The 1970 season was one of great change for all teams in the NFL, especially the Browns.
The merger between the NFL and AFL was complete, with the leagues now playing each other in the regular season for the first time. This was the last step in a four-year process that began in January 1967 with the champions from both leagues playing in Super Bowl I.
To finish the merger, the Browns, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Colts, agreed to move in 1970 from the NFL to the old AFL, renamed the AFC, to balance the leagues, now called conferences (NFC and AFC), at 13 clubs each. The merger had hit a stalemate when none of the NFL teams initially wanted to jump to what many of the old-line NFL people felt was an inferior league overall.
Concerning just the Browns themselves, there was the situation involving Blanton Collier. Although no one except maybe the man himself knew it at the start of the season, this was going to be the last year for the venerable head coach. Collier, who had been on the job since 1963 and had guided the Browns to the NFL championship a year later, would announce his retirement shortly before the 1970 season ended.
Collier and the Browns went into the year with high hopes. After having made three straight playoff appearances, including trips to the NFL Championship Game in the previous two years, they Browns seemed primed -- for both the present and future.
Realizing quarterback Bill Nelsen's aching knees were on borrowed time, the Browns had made a blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins on the eve of the 1970 NFL Draft to get the rights to select the man they felt would be their passer of the future, Mike Phipps. But it came at a steep price, for they had to give up Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield in the process.
That loss, coupled with Nelsen's physical condition and the unfamiliarity with the personnel on the former AFL clubs they were playing for the first time, took the starch out of what had been a good offense going all the way back to 1963. The result was the Browns scored 65 less points than they had the year before, and 108 less than two seasons before.
Along with that, the defense, though it gave up 35 fewer points than it had in 1969, just couldn't make up the difference.
It all led to the Browns finishing 7-7, only the second non-winning mark in club history.
Despite that, the season started well for the Browns, as they opened 3-1 and then were 4-2.
The Browns beat Joe Namath and the New York Jets 31-21 at Cleveland Stadium in the opener in the first Monday Night Football game in history, and, three games later, edged Cincinnati 30-27 in Bengals head coach Paul Brown's first official visit to Cleveland since being fired by the Browns eight years before.
Those two events alone speak volumes about the newsworthiness of the 1970 season.
The Browns' first loss came by three points (34-31) to a good San Francisco 49ers team, so there was no shame there, especially since it occurred just six days after the Monday night win over the Jets, and included a trip across the country to boot. Want to know when the term "Monday Night Football hangover" originated? On Sept. 27, 1970 at Kezar Stadium.
The Browns' next game, Oct. 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at home, also made history and follows along with the theme of the season: change. The 15-7 victory marked the last of the traditional Saturday night games at Cleveland against Pittsburgh.
Following their most complete game of the year -- a 28-0 Week 6 triumph over Warfield and the up-and-coming Dolphins at the Orange Bowl, one of the few blemishes on Miami's 10-4 record that year -- the Browns suffered three straight losses to the San Diego Chargers (27-10), Oakland Raiders (23-20) and Cincinnati (14-10) to fall to 4-5.
However, since no one was running away from the pack in the newly-created AFC Central, the Browns were still in the race at the time. They were essentially knocked out of contention, however, in the next-to-last game of the year with a baseball score-like 6-2 loss to Dallas in Collier's final home game.
Fortunately, the Browns were able to send him off on a good note the next week with a season-ending 27-13 win at Denver.
|9/21||W 31-21||New York Jets||85,703|
|9/27||L 31-34||at San Francisco 49ers||37,502|
|10/3||W 15-7||Pittsburgh Steelers||84,349|
|10/11||W 30-27||Cincinnati Bengals||83,520|
|10/18||L 24-41||Detroit Lions||83,577|
|10/25||W 28-0||at Miami Dolphins||75,313|
|11/1||L 10-27||San Diego Chargers||80,047|
|11/8||L 20-23||at Oakland Raiders||54,463|
|11/15||L 10-14||at Cincinnati Bengals||60,007|
|11/22||W 28-14||Houston Oilers||74,723|
|11/29||L 9-28||at Pittsburgh Steelers||50,214|
|12/7||W 21-10||at Houston Oilers||50,582|
|12/12||L 2-6||Dallas Cowboys||75,458|
|12/20||W 27-13||at Denver Broncos||51,001|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||239||236|
|Total Net Yards||4,161||4,244|
|Avg. Per Game||297.2||303.1|
|Avg. Per Play||4.8||5|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,579||2,006|
|Avg. Per Game||112.8||143.3|
|Net Yards Passing||2,582||2,238|
|Avg. Per Game||184.4||159.9|
|Net Punting Avg.||71/41.4||66/38.9|