The 1969 season was the last for the Browns in the old NFL, now NFC, before they went to the AFC, the re-made AFL, when the merger was completed the following year.
And they went out with a bang -- pretty much so, at least.
They won the title in the Century Division of the Eastern Conference for the third straight season by finishing 10-3-1, their best record since 1965 (11-3). For the second year in a row, they beat the Dallas Cowboys in the conference title game - this time much more decisively, 38-14. They had defeated Dallas in the 1968 conference championship contest 31-20.
But despite the lopsided win over the Cowboys and all the confidence it gave them, the Browns followed suit by being crushed 27-7 by the Minnesota Vikings in the final NFL Championship Game.
So for the second straight time, the Browns got to the doorstep of the Super Bowl, only to be turned away. The Vikings went there instead and got blasted themselves by the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7.
The 1969 Browns were consistent. They scored in the 20s 10 times, they tallied 27 points on four occasions, including three times in the first four games, and they totaled 28 points in back-to-back contests near the end of the season.
Is it any wonder, then, that they averaged just over 25 points per contest on the year?
Ironically, their two biggest games - one with an extremely good outcome and the other with an extremely bad one -- came in consecutive weeks in the middle of the season. In addition to that, the contests were against the two teams they would face in the playoffs - in the exact order they would meet them, and also in the place they would meet them.
They manhandled Dallas 42-10 at Cleveland, beating the Cowboys for the first time in the regular season since 1966 and providing the Browns with their most lopsided win of the year. The Cowboys had been to the NFL Championship Game the previous two seasons.
Then the Browns were summarily dumped 51-3 by the host Vikings. The Minnesota loss occurred at the end of a three-game stretch that represented the only rough spot the Browns hit all year. Before beating Dallas, the Browns settled for a 21-21 tie with a bad (4-9-1) St. Louis Cardinals team.
The Browns played the last three games merely for exercise and to keep sharp, as they clinched the Century crown with a 28-24 road win over the Chicago Bears on Nov. 30. Down the stretch, they lost to the New York Giants in the finale 27-14, but they also beat Green Bay 20-7 and ended an eight-game losing streak to the Packers, and edged the Cardinals 27-21 in the rematch.
Quarterback Bill Nelsen, one of the best leaders the Browns have ever had, enjoyed his second straight good season since coming in a trade with Pittsburgh in 1968. He threw for 2,743 yards and 23 touchdowns, with 19 interceptions, for a quarterback rating of 78.8.
Wide receivers Gary Collins and Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Warfield combined for 96 catches, nearly 1,700 yards and 21 TDs.
Another Hall of Famer, running back Leroy Kelly, missed 1,000 yards rushing for the first time since taking over as a starter in 1966, but he still finished with 817 yards and nine TDs.
The defense was solid all year despite giving up 300 points. A total of 81 points came in two games, the loss to the Vikings and a 42-31 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Otherwise, the Browns held their foes to 18.3 points per contest and limited three teams to 10 points or less.
Feisty safety Mike Howell, who also played some at cornerback during his eight seasons with the Browns, led the way with six interceptions. Cornerback Walt Sumner (four) and safety Ernie Kellerman (three) were next on the interceptions list, and both returned one for a TD.
The Browns had three interception returns for TDs overall, the other one coming from veteran cornerback Erich Barnes.
|9/21||W 27-20||at Philadelphia Eagles||60,658|
|9/28||W 27-23||Washington Redskins||82,581|
|10/5||L 21-28||Detroit Lions||82,933|
|10/12||W 27-17||at New Orleans Saints||71,274|
|10/18||W 42-31||Pittsburgh Steelers||84,078|
|10/26||T 21-21||St. Louis Cardinals||81,186|
|11/2||W 42-10||Dallas Cowboys||84,850|
|11/9||L 3-51||at Minnesota Vikings||47,700|
|11/16||W 24-3||at Pittsburgh Steelers||47,670|
|11/23||W 28-17||New York Giants||80,595|
|11/30||W 28-24||at Chicago Bears||45,050|
|12/7||W 20-7||Green Bay Packers||82,137|
|12/14||W 27-21||at St. Louis Cardinals||44,924|
|12/21||L 14-27||at New York Giants||62,966|
|12/28||W 38-14||at Dallas Cowboys||69,321|
|1/4||L 7-27||at Minnesota Vikings||47,900|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||250||257|
|Total Net Yards||4,428||4,420|
|Avg. Per Game||316.3||315.7|
|Avg. Per Play||5.2||5.3|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,788||1,956|
|Avg. Per Game||127.7||139.7|
|Net Yards Passing||2,640||2,464|
|Avg. Per Game||188.6||176|
|Net Punting Avg.||60/36.3||64/37.9|
A slow start was followed by a strong finish
14 former Ohio State players to make trip to Indianapolis
Production unexpectedly high despite injuries, turnover
Injury bug bit this group big time in 2015