At first glance, it wasn't very good.
Not very good at all, especially for a team with as proud of a tradition as the Browns.
The Browns finished 1999 with a franchise-worst 2-14 record, losing their first seven games and their last six. Only a short-lived 2-1 stint in the middle of the year saved the situation from being even worse.
They failed to win a game at home in eight tries whereas in the team's first 50 years of existence, their winning percentage was over 60 percent.
They scored just 217 points and gave up 437, meaning they were losing games by an average score of 27.3-13.6, or by two touchdowns.
They gave up 43, 41 and 44 points to three different AFC Central foes.
They suffered losses by 43, 32 and 31 points, and went through one five-game stretch in which they came no closer than 10 points of any foe.
But with all that having been said, the 1999 season was still a great one for the Browns and, more importantly, their fans.
Although a winning record would have obviously been nice -- there was a lot of speculation as the season approached that the Browns, after signing a number of "name" free agents, could even make the playoffs -- the season was a success in ways that can't be measured statistically.
The Browns were back after a three-year absence, returning to the field for the first time since 1995, the last season for the original Browns franchise before it moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. In an unprecedented move in pro sports, the fans had united and fought the NFL after the Browns skipped out of town and kept the pressure on until there was a promise of a new team in Cleveland.
It was a new "old" team really -- an expansion club with a 50-year history. The team would still be called the Browns and have the same colors and records, but it would, in all ways, be starting from scratch.
For a football city like Cleveland that's always been crazy about its Browns, just seeing players with plain orange helmets running around on Sunday afternoons was enough.
And to see it all happen in a new, state-of-the-art facility, Cleveland Browns Stadium, just added icing to the cake.
Going three seasons -- 1996-98 -- without football was a steep, steep price to pay, but in the end, it was worth it.
The fans kept reminding themselves of all of this as the losses piled up. It enabled them to keep the smiles on their faces.
On Feb. 9, just three weeks after Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was hired as Browns head coach, the NFL Expansion Draft was held in Canton, Ohio to provide the club with its first major influx of players. The Browns selected a total of 37 players from the other teams, the first of whom was Detroit Lions guard Jim Pyne. When he walked across the stage at the Canton Memorial Civic Center, a large crowd roared and gave him a standing ovation as if he were the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL College Draft.
Six months to the day later, on Aug. 9, the Browns made their on-field debut just a few miles from the Civic Center at the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game at sold-out -- and then some -- Fawcett Stadium. When rookie Phil Dawson kicked a field goal in overtime to provide a 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Browns and their fans acted as if they had just won the Super Bowl.
A not-that-bad 2-3 preseason record -- the other triumph was by 35-24 over the Chicago Bears at home -- gave everyone hope that the Browns would be a competitive team.
It didn't happen.
Browns management asked that the club play its first regular-season home game against the arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL granted the request, and put the teams in the season opener before a national TV audience on Sunday Night Football.
It was more than just a football game. It was a new beginning, signaling the start of the next generation of Browns football. As such, there was enough pomp and circumstance leading up to the game for a Super Bowl.
But reality quickly set in. The Browns were indeed back, but they would need some work before they were ready for prime time. The Steelers dominated every facet of the game from start to finish and won 43-0, raining on Cleveland's grand parade.
Another loss that stung was the 17-10 decision at Baltimore two weeks later in a match-up of the new Browns against the old Browns. Fans in Cleveland wanted badly for their new team to win and "punish" the old franchise for bolting out of town.
The Browns seemed to have their first win when, in Week 5, they led Cincinnati 17-12 with just a little over two minutes left. But the Bengals drove 80 yards in two minutes and scored a touchdown with five seconds left for an 18-17 victory. The tally came on a five-yard pass from rookie quarterback Akili Smith, who was passed over by the Browns in the NFL Draft in favor of Tim Couch as the No. 1 overall pick and the face of the new franchise.
But while Couch, a Kentucky product, may have lost that individual battle, there were times during 1999 that when he showed signs that he would eventually be the player who could take the Browns where they wanted to go. The first came in Week 8 when the Browns got their initial win with a 21-16 decision at New Orleans. The game-winner was provided by Couch with a 56-yard, final-play, Hail Mary TD pass to Kevin Johnson, the wide receiver the Browns had drafted at the top of the second round to be the quarterback's prime target.
The play so shocked Saints head coach Mike Ditka that he immediately fell to the ground, and laid there on his back for a while in stunned disbelief.
After a 41-9 loss at home to the Ravens, the Browns enjoyed their finest moment of the season when they rallied for an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit to edge the Steelers 16-15 on Dawson's 39-yard field goal as time expired. Just as what happened in the opener at Cleveland did much to ruin the Browns' season, the game at Three Rivers Stadium did much to flatten the Steelers. They went into an immediate tailspin, losing their next five games and seven of their final eight to fade out of playoff contention.
So in that respect, revenge was sweet for the Browns.
The season finale resulted in another loss, 29-28 to the Indianapolis Colts at home, but it provided some real hope. The Colts were on their way to a 13-3 finish, yet the Browns gave them everything they wanted, holding a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and not losing until the visitors kicked a field goal with four seconds left.
The fact the Browns played that well -- and did so behind second-string quarterback Ty Detmer, who stepped in when Couch suffered a sprained ankle the previous week -- was an encouraging note heading into the offseason.
Now with a season under their belts and a sense once again of what the NFL was about, the Browns hoped to build on their foundation of young players and make marked improvement in 2000.
|9/19||L6-26||at Tennessee Titans||65,904|
|9/26||L10-17||at Baltimore Ravens||68,803|
|10/3||L7-19||New England Patriots||72,368|
|10/17||L7-24||at Jacksonsville Jaguars||62,047|
|10/24||L3-34||at St. Louis Rams||65,866|
|10/31||W21-16||at New Orleans Saints||48,817|
|11/14||W16-15||at Pittsburgh Steelers||58,213|
|12/5||L10-23||at San Diego Chargers||53,147|
|12/12||L28-44||at Cincinnati Bengals||59,972|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||220||368|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||59/203||110/235|
|3rd Down Pct.||29.1||46.8|
|4th Down: Made/Att||9/13||8/13|
|4th Down Pct.||69.2||61.5|
|Total Net Yards||3762||6046|
|Avg. Per Game||235.1||377.9|
|Avg. Per Play||4.3||5.2|
|Net Yards Rushing||1150||2736|
|Avg. Per Game||71.9||171.0|
|Net Yards Passing||2612||3310|
|Avg. Per Game||163.3||206.9|
|Net Punting Avg.||106/34.6||66/37.3|