The Cleveland Browns Died . . . And They Haven’t Ever Really Come Back

browns stadium
Cleveland Browns Stadium Photo Credit Erik Drost by Creative Commons License

A Historical Franchise

When people think of the old Cleveland Browns, they think of a deep-rooted tradition of winners and winning. They think of Otto Graham’s domination of the then All-America Football Conference. They think of the pure domination of Jim Brown during his 9-year rampage towards NFL history. In the years after, in spite of their failures in the AFC title game, they think of Marty Schottenheimer’s teams in the 1980’s that always seemed to fall just short of greatness.

Unfortunately, none of that belongs to the people of Cleveland anymore. Graham, Brown, and even Marty Ball now are a part of the history of a franchise that resides in Baltimore, Maryland. The NFL recognizes the Browns’ history as one continuous narrative, but Art Modellmoved that historic franchise to Charm City and re-named it the Ravens after the 1995 season. Since then, the former Cleveland Browns have seen deep playoff runs, one of the most dominant defenses of all time, and a pair of Super Bowl championships. Cleveland . . . well, that’s a different story.

The New Cleveland Browns

Most expansion teams go through their share of struggles, and the 1999 Cleveland Browns were no different. They won only five games total in their first two seasons, matching the total of the 1995 Browns before they moved to Baltimore. Although it was excruciating, seeing the old team leave and watch the new team struggle, it didn’t take long for the franchise to start to show signs of life.

A 7-9 finish in 2001 was followed up by a 9-7 campaign that saw Cleveland qualify for its first playoff berth on the season’s final day. Backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb then staked the Browns to a 33-21 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in their Wild Card game in Pittsburgh. But two late touchdowns crushed the dreams of the Ohio faithful. Still, the future had begun to look bright. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the New Dawg Pound, that January afternoon nearly 15 years ago was among the last signs of life from the formerly defunct  Browns.

Seasons Of Futility

In the almost 15 years since that painful collapse in January of 2003, Cleveland has had very little success and even less hope. They did post a 10-6 mark in 2007, but a late-season loss to the rival Cincinnati Bengals doomed them to a rare double-digit win season without a trip to the playoffs. Other than that, to say it has been a struggle is an understatement. Aside from that 2007 campaign, the new Browns have compiled a staggering record of 57-163 that entails no playoff appearances, a 1-15 season in 2016, and 13 consecutive losses to begin the 2017 season.

Despite constantly picking at the top of the draft, they have yet to discover either a franchise quarterback or running back to build their future around. Although the team’s defense showed promise in 2014, free agency gutted them back to square one. The team’s struggles have even caused fans to jokingly wonder aloud whether it would make them happier if this team simply folded or moved away.

Where To Go From Here?

The question is, what do they do now? DeShone Kizer has struggled In his first season at quarterback. Do the Browns seek to draft Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold and start over yet again? Or do they take what is sure to be a 1st or 2nd overall pick in the draft and trade down for more draft picks?

Among the league’s worst teams, only the New York Giants and Denver Broncos would appear to be in the market for a quarterback of the future. It seems counter-productive to keep hiring and firing coaches and general managers because each regime wants to start over with a new strategy. After a while, you seem to be starting from scratch every two years. So what do they do? The answer, for now, is I have no idea.The old saying holds that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The truth of this phrase has never been put to a truer test for sports fans than for those of the Cleveland Browns.

They lost their team, and they kept fighting until they got a new one. That team has become a laughingstock, and they keep coming out to FirstEnergy Stadium to support them. They narrowly escaped the stigma of a winless season a year ago thanks to a late-season win against the Chargers, and they appear well on their way to challenging that dubious mark again in 2017.

It would help Browns fans to reflect on their glorious past. But, as I have said, I do not believe that past belongs to them anymore despite the NFL’s insistence to the contrary. As such, all a realistic Browns fan can do is hope for a better tomorrow. If not, they can always hope that the Browns move away and they get to start over again.