The Cleveland Browns Mt. Rushmore

The Browns franchise has been an abomination since returning in 1999, but its long history rivals some of the top teams in NFL history.

The city of Cleveland, thanks to LeBron James and the Cavaliers, finally has their championship after a 52 year drought. But before that period of futility and heartbreaks, “The Land” could very well have been dubbed “Titletown” thanks to the Browns franchise.

From their inception in 1946 to 1964, the Browns won 8 league championships. Four in the All-American Football Conference and another four in the NFL (pre 1970AFL-NFL merger). Overall, they’ve also won 12 conference championships, 13 division titles, while making the playoffs 28 times. Generation Y and millennials may be shocked to hear this news, but it’s true, Cleveland hasn’t always been a “Mistake on the Lake.” Not only have they enjoyed great team success, individually, several players and coaches who have donned the brown and orange have made an indelible mark on pro football. And the following are the four men, who I feel standout the most in their franchise’s history.

CRITERIA:

  • No owners, unless they were also coaches, and their place on this list is based on their contributions as coach. No General Managers or Personnel executives. Just those who directly affected the games on Sunday. I will make a separate list for those contributors soon.
  • Key contributors to the team’s history and success, not just fan favorites or box office draws.
  • Can you tell the franchise’s story without them? If no, they’re on the list.

Jim Brown (1957-1965) retired as not only the Browns All-Time leading rusher (12,312) a record his still holds 51 years later, but also as the NFL’s All-Time leading rusher; he’s since been passed by Walter Payton, then Emmitt Smith. Brown is often discussed in the “who is the greatest football player ever?” debate. NFL.com rated him number three, while in 2002 Sporting News named him the greatest. The 8-time Pro Bowler and 8-time 1st-team All-Pro led the Browns, and the city of Cleveland, to its last pro sports title in 1964 before LeBron James and the 2016 Cavs knocked off the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. But, back to Brown, number 32 led the League in rushing 8-times and is a member of the NFL’s 1960 All-Decade, 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time teams. The Browns retired his jersey number 32. In 1971, Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Paul Brown (1946-1962) is the Browns all-time leader in wins (158) for a coach and led them to 7 League Championships between the All American Football Conference and the NFL. Coach Brown is a coaching legend at all levels in the state of Ohio and country, winning 5 High School State titles (Massillon), a National title at THE Ohio State (1942) and league titles with the Browns. 3-times he was named NFL Coach of the Year (1957,1969, 1970). Coach Brown is also largely responsible for breaking the race barrier in the NFL, as he brought in several African-American players to play for the franchise. Coach was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.

Otto Graham (1946-1955) is the Browns career leader in wins (57) and passing touchdowns (174) and he’s second in passing yards (23,584). Graham was under center for seven of the Browns League Championships (4 in the AAFC and 3 in the NFL). The 6’1” 196 pound QB won the NFL MVP three times (1951, 1953, 1955) and was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection and 8-time All-Pro/AAFC performer. He’s a member of the NFL 1950s All-Decade and NFL 75th Anniversary teams. The team retired his jersey number 14 in his honor, although he also wore number 60 until the league change the rule making only lineman eligible to wear those numbers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.

Lou Groza (1946-1959; 1961-1967) is Cleveland’s all-time leading scorer with 1,608 points. The 9-time Pro Bowl and 6-time All-Pro selection was apart of all eight Championships with the team, four each in both the AAFC and NFL. “The Toe,” as fans and teammates know him, is a member of the NFL’s 1950’s All-Decade,NFL 50th and 75th Anniversary teams. The award given for best place kicker in Division I college football is named in his honor. The Browns have retired his jersey number 76 and inducted him into their ring of honor. Groza was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.

There you have it. Browns fans, is this correct? If not, who’d you like to see? Paul Warfield? Bill Willis? Ozzie Newsome? or Leroy Kelly? Let me know.

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