My children missed the glory of the Browns. They were born too late. They never will connect to the Browns the way I did in the 1950s and ’60s.
Their generation is deprived and ours was spoiled. Today anybody can be a Browns fan. There’s nothing special. Everybody seems to be a member. There are no standards, no discernment. They’ve bottomed out at the lowest common denominator. Get a belly full of beer and show up, swear and curse and stumble home with another loss.
Our generation demanded nothing but the best and we got it. In the Browns’ first 20 years in the NFL, from
1950-69, the Browns were in the NFL championship game 11 times and they won it four times. Since then, 34 seasons have elapsed and the Browns have reached the AFC championship game three times, losing all three to Denver.
The fans respond by building a new stadium and pouring out ungodly sums of money for personal seat licenses, tickets and official merchandise. They pound their chests and say, “Look at me.” Listen, being a sucker is nothing to brag about.
My devotion to the brown and orange — not your common brown, it was seal brown — began in 1950. The Browns had just won four straight championships from 1946-49 in the All-American Football Conference — what we called an outlaw league because the AAFC teams stole with impunity from the established NFL. Browns coach Paul Brown stole left tackle Jim Daniell from the Chicago Bears and made him his first captain.
The Browns’ little dynasty was great for the city of Cleveland but bad for the league, which went out of business after its fourth season. The Browns last regular season game in 1949 was in Chicago against the Hornets and only 5,031 spectators showed up.
The Browns’ four years in the AAFC almost shouldn’t count because Paul Brown was one of the few people in the league who knew what he was doing. He outsmarted everybody.
In 1950, the Browns were absorbed into the NFL along with the Baltimore Colts and the San Francisco 49ers, a historic event which coincided with my awakening. I was still in grade school but I was lured into a cult. A Browns fan was a member of an exclusive cult.
For a cult, the Browns had a large and loyal membership. For a major sports franchise, however, even in 1950, the Browns’ fan base was small. They topped the 40,000 mark in home attendance only once that first year. Two games drew fewer than 30,000.
To reach the championship game, the Browns had to beat the New York Giants in a rare playoff game. The Browns won 8-3 before 33,054 at the old Stadium. The next Sunday, the day before Christmas, the Browns beat the Los Angeles Rams for the championship before 29,751, also here in Cleveland.
It is a myth that the Browns always played to a packed Stadium in their glory years. Typically, the Browns would have one game in the 70,000s and most others in the 30s, 40s and 50s.
The breakthrough year was 1964 when every game packed in 70,000 to 80,000 fans. As the decade proceeded, almost every game was sold out. The sun shown almost every Sunday and people called it “Modell weather,” a reference to owner Art Modell.
The sun is no longer a season-ticket holder and most of that generation is also gone. We had our day. I’m sorry my kids won’t have theirs.
To borrow a phrase from Grantland Rice, the tumult and the shouting rings hollow down at the lakefront.
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for Channerl 8. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.