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The Cleveland Browns: A Brief History

Oct 1, 2009 – 12:00 AM
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Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson %BloggerTitle%

The Browns have led a tortured existence for the last 15 years or so. The club hasn't won a playoff game since 1995 (and have only been to the postseason once since), and by 1996 they were called the Baltimore Ravens. After four years without a team, football returned in 1999. In retrospect, some fans probably wish it hadn't. What follows is a brief history of the Cleveland Browns, 1995-2009. It's not for the faint of heart.


November -- Then-Browns owner Art Modell announces that he's moving the team to Baltimore. At the time Modell said that, "This has been a very, very tough road for my family and me. I leave my heart and part of my soul in Cleveland. But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice."

The Browns were 4-4 when the announcement was made. They finished the season 5-11. The head coach? Bill Belichick -- before anybody knew that he was a genius.


March -- The NFL awards Cleveland an expansion team. "A number of owners made very strong statements in favor of expansion, including Art Modell," said NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, referring to the former Browns owner who moved the team.

"The fans have been saying all along that they wanted an expansion team as opposed to taking somebody else's tradition..." -New York Times


January -- Browns name Chris Palmer head coach. "I've been a football coach who has waited for this moment my whole life," said Palmer, a nine-year NFL assistant whose only head coaching experience came at the college level. "And this is my time." In retrospect, hiring somebody with a little more experience would have been prudent.

April -- QB Tim Couch selected with the first overall pick. "Couch performed poorly in a March 11 workout, but then Cleveland Coach Chris Palmer noticed in a picture of Couch taken while he was a freshman at Kentucky that he was holding the ball differently now while throwing. He asked Couch, who had changed his grip beginning his sophomore season, to hold the ball as he had as a freshman in an April 11 practice session, and after tossing 115 balls, the Browns were sold." -Los Angeles Times

September 12 -- Browns play first game in four seasons, lose to Steelers 43-0. "Over the years, the Browns against the Steelers have arguably produced the NFL's greatest rivalry. Al Lerner, the billionaire new owner of the Browns petitioned the league to have Pittsburgh christen his expansion Browns. As demoralizing as that decision could now seem - "We played very poorly," Browns coach Chris Palmer said, 'we've got no place to go but up,' - Cleveland fans know it's better to be at the bottom of the NFL, than nowhere in the league at all." -Dayton Daily News

Fifteen years later, "nowhere in the league at all" doesn't sound so bad.

September 26 -- New Browns face old Browns, lose 17-10. "You've got to get more emotional for this one -- I've heard that from 100 fans since I signed here," said Cleveland offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who has played for both teams.

October 31 -- Browns defeat the Saints, 21-16, for first win in (expansion) franchise history. "Couch's 56-yard 'Hail Mary' pass on the final play of the game turned a downtrodden team's heartbreak into elation. After seven weeks of struggle and frustration, the new Browns finally had their first win." -Chicago Tribune

November 14 -- Browns beat the Steelers, 16-15, their only other win of the year. "Yes, it's embarrassing," said Steelers linebacker Earl Holmes. "Not to take anything away from the Browns, but it's very embarrassing."

December 19 -- Referee Jeff Triplette throws a penalty flag that strikes Cleveland tackle Orlando Brown in the eye, Brown pushes Triplette to the ground. The team would release Brown the following September.

"I would like to apologize to Jeff Triplette for what happened today,'' [Palmer] said softly, his voice full of shame. "It was an embarrassing situation for me. Maybe if I had more control over the situation he [Triplette] would have been in better shape. I have tried to work with the player and his emotions during the course of the year, and obviously I failed in this situation.''

Brown, who underwent major eye surgery in 1999, struggled with blurred vision and white spots for several years before his improbable comeback with the Ravens in 2004.


April -- Cleveland uses first overall draft pick on DE Courtney Brown. Brown would be out of the league by 2006, and ended his Browns career with 17 sacks in 47 games. The team also selected QB Spergon Wynn in the sixth round (183rd overall), 16 spots before the Patriots would take Tom Brady who along with Belichick's genius would wreak havoc on the league for most of the decade.


January -- After 3-13 record, Palmer is fired and Butch Davis leaves Miami to take the Browns job. Days later, the Ravens would win the Super Bowl.

April 5 -- "Ravens majority owner Art Modell has agreed to a $3 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by Cleveland Browns fans angry about the team's 1995 move to Baltimore, lawyers in the case said yesterday." -Los Angeles Times

April 22 -- Davis drafts University of Florida DT Gerard Warren. "Maybe we caught a lot of people by surprise," Davis said after the pick.

October -- Warren fined $35,000 by the NFL for his hit on Jags QB Mark Brunell.

November 6 -- Bears score two touchdowns in the final 28 seconds of regulation, and beat Browns in overtime, 27-21. "There were some crazy and bizarre things," Davis said.

December 17 -- In a game against the Jags, Browns fans throw bottles onto the field after a bad call. "Plastic or not, we won´t see beer bottles at Cleveland Browns Stadium again," said Doug Dieken, a Browns lineman from 1971-84 and now a member of the team´s broadcast team.

Fans were arrested while others were treated for minor injuries. And the Browns lost 15-10.


January -- Cleveland finishes 7-9 in Davis' first year, Couch gets new deal. "The Browns exercised a buyback clause in Couch's contract that extended it four more years through the 2005 season. It brought Couch an immediate windfall in the form of an $8.75 million bonus, in addition to the $12.25 million he received when he signed. 'I want to borrow some money from him,' Davis said."

April -- Browns select RB William Green with the 16th overall pick. Davis opts for the Boston College product, passing on Clinton Portis who played for him at the University of Miami. Green would struggle with alcohol and drug abuse and played in just 46 games during his four-year NFL career.

September 8 -- Browns have Week 1 win wrapped up ... except they're the Browns. "In a matter of seconds, Dwayne Rudd lost his head, his helmet and the game. Rudd drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing his helmet in celebration, setting up Morten Andersen's 30-yard field goal with no time showing Sunday and giving the Kansas City Chiefs a stunning 40-39 win over the Cleveland Browns.

'I'm sick,' Browns coach Butch Davis said. 'To have something like that happen at the end is inexcusable.'"

October 10 -- Couch struggles, fans cheer when he gets injured during game. "I went to dive on the ball and got hit in the back of the head, and the next thing I remember, the fans are cheering when I'm lying on the field hurt, and I think it's (nonsense), to be honest with you," Couch said quietly but firmly sitting in front of his locker, struggling to maintain his composure. "But they've got their own opinion, so if they don't like me, then, well, that's all I'm going to say about it." ...

"I've been here going on four years now," he said, "and I've laid it on the line for this team and this city, and for them to turn on me and boo me in my home stadium is a joke - a joke. I've worked my (butt) off here and ..."

Tears filled Couch's eyes before he continued, haltingly. "It's hard to take, man," he said.

Kelly Holcomb would start two games in '02 and eight the following season. Couch had eight starts in '03, his last in the NFL.


January 5 -- A 9-7 record earned Cleveland its first playoff birth since 1994, a wild-card matchup with Pittsburgh. The Browns led 17-7 at half and 33-21 with just over 10 minutes to go before the Steelers came back to win it in the final minute. Holcomb threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns. "I don't think anybody in the building thought we weren't going to win,'' Holcomb said. "I think everybody thought we were going to go on.''

"I can't believe this. I just can't believe this happened to us,'' Earl Little said.

October 5 -- Couch lights up the Steelers on Sunday Night Football."Couch threw for two touchdowns and ran for another before halftime, and the Browns took advantage of three turnovers by Maddox to end a six-game losing streak to their biggest rivals, beating the Steelers 33-13 Sunday night. ... Davis called it Couch's best game ever, saying, 'He made some really good decisions.'"


March -- Browns sign Jeff Garcia, are accused of "lowballing" Couch. "Couch was due to make $7.6 million this year, and the Browns offered him $3 million. He was due to make $8 million next year; the Browns offered $3.5 million. One player called the offer an insult and said Couch will easily command more on the open market." -Knight Ridder

June -- Browns release Couch, he signs with the Packers.

November 30 -- Butch Davis resigns. After a 3-8 start, and 10 months after signing a two-year contract extension, Davis quits and Terry Robiskie finishes out the season as interim coach. The Browns would finish 4-12.


February 9 -- Romeo Crennel named head coach. Shortly after the Patriots won their third Super Bowl of the decade, Crennel, New England's defensive coordinator, is named to replace Davis.

April -- Cleveland selects WR Braylon Edwards third overall, draft QB Charlie Frye two rounds later.

May 4 -- TE Kellen Winslow sustains serious injuries in a motorcycle accident.

December 24 -- Steelers shutout Browns 41-0, Frye was sacked eight times, and little-known reserve linebacker James Harrison bodyslammed a Browns fan who bum-rushed the field.

"It's definitely the most embarrassing loss of my career," Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said. "This is way worse than '99. In '99, we didn't have a good team -- now we got talent. But from the opening kickoff, we played bad football. Today we stunk."


April -- Cleveland trades down from 12th to 13th in the draft so the Ravens can take Haloti Ngata, one of the league's best defensive tackles. The Browns select OLB Kamerion Wimbley who registered 11 sacks as a rookie, and 11 in the 35 games since.

July 27 -- Offseason free-agent acquisition C LeCharles Bentley blows out his knee on the first play of training camp. He would never play in the NFL again.

October 26 -- Offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon forced to resign. Cleveland's offense was predictable, but as it turned out, having Frye running things probably didn't help. The Browns would finish 6-10 in Crennel's second season.


April -- Cleveland trades their 2008 first-round pick for the right to select QB Brady Quinn 22nd overall.

September -- Crennel needs just a few series to determine that Frye isn't the answer. Frye was sacked five times and threw for 34 yards on 4 of 10 passing before Crennel mercifully replaced him with Derek Anderson. The Steelers would go on to win 34-7 and Frye would be traded to the Seahawks a few days later.

December -- Cleveland finishes the season 10-6, just missing the playoffs. Anderson and Edwards make the Pro Bowl and Crennel would be rewarded with an extension in the coming months.


October -- After a 1-3 start, Winslow is hospitalized with a "staph infection." And here "staph infection" is a euphemism for, well, the swelling of the genitals. A few weeks later, after telling reporters that he felt like he was "a piece of meat," Winslow was suspended for one game.

November 3 -- Crennel names Brady Quinn named starter. Three weeks later, Quinn would go on injured reserve with a fractured finger.

November 10 -- GM Phil Savage loses mind, e-mails fan. Following a Week 11 victory over the Bills to raise their record to 4-6, an angry fan e-mails Savage about the sorry state of the franchise. Savage responds with "Go root for Buffalo-f#@* you-". Shockingly, that didn't go over well.

November 30 -- Anderson is injured, fans cheers. High expectations and a 4-7 start made for a restless fan base. And when Anderson went down during the Colts game some fans were ecstatic. Because with Quinn out for the year, it was clearly Ken Dorsey time.

"They were cheering the fact that I was hurt," said Anderson after the 10-6 loss to the Colts. "They don't like me. That's well known." ...

"We care about each other and that was very disappointing," said receiver Josh Cribbs ... "We love our fans, but that just wasn't needed. Hopefully Derek isn't hurt too bad and he'll get back and they can cheer for him the next game."

December 1 -- Anderson lands on IR.

December 29 -- Crennel and Savage are fired. Browns finish the year 4-12.


January 7 -- Owner Randy Lerner hires Eric Mangini. Mangini had just been fired by the Jets.

March 14 -- WR Donte' Stallworth hits and kills a pedestrian with his car. He was later charged and plead guilty to DUI manslaughter. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Stallworth indefinitely.

June -- Mangini sends rookies to work a football camp in Hartford, CT ... by bus. Meanwhile, Mangini flies to the camp, opting for the friendly skies over the 10-hour bus trip.

September 19 -- Mangini fines player $1,700 for bottle of water. Seriously.

September 27 -- After 0-2 start, Brady Quinn pulled for Anderson. Anderson promptly throws three interceptions in 30 minutes and the Ravens blast the Browns 34-3. Anderson named starter for Week 4.

September 30 -- Fans mobilize, call for owner to sell team. It was only a matter of time.
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