The Cleveland Browns were one of my least favorite pro sports teams, and for such a stupid reason. I never liked their name! During my childhood, I was influenced by foolish notions like this. When they beat the Baltimore Colts to win the 1964 National Football League championship, I was not happy.
But since Mike Nucklebone at Big Earth said that the Browns were one of the teams I was to write about, I went ahead and did so. It should come as no surprise that I found out this franchise has a most interesting and admirable history. I thought the Browns’ formation and early years made for quite a compelling tale—far more than in recent times. The nine-year-old Cleveland Rams departed for Los Angeles after the 1945 season and were immediately replaced by a new team, the Cleveland Browns, members of a new league, the All-America Football Conference. The owner was Mickey McBride, a man who had made his fortune in real estate, taxicabs and a horse-racing syndicate that may or may not have been aboveboard.
McBride wanted a winning and profitable football franchise, and he gave coach Paul Brown the money and freedom to create it. Brown, formerly the head coach at Ohio State and Great Lakes Naval Station, hauled in lots of capable athletes for a team that would be a dynasty unlike any other. Brown was a man ahead of his time, and he never hesitated in drafting and signing black football players. Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Horace Gillom and Len Ford were on that ’46 team and had a lot to do with making Cleveland a powerhouse. Brown’s other masterstroke was in convincing quarterback Otto Graham to sign with his AAFC team and not the Detroit Lions of the NFL. Graham is one of my favorite players in all of pro football history. Not because of his sterling statistics—he threw more interceptions (94) than touchdowns (88)—but he was a winner like nobody else. Graham played 10 years for the Browns, and they were in the championship game (AAFC or NFL, beginning in 1950) every year. They won seven of those 10 games. To recapitulate: Graham played 10 years of pro ball, his team reached the title game every year, and seven of those games were victories. If winning is the sine qua non, Otto Graham is far and away the finest quarterback to ever strap on a football helmet.
Of course, I wrote about Jimmy Brown—by most accounts the best running back in pro football history—and his violent tendencies on and off the field; he seemed to have a thing about throwing women off of balconies. Art Modell took the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season, so the franchise went into a four-year hiatus before being reborn with the same name, uniforms and even records. Modell’s Ravens began life as an entirely new franchise.
This book and the one that followed, about the St. Louis Cardinals, were written in a blaze after I was laid off at my law firm job. I was in the process of determining what I would do next. As it turned out, I was moving to Korea. In fact, I did the final revisions for both books at a restaurant in Daegu. I recall pounding on my laptop and drinking beer, almost simultaneously.