“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity …” – Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”
Dickens was writing of London and Paris. I write of Foxboro and Cleveland—of Patriots and Browns. New England’s NFL franchise has been a top Super Bowl Contender for 16 straight years. Cleveland’s current NFL franchise, established in 1999, has seen losing season after losing season. These Browns never make the playoffs. They were 3-13 last year and started this season with 12 straight losses.
It wasn’t always so for the Browns. Named for their original coach, Paul Brown, the team dominated the All-America Conference in the late 1940s, going 47–4–3 and winning four titles in four years. They joined the NFL in 1950 and immediately won the league title. Led by quarterback Otto Graham, the team played in six straight NFL Championship Games. Superstar running back Jim Brown joined the team in 1957 and the Browns remained constant contenders, winning another title in 1964.
Then fortunes changed for the Browns’ passionate fans, who dressed up as dogs and barked and yelped from end-zone seats in what came to be called “The Dog Pound.”
The Dogs wondered if their beloved Browns were cursed, as the team lost two conference championship games in the closing moments in 1987 and 1988, just missing out on Super Bowl trips. Cleveland is the only NFL city never to experience a Super Bowl. (Jacksonville’s Jaguars have been around since 1995, and also have never been to a Super Bowl, although the city has hosted one.)
Still, the Dog Pound and Municipal Stadium were always packed with devoted fans who never gave up hope. Their reward? Owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season and renamed them the Ravens. Cruelly, the Ravens would win a couple Super Bowls.
Cleveland had no team for several years, but built a stadium anyway and the NFL rewarded the city with a franchise which took the traditional “Browns” nickname. But unlike the old Browns, the new Browns became perennial losers.
The team was the subject of a 2013 movie starring Kevin Costner called “Draft Day” where a general manager turned around the team’s fortunes by acquiring key draft picks and getting a franchise quarterback. The 2014 Browns sought to emulate the movie by drafting Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Manziel’s career started poorly during his first pre-season when he was fined $12,000 for flipping the bird at heckling fans. He played little over two seasons and was released by the team following a series of embarrassing alcohol-related incidents. Manziel’s experience was a metaphor for new Browns tradition of “flailing failure.”
Patriot fans—so spoiled by the success of the Brady/Belichick era—should ponder the plight of Browns fans.
Eventually the Paris of Dickens’ time rallied and became the “City of Light.” Can the Browns similarly rally and someday march into the broad, sunlit uplands populated by Patriots, Packers, and Panthers?
May all those fans in the Dog Pound—as well the Browns’ lone New Hampshire fan—someday get to sample that sweet taste of success that Patriot fans so routinely enjoy.
Next April will see the Boston Celtics celebrating the 60th anniversary of their first NBA championship. Whom did the Celtics beat in the Finals that year? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on Dec. 15 include former Patriot and Dolphin linebacker Nick Buoniconti (1940) and NFL defensive back Rodney Harrison (1972).
Sportsquote “You can sum up the game of baseball in one word: ‘You never know.’ “—Joaquin Andujar, St. Louis Cardinals
Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn led the Celtics to a 125-123 Game #7 overtime victory over the St. Louis Hawks on April 13, 1957 at the old Boston Garden.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord, while also teaching on-line for New England College. He co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com.