It is safe to say that no franchise in pro football history started off as strong as the Cleveland Browns. Founded in 1946 and led by their namesake, revolutionary head coach Paul Brown, Cleveland went 47-4-3 and won four straight titles in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). The Browns then joined the NFL in 1950 and went 58-13-1 as they made six more straight championship games and won three of them.
Since then, success has been fleeting. The lowest point came when owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore in 1995 and changed the name to the Ravens, leaving the city of Cleveland without a football team. In 1999, the NFL awarded a franchise to Cleveland and the Browns were back.
While the "new" Browns have only made one playoff appearance, last season and the offseason have shown signs of a possible return to greatness. However, only time will tell if the 2019 or '20 squads will replace one of the teams on this list.
Finished: Beat New York Yankees 14-9 for AAFC Championship
Regular Season Record: 12-2
The inaugural Browns team stormed out of the gate, winning its division by three games and the first AAFC title. To give you a sense of where football was at the time, the Yankees were still running the single wing when they met in the championship game.
Finished: Lost to Denver Broncos 23-20 in AFC Championship Game
Regular Season Record: 12-4
The best Browns squad since the AFL/NFL merger made the AFC Championship Game and led Denver 20-13 in the fourth quarter. But John Elway engineered "The Drive" to tie the game, which the Broncos won in overtime. Cleveland would make the conference championship two out of the next three seasons but would lose to Denver both times.
Finished: Beat San Francisco 49ers 21-7 in AAFC Championship
Regular Season Record: 9-1-2
The 49ers ended the Browns' 29-game unbeaten streak in week six of the season, but Cleveland got revenge in the AAFC. Not only was it their fourth straight title, but it also made them the sole owner of AAFC championships. The AAFC merged with the NFL in the offseason and the Browns and 49ers are the only two franchises from that league still in existence today.
Finished: Beat New York Yankees 14-3 in AAFC Championship
Regular Season Record: 12-1-1
Cleveland led the league in offense and defense en route to winning their second straight title as fans flocked to see them wherever the team played. The Browns' average attendance of 55,848 was the most in both the AAFC and NFL that season.
Finished: Lost to Green Bay Packers 23-12 in NFL Championship Game
Regular Season Record: 11-3
Jim Brown rushed for 1,544 yards in what would be his last season in the NFL. After losing in the championship to a Packers team beginning a three-peat, Brown went to London to play one of 12 convicts/soldiers assigned to take out a German officers' meeting in The Dirty Dozen. When bad weather caused a delay in production and cut into Cleveland's training camp, owner Art Modell threatened to fine him $1,500 for every week he missed. Brown chose to retire and pursue acting full time. While he was missed on the gridiron, we did get this iconic scene.
Finished: Beat Buffalo Bills 49-7 in AAFC Championship
Regular Season Record: 14-0
Fullback Marion Motley averaged more than six yards a carry as Cleveland recorded a perfect season. The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognizes the Browns' undefeated season, but the NFL does not since it took place in the AAFC.
Finished: Beat Los Angeles Rams 30-28 in NFL Championship Game
Regular Season Record: 10-2
So with it being the Browns' first season in the NFL, they would have to experience a drop-off in success, right? Not quite. Bringing the nucleus of their team with quarterback Otto Graham, fullback Marion Motley, linebacker Bill Willis, and tackle/kicker Lou Groza, Cleveland acquired some of the better players in the folded AAFC and hit the ground running. The Browns tied the New York Giants for the American Conference title and then beat them 8-3 in a tiebreaker game. Cleveland then came back in the fourth quarter to beat Los Angeles with a Groza field goal in the final seconds.
Finished: Beat Detroit Lions 56-10 in NFL Championship Game
Regular Season Record: 9-3
Cleveland held its opponents to an average of 13 points a game as its defense became the first in NFL history to lead the league in scoring, rushing, and passing defense. The Browns then held the Lions to only 10 points in a championship game beatdown.
Finished: Beat Los Angeles Rams 38-14 in NFL Championship Game
Regular Season Record: 9-2-1
Quarterback Otto Graham retired after the 1954 season, but head coach Paul Brown convinced him to come back for one more season and made him the highest-paid player in the league. Graham led the Browns to one more title and then retired for good, thus ending a run of playing in 10 consecutive championship games and winning seven of them.
Finished: Beat Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the NFL Championship Game
Regular Season Record: 10-3-1
The last Browns squad to win a title did so with an epic upset of the Colts. Johnny Unitas and company were 12-2 and seven-point favorites over Cleveland but were no match for the Browns at home. Cleveland held the Colts to less than 200 yards of offense and overwhelmed them on the ground and in the air. The championship was the last for the city of Cleveland until the Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of @Browns)