 7-Oct||at Chicago Cardinals|
|11/12||W 34-14||San Francisco 49ers|
|11/19||W 20-14||Washington Redskins|
|12/3||W 13-7||Philadelphia Eagles|
|12/10||W 45-21||at Washington Redskins|
|12/17||W 3-Aug||New York Giants|
|12/24||W 30-28||Los Angeles Rams|
|Score by Periods|
|Total First Downs||199||184|
|Total Net Yards||3,937||2,963|
|Avg. Per Game||328.1||246.9|
|Avg. Per Play||5.5||4|
|Net Yards Rushing||2,089||1,573|
|Avg. Per Game||174.1||131.1|
|Net Yards Passing||1,679||1,390|
|Avg. Per Game||139.9||115.8|
|Net Punting Avg.||66/40.0||69/34.7|
|Bumgardner, Rex 9||112||198||12.4||25t||1|
Cleveland holds 11 draft picks
The combine starts Tuesday while free agency opens March 9
Packers G T.J. Lang, Bengals G Kevin Zeitler and former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel set to hit market
Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week