Tag Archives: Super Bowl

Otto Graham: The Greatest Pro Football Quarterback Ever

Ottobanner1 ottobanner21390174447012-USATSI-7685836The NFL conference championship games that were played today were as thrilling and satisfying a pair of gridiron contests as a football fan could desire. It was great to watch two veteran quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning face off for the AFC title – and then enjoy the next generation of star quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, do battle for the NFC crown.

otto-grahamHowever, in the lead-up to these games – and undoubtedly in the two-week media hype extravaganza that will precede the Super Bowl, there’s one thing that will bug the hell out of me.

In all the talk about Manning and Brady and Wilson and Kaepernick and the great quarterbacks of all time – there’s one name that won’t be mentioned.

It’s the one name that should always be mentioned.

Otto Graham.

A couple of months ago I was listening to sports talk radio host Colin Cowherd hosting a discussion of the greatest NFL quarterbacks on his morning radio show. Cowherd had the nerve to say he didn’t want to hear about guys like Otto Grahama who played in the “no face mask era”.

JETS DOLPHINS AFC CHAMPIONSHIPWell, Colin, here’s proof that Otto Graham wore a face mask in the NFL.

(Later in this post, I’ll show why Cowherd’s comment proves there’s an even deeper gash in his NFL football knowledge regarding Graham and face masks.)

imagesThen, last month, The Los Angeles Times ran an article by Mike DiGiovanna ranking the top 10 sports records that’ll never be broken. Candidates were chosen from professional sports, the Olympics and major college sports programs – and the writer limited his choices to records set from 1940 on.

Otto_GrahamBut DiGiovanna did not find a spot on his list for the most unbreakable professional sports record of all post-1940. It’s a record that will always be held by Otto Graham.

After his brilliant college career at Northwestern University was interrupted – and his professional career was delayed — by his service in the Navy during World War Two, the great Hall of Famer Otto Everett Graham, Jr. played 10 seasons of professional football for the Cleveland Browns – and took his team to the championship game all ten years!

otto-graham-brownsThat’s right, ten out of ten.

Let me say that again.

Otto Graham played 10 seasons of pro football for the Cleveland Browns – and took his team to the championship game all ten years!

And he won 7 of those 10 championship games.

Can you imagine a more unbreakable sports record?

13543826d76ec7bffd208f621ebdb2adFrom 1946 to 1949, Graham and The Browns dominated the All-America Football Conference. Then, they joined the NFL in 1950. Did Otto and his Browns struggle as an NFL expansion team? Hardly. They simply ran off an unprecedented and unequaled string of 6 straight NFL title game appearances from 1950 to 1955.

After that, the legendary Otto Graham retired as a player at the top of his game. (Just like another Browns legend, Jim Brown, would do in the following decade.)

tom-brady-bill-belichickjpg-95e8c0ab5d279e48_largeIt drives me crazy to hear otherwise intelligent and knowledgeable football pundits talk about Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick as perhaps the most successful quarterback and coach combo in NFL history.

Really?

Brady & Belichick? Oh, please…

otto-graham-1Paul Brown was coach of the Cleveland Browns during Graham’s entire career. Did Brady and Belichick get to the title game 10 seasons in row?

Okay, let’s throw out the AAFC years and stick to Brown and Graham’s NFL years. Have Brady & Belichick gotten to 6 NFL championship games in a row? And Brown & Graham won three of those title games, including Graham’s last game, the 1955 championship. Like I said, Otto Graham went out on top.

And, for all you stats geeks, consider this:

hof-grahamWith Graham at QB, the Browns posted a record of 114 wins, 20 losses and four ties, including a 9–3 playoff record. And while many of Graham’s records have been surpassed in the modern era — he still holds the NFL record for career average yards gained per pass attempt with 9 yards per attempt. That’s not 9 yards per pass completion – that’s 9 yards per pass attempt.

Basically, Otto Graham was good for a first down every time he threw the damn football.

otto-graham-signed-image-3Graham also holds the record for the highest career winning percentage for an NFL starting quarterback, at 0.814. If winning is the greatest measure of a pro quarterback – Otto Graham was better than Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady and all the others.

And he was tough as nails, Colin Cowherd.

In fact, Mr. Cowherd, for your information — Otto Graham played a role in ushering in the face mask era in pro football.

pro53chinOtto Graham led the Browns to 11 straight wins to start the 1953 season. (Their lone loss came in the season’s final game against the Philadelphia Eagles.) Late that season, in a game against the 49ers, Graham took a forearm to the face that opened a nasty, bloody gash it took 15 stitches to close. Was he done for the game?

No way. This was Otto Graham.

His helmet was fitted with a clear plastic face mask and he came back into the game — which The Browns won. Graham’s injury helped inspire the development of the modern face mask.

Browns HOF galleryAll right, I’ve had my say. Look it all up yourself. I’m tired of getting pissed off and wanting to throw things at the radio and TV when I hear all this yakking about the best NFL quarterbacks ever – and never any love for Otto Graham.

Now, onto the Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning is amazing. Russell Wilson is exciting. But Otto Graham was the best ever.

And I’d say that even if he weren’t a fellow Northwestern alumnus.00066

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Why I’m Cheering for the San Francisco 49ers Today!

Ray 2011313-5-NFL-Ravens-Ray-Lewis-OB-PI_20130113211537682_660_320As a Cleveland boy, I already have a very good reason to root against the Baltimore Ravens in today’s Super Bowl. Hell, The Ravens used to be the legendary Cleveland Browns until owner Art Modell screwed The Best Location in the Nation and, in the dark of night, ran off to Baltimore with our storied NFL franchise in 1996.

So, I already have one very, very good reason to bet against, cheer against, and plead to the Good Lord against the Baltimore Ravens.

But the biggest reason I’m rooting against the Ravens is Ray Lewis.

-be9303484bf781dbI’m old enough to remember Ray Lewis as the guy who got in a fight in January 2000 that resulted in his indictment on murder and aggravated assault charges. Of course, rich, resourceful, pampered athlete Ray was able to plead guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for testimony against the two other defendants: his buddies.

Let’s remember Ray’s murderous misadventure – just a lucky 13 years ago…

Following a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta on January 31, 2000, Ray and his pals got into a fight that resulted in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar.

ray_lewis_51965686_620x350Lewis and his buddies, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges. Lewis testified that his pals Oakley and Sweeting bought knives earlier that week from a sporting goods store where Lewis had been signing autographs. The blood of one of the victims was found inside of Lewis’s limo.

The suit Lewis was wearing the night of the killings has never been found.

Lewis’ attorneys negotiated a plea agreement. The murder charges against Lewis were dismissed in exchange for his testimony against Oakley and Sweeting — and his plea of guilty to obstruction of justice.

nfl_a_lewisr_600Lewis was sentenced to 12 months of probation and fined $250,000 by the NFL — the highest fine levied against an NFL player for an infraction that was not drug related.

The following year, Lewis was named Super Bowl XXXV MVP.

raylewisSIRay Lewis is no MVP as far as I’m concerned. And I’m tired of his whole, pious, proselytizing “God is amazing” act.

I know Christians love a redemption story ever since they forgave Saul for assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen and allowed him to become St. Paul.

But Ray Lewis is no saint. He’s no hero. He’s not a redemption story.

He’s a charlatan and a scoundrel who can hit like a ton of bricks.

I hope the San Francisco 49ers run him over and drive his reputation into the ground.

And I hope Art Modell is watching the Raven’s loss – whether in heaven above or hell below.

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Fantasy Politics & The Election of 2012

The Iowa Caucuses are over and the New Hampshire Primary is upon us. The Presidential election of 2012 is already well underway. Given that President Obama is unlikely to encounter any serious primary challenge on his open road to the Democratic Party’s nomination in Charlotte, North Carolina in the first week of September – the media focus has been squarely on the Republican contenders vying for the chance to deny Barak Obama re-election on the first Tuesday in November.

Of course, it’s a long, long time until November 6, 2012. We’ll know the winner of the Super Bowl, the NBA Championship, and the World Series before Election Day. And we’ll know the winner of American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Survivor, and who gets the guy on The Bachelor long before we know if any of the GOP field was able to take down Obama. A lot can happen between now and then. But looking at the Republican contenders arrayed against Obama (and each other) it’s hard not to feel the odds are in favor of the World’s Most Famous Former Community Organizer.

Much has been written (on the Right and Left) about the lackluster GOP hopefuls and the lack of party popularity enjoyed by the “inevitable” frontrunner Mitt Romney. You’d have to be living in a cave (which Osama bin Laden evidently wasn’t) not to have heard about how Mitt’s Mormonism, flip-flopping, and career as a multi-millionaire corporate raider make him a poor fit with this era’s angry, populist, anti Wall Street, Tea Party GOP electorate.

This schism between Main Street Republican voters and Wall Street has rank political opportunists like Newt Gingrich attacking Romney for his role as a profit-worshipping venture capitalist.

Strange days, indeed.

Each month (and sometimes each week) brings a new “anyone but Mitt” candidate surging into contention. As if to prove there’s no limit to the GOP’s anti-Romney anxiety, we’ve been treated to the entertaining rise and unsurprising fall of the scandalous blowhard Herman Cain, cute but crazy Michelle Bachmann, and rejected Republican re-treads like Newt Gingrich and Rick “Please don’t Google me” Santorum.

Trying to temper my disdain for these apparently preposterous Republican Presidential candidates, I remind myself that, back in 1980, we all thought Ronnie “Raygun” Reagan was an unelectable right wing nut job. Progressives cannot afford to gloat or get comfortable. However, if the GOP has any chance of winning the White House, the U.S. economy must go into free fall. But with the Dow Jones Average above 12,000 and unemployment falling steadily, the Republicans are forced into rooting for America to fail in order to win an election. Not a good bet.

So, in order to make the Presidential Election of 2012 interesting, I suggest participating in a game that keeps even lackluster NFL, NBA and MLB seasons interesting: a fantasy league.

Introducing FANTASY POLITICS…

FANTASY POLITICS

In fantasy politics, you are the campaign manager of your own team of two Republican Presidential candidates. You need to know how the daily news cycle, the primaries and caucuses affect the two candidates on your roster and how to minimize their gaffes, maximize their endorsements, and collect delegates through the long primary season on the road to the GOP nomination. Here’s how the candidates on your roster are impacted by the rules of fantasy politics.

FANTASY SCORING

Fantasy points are generated from the action on the campaign trail. When a GOP candidate on your team avoids a dangerously quotable gaffe during a debate, earns a newspaper endorsement, or wins a state primary, your fantasy team earns points for the week. The sum of your two candidates’ points combine to compete against the total for your opponent’s team for the week.

Sample Scoring:

Newspaper Endorsement +1

John McCain Endorsement -1

Debate Victory +1

Debate Gaffe -1

Positive News Story +1

Embarrassing YouTube Moment -1

Primary Delegates (1 point per delegate)

Really Good Concession Speech Upon Withdrawal (10 bonus points)

CANDIDATE ELIGIBILITY

Campaign managers can choose any two GOP candidates in the field as of Tuesday, January 10th, the day of the New Hampshire Primary. I’d say the Virginia Primary – but, of course, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry failed to qualify for the ballot in Virginia – and our fantasy game would simply not be as much fun without them.

Candidates who are still in the race on Super Tuesday, March 6, 2012, earn 100 bonus points, in addition to any delegates they pick up that night in the collection of primaries and caucuses in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. If neither of your candidates made it to Super Tuesday, you’re out of luck. And out of your misery.

DROP AND SWAP

On the day after Super Tuesday, campaign managers will have 24 hours to “drop and swap” candidates. This may not be fair – but it’s politically expedient: a chance for the rats to escape the sinking ships. However, if a candidate you dropped after Super Tuesday manages to make it to the Republican Convention in Tampa, Florida in late August with even a handful of delegates – you will be deducted one point for every delegate who votes in the Convention to nominate the candidate you dropped.

INJURY DESIGNATIONS

Sorry, unlike in the football, basketball, and baseball fantasy leagues, all of your GOP candidates must play hurt. Politics is not a game for sissies. There is no disabled list. If there was, a mentally disabled candidate like Rick “Frothy” Santorum, or an emotionally disabled candidate like Mitt “I like being able to fire people” Romney would not be on the roster. Instead, they’re leading GOP contenders. Suit up, shut up, and get up for the game.

SCORING CORRECTIONS

Occasionally the official elections returns from a particular state may be recounted and changed to accurately reflect what happened at the ballot box. In such circumstances, campaign managers may block a recount by making an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. (See “Bush v. Gore”)

THE WINNER

The winning campaign manager is the political genius that managed to back the two GOP candidates who got the furthest down the road on the way to winning their party’s nomination – and earned the right to lose to President Obama by a landslide on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

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A New Day of Glory for the Great (you heard me right) Cleveland Browns!

On Sunday, October 24, 2010, the Cleveland Browns went to New Orleans and stunned the Saints with a 30-17 upset victory over the defending Super Bowl champs.

The Browns aggressive defense sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times and pressured him into tossing four interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns by the Browns’ 33-year old veteran linebacker, David Bowens.

Bowens celebrated his second touchdown with perhaps the worst somersault into the end zone in NFL history. But Browns fans, starved for gridiron glory, nonetheless flipped for Bowens’ endearingly enthusiastic but awkward flop. We’ll take it.

And we’ll take the win.

That the downtrodden 2-5 Browns should knock off the celebrated New Orleans Saints was a shocking turn of events — but few NFL fans realize that Cleveland has now defeated the defending Super Bowl champs for the third straight season. That’s right, buddy. The Browns beat the NY Giants in 2008, our rival Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, and now the Saints in 2010. Only seven NFL teams have scored that unlikely trifecta.

Once again, we’ll take it.

Browns fans have had precious few accomplishments to cherish since 1964 when Cleveland won its last NFL championship – back in the Mud and Ice Age before indoor stadiums and Super Bowls.

Full disclosure: I have a soft spot in my heart for the Saints because my father was born and raised in New Orleans. (Click here for that story.) Until recently, it has been my misfortune to suffer perennial heartbreak in both the AFC and NFC – and I’ve never had to worry about my two favorite teams meeting in a Super Bowl.

While living in Chicago in the mid-1980’s, I gleefully jumped aboard the Bears bruising bandwagon just in time to experience Sweetness, Iron Mike, the Punky QB, Refrigerator Perry and the Super Bowl Shuffle in 1985.

But that was borrowed glory.

So was the Saints Super Bowl championship last year.

Cleveland is my hometown — so I am first and foremost a Cleveland Browns fan.

To be a Browns fan (much like being a Cleveland Indians fan) is to swell with pride, imbued with memories of the club’s storied history.

The Browns dominated professional football in the postwar period, from the mid 1940’s to the early 60’s like no other team before or since. And while much of these laurels were earned before my birth in 1958, the Browns — led by the Greatest Football Player of All Time, Jim Brown — were still an NFL powerhouse in my youth.

I was six and a half years old on December 27, 1964 when Gary Collins caught three touchdown passes from Frank Ryan to defeat Johnny Unitas’ Baltimore Colts 27-0 and win the Browns’ fourth NFL championship in front 79,544 freezing but frenzied fans at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. It was the first NFL title game to be televised by CBS. That legendary victory was also the Browns high water mark.

My connection to that hallowed 1964 team was made even more personal by the fact that my varsity football coach at Cleveland Central Catholic High School, Stan Sczurek, appeared in 14 games for that ’64 Browns title team. I still remember seeing Coach Sczurek wearing his NFL championship ring. A two-way star at Purdue, Stan Sczurek was taken by the Browns in the 4th round of the 1962 draft and played in 34 games for Cleveland between ‘63 and ‘65 before being sent to the NY Giants in ’66. We didn’t win many football games at CCC, but I can always say that I played football for a guy who wore Browns jersey #38 in 1964.

The '64 Browns. That's Stan Sczurek 3rd from right, #38. (Behind #36)

For the next 46 years, golden memories of Otto Graham, Mac Speedie, Jim Brown, Ernie Green, Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield have faded as the Browns have been buffeted by infamous moments of near greatness in the 1980’s, shamed by The Pass, The Drive, The Fumble, and the ignominious loss of the franchise when traitorous owner Art Modell announced that he was relocating the Browns to Baltimore for 1996 season. Modell literally absconded with the team in the middle of the night, bound ironically for the city we’d bested on that glorious December day in 1964.

Three seasons later, Cleveland got the Browns back. The team’s name, its colors, and its glorious stats and history were restored. But another decade of football frustration followed.

All you really need to know is that Cleveland is the only current NFL city whose franchise has neither played in, nor hosted, a Super Bowl.

Alas, it was not always so.

As Cleveland Browns supporters celebrate our team’s recent moment of upset glory in the Big Easy, it’s time to remind NFL fans of the hallowed history of the great Cleveland Browns, whose history makes lesser franchises like the Cowboys and Patriots look like Johnny-come-lately flashes-in-the-pan.

The great Paul Brown.

Founded in 1944 by owner Arthur ‘Mickey’ McBride and head coach Paul Brown (whom the fans voted to name the team after), the Browns began playing in 1946. At the time, Cleveland was also home to the 1945 NFL champion Cleveland Rams, whose star quarterback Bob Waterfield was married to movie star Jane Russell. The Rams left for Los Angeles before the Browns ever played a game. (I hate to brag again, but my high school athletic director, Len Janiak, played for the Cleveland Rams from 1940 to ‘42. It wasn’t until I got to high school and learned Len Janiak’s story that I knew why the football team at Rhodes High School in my neighborhood was called the Rams – and why their helmets looked just like the ones worn by Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones and the rest of LA’s Fearsome Foursome.)

Otto Graham & Coach Brown

From the start, the Browns dominated the new All-America Football Conference, winning all four league titles. In 1948 the Browns became the first pro football team to finish the season and playoffs unbeaten and untied: 24 years before the NFL’s first “perfect team”, the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

How good was that Browns team? They were so good the league had to break them up.

A young Y.A. Tittle

When The Browns’ ran up their undefeated streak to 29 games — including 18 straight victories – they were forced to give up the rights to some of their younger players, including the future Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who was sent to the Baltimore Colts in ‘48. (Why is it always Baltimore?) Can you imagine such a scenario today?

Before the decade was out, the Browns’ dominance led to the AAFC’s merger with the NFL. At the end of the 1949 season, the Browns, the 49ers and the Colts joined the NFL. The 1950 Browns wasted no time showing they were still the best – winning the NFL championship in their first year in the league.

Throughout this heady period, the Browns were led on the field by quarterback Otto Graham – who (I must brag again) played for my alma mater Northwestern University as a tailback, graduating with the school record of 2,938 total offensive yards, a record which stood until 1964. Head coach Paul Brown turned Graham into a quarterback in 1946 – and the rest became NFL Hall of Fame history.

Cleveland was the center of the football universe. In fact, in the 1950 championship game the Browns faced none other than the former Cleveland Rams, now located in Los Angeles. The Browns won 30-28 on a last-second field goal by Lou Groza. Lou “The Toe” Groza was still kicking game-winning field goals when I was a kid. Incredibly, Lou didn’t hang up his spikes until 1967. To young Browns fans like me, Lou was a living legend.

Lou’s teammates on those great Browns teams of the 1950’s crowd the Hall of Fame today: Otto Graham, Marion Motley (#76 at left), Dante Lavelli and Len Ford, among others. In 1951 and ’52, they reached the championship game and lost – and in ’53, after winning 11 straight games, they lost again in the NFL title game.

Willie Mays makes "The Catch" in '54 Series

Then in 1954, not long after the mighty Cleveland Indians (with their lofty 111-43 regular season record) suffered one of the most embarrassing defeats in the history of The World Series at the hands of Willie Mays and the NY Giants – the Browns reasserted their NFL dominance, crushing the Detroit Lions 56-10 in the NFL title game.

The Browns intercepted Lions quarterback Bobby Layne six times and forced three fumbles. Otto Graham tossed three touchdowns and ran for three more. The next year, the Browns won their third NFL championship, beating the former Cleveland Rams 38-14 in Los Angeles.

But it was the end of an era.

Suffering from injuries, the truly legendary Otto Graham retired after the ‘55 season. Thus ended the greatest run of success in the history of professional sports.

In their first decade as a franchise, the Cleveland Browns reached the championship game all ten years – and won the league title seven times. Even the vaunted New York Yankees have never done that. It’s safe to say no sports franchise will ever equal the record of the Cleveland Browns from 1946 to 1955.

That all happened before I was born. But something else happened the year before I was born.

Jim Brown.

In 1956 the post-Otto Graham Browns recorded the only losing season they would suffer in their first 28 seasons as a franchise. However, further football glory in Cleveland was assured in the ’57 NFL draft when the Browns took fullback Jim Brown out of Syracuse.

Jim Brown was the NFL’s leading rusher – and its Rookie of the Year — in ’57, grinding out 942 yards in a 12-game regular season. (NFL teams now play 16 regular season games, so 1,000-yard rushing seasons are common.) Brown led his team back to the NFL championship game for the 11th time in 12 seasons, but they lost to Detroit.

Jim Brown ran for 1,527 yards in ’58 — nearly twice as much as any other NFL running back. In ’59, he led the league again with 1,329 yards. And in 1960, Brown’s 1,257 yards were once again tops in the NFL — but the team still finished in second place at 8-3-1. With the greatest running back in the history of the game setting records that would never be broken, the Browns has still managed to miss the NFL championship three years in a row. It was unheard of. Something had to give. Enter Art Modell.

Art Modell & quarterback Frank Ryan

Modell bought the team in 1961, and that year Jim Brown led the league for a fifth consecutive season while the Browns finished two games out of a spot in the championship game. Relations between Modell and Coach Paul Brown deteriorated quickly.

Before the ’62 season started, without telling Modell, Paul Brown made a secret trade for the rights to another Syracuse running back, Ernie Davis — the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.

Tragically, Davis was stricken by a fatal form of leukemia and never played a down for the Browns. (Ernie Davis died in early ‘63.)

The ’62 Browns finished 7-6-1, and Jim Brown failed to lead the NFL in rushing yards for the only time in his career. Modell capped that dismal season by firing Paul Brown and replacing him with Brown’s assistant, Blanton Collier.

Jim Brown had his best season in 1963 with an NFL record 1,863 yards. Imagine that. That’s an average of 155 yards a game! But it wasn’t until ’64 that the Browns returned to their rightful place at the top of the NFL heap.

In the ’64 college draft, the Browns chose Ohio State receiver Paul Warfield in the first round, who immediately became their leading receiver, and the team used it 8th round pick to land Morgan State’s Leroy Kelly, a kick returner and running back who would eventually succeed Jim Brown. (Two future Hall of Famers in the same draft. Not bad, huh?)

Frank Ryan delivers the ball to Gary Collins during the glorious '64 season.

After the 1965 season in which Jim Brown was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for the third time with 1,544 yards, the Browns lost the NFL Championship game 23-12 to Coach Vince Lombardi and quarterback Bart Starr’s Green Bay Packers in frozen Lambeau Field.

Then, suddenly and shockingly…

…the Browns lost Jim Brown.

In the summer of ‘66, the incomparable Jim Brown stunned the sports world by announcing his retirement from football.

Brown had been filming the now-classic World War II movie The Dirty Dozen in London – and, in an unprecedented move for an athlete of his caliber in the prime of his career — Jim Brown, the greatest player to ever step between the lines on a football field —  decided to “go out on top”.

There would be more thrills and glory to come, but the Cleveland Browns two incredible decades of pro football supremacy were over.

Two years later, led by Jim Brown’s stellar backfield successor, Leroy Kelly and the great Paul Warfield catching passes from quarterback Bill Nelsen, the Browns reached the 1968 NFL championship game against the Baltimore Colts. The Colts shut out the Browns 34-0 to go to Super Bowl III.

In 1969, the Browns offense was as potent as ever, as Nelsen threw for 2700 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead his team to a 10-3-1 record. Alas, the Browns lost the NFL championship game 27-7 to Joe Kapp and the Minnesota Vikings.  11 years old at the time, I was starting to feel the pain of playoff disappointment.

Warfield would go on to become a key weapon for the unbeaten '72 Dolphins.

After the gridiron heroics of the 1940’s and 1950’s — and the glory and near-glory of the 1960’s – the next four decades of Cleveland Browns football were more about frustration that exultation.

In 1970, the AFL-NFL merger put the Browns, Steelers and Colts in the new American Football Conference – and the trade of Paul Warfield to the Miami Dolphins for a draft choice to get Purdue quarterback Mike Phipps – were dual body blows to the once-proud franchise. After beating the New York Jets in the first Monday Night Football broadcast, the Browns stumbled through the season finishing 7–7. In fact, they would stumble through much of the next 40 years.

In the 1980, “The Kardiac Kids” wrote their fond footnote in Browns history.

Led by League MVP quarterback Brian Sipe, who passed for 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns, the resurgent Browns faced the Oakland Raiders in their first playoff game in eight years. Known for their late-game heroics, it was sadly ironic that The Kardiac Kids’ season ended in heartbreak on a play in the last minute of the game.

A play forever after infamous as “The Pass”.

On that fateful play, with the Browns trailing 14-12 on the Raiders’ 13 yard line — easily in range of a game-winning field goal — Coach Sam Rutigliano inexplicably called for a pass play “Red Right 88“. Sipe’s unnecessary pass into the end zone was intercepted. The Raiders won the game – and went on to win the Super Bowl.

In 1985, University of Miami quarterback and hometown boy, Bernie Kosar, was the Browns #1 draft pick and took over the starting job midway through the season. With Kosar under center, the Browns would reach the playoffs each of the next five seasons, getting to the AFC Championship game in three of those years. For the Browns, the Kosar years would be their last grasp at NFL glory. And they would be remembered for a bittersweet a series of stunning, heartrending defeats.

In 1986, with Kosar slinging the ball for 3,854 yards and a dominant defense manned by five Pro Bowlers (Chip Banks, Hanford Dixon, Bob Golic , Clay Matthews and Frank Minnifield), the Browns ran up the best record in the AFC, and advanced to the AFC Championship against the Denver Broncos in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Browns were defending a 7-point lead, and the Broncos were pinned on their own 2-yard line with 5:11 left to play.

Then, John Elway led his team on “The Drive“.

After taking the Broncos down the field, there were just 37 seconds on the clock when Elway threw a touchdown pass to tie the game at 20-20. Minutes later in overtime, 79,973 stupefied Browns fans watched in insufferable silence as the Broncos kicked a field goal to win the game.

The following year, the Browns looked like they were rolling to a championship again, led by eight Pro Bowlers: Kosar, Mack, Dixon, Golic, Minnifield, Clay Matthews, wide receiver Gerald McNeil and offensive lineman Cody Risien. The season culminated in Denver with a rematch against the Broncos for the AFC Championship.

This time, down by 3 points with 1:12 to go in the game, the Browns were on the Broncos’ 8-yard line, when Kosar handed off to his dependable warhorse, running back Earnest Byner — who rumbled toward the end zone.

It looked like game-winning touchdown for sure. Instead, Byner coughed up “The Fumble” – and the Broncos crushed the Browns title dreams again.

In the 22 years since “The Fumble”, Browns fans have had little to cheer about. In the years since  the Kardiac Kids and Kosar and company rattled our collective nerves, we’ve come to almost cherish the kind of late-game championship heartbreak we suffered in the 1980’s.

And then came last Sunday’s beat-down of the New Orleans Saints.

Damn, that felt good.

Could it be that the Cleveland Browns — one of the NFL’s greatest franchises — is poised for a return to glory?

After “The Pass”, “The Drive” and “The Fumble” – why not…

“The Comeback”?

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