Despite their lack of success over the past 20 years, the Cleveland Browns are one of the NFL’s most illustrious franchises, with plenty of great moments throughout the team’s 74-year history.
Here are their top five moments.
5. Clay Matthews seals the playoff win against the Buffalo Bills – 1990
Even though the Browns never quite made it to the Super Bowl, the 80’s and early 90’s were an incredibly exciting time for Cleveland fans because of games like this. The Bills were about to begin their four-year dominance of the AFC, but that would have to wait another season as the Browns came out on top in this divisional round shootout. On a cold afternoon at Cleveland stadium, the Browns edged out the Bills 34-30 thanks to three passing touchdowns from Bernie Kosar. Buffalo threatened to take the lead in the closing seconds, but Clay Matthews intercepted Jim Kelly at the goal line to seal the game.
4. Baker Mayfield era begins – 2018
This is a game that no fan watching will ever forget. The Browns offense was struggling mightily against the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football, down 14-0 late in the first half. Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was injured, and Mayfield was called upon to replace him, officially beginning the Mayfield era in Cleveland. The anticipation in the crowd could be felt, and when Mayfield completed his first pass to Jarvis Landry, First Energy Stadium erupted.
— NFL (@NFL) September 21, 2018
Mayfield finished 17 of 23 for 201 yards, and while he didn’t throw a touchdown, he caught a crucial two-point conversion on a trick play, and led his team to a comeback victory. Last season didn’t go as planned, but that doesn’t change what this night represented. Cleveland fans finally had the franchise QB that they had been waiting for for so long.
3. Perfect season – 1948
The Miami Dolphins are to this day the only team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated. The Browns did it in the AAFC, going 14-0 and winning the championship, continuing their complete dominance of the league. Legendary QB Otto Graham threw for 25 touchdowns on the year, and rushed for six more. Marion Motley, Dante Lavelli, and Mac Speedie were all key members of the offense, as was tackle and kicker Lou Groza. Head coach Paul Brown was perhaps the game’s greatest mastermind.
The Browns would go on to win four of the next seven AAFC and NFL championships, after winning the AFC in the two years prior. New England is typically considered the greatest football dynasty in history, but the Browns have a very good argument as even better. And 1948 was perhaps the highlight of their truly unmatched run.
2. Hail Mary earns first win post-expansion – 1999
The Browns started their return season 0-7, and after the New Orleans Saints kicked a field goal to take a 16-14 lead with under 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, it looked like Cleveland would be heading to 0-8. The team managed to get to their own 49-yard line with two seconds to go, and lined up for one final play. QB Tim Couch was instantly under heavy pressure off his left side, so he rolled right, loaded up, and threw the ball as far as he possibly could. A conglomerate of players formed in the near-right corner of the end zone, with the Browns outmanned five to three.
The ball was tipped up in the air, and Cleveland’s Kevin Johnson came down with it just before stepping out of bounds. The Browns won their first game since 1995 in miraculous fashion. The team would finish 2-14 in their inaugural season, and was often completely blown out. But with the new rules concerning NFL expansion teams as a result of Jacksonville and Carolina’s quick success, that wasn’t a surprise.
Regardless of how the rest of the season went, there really wasn’t a better way for the new Browns to get their first win.
1. Return to Cleveland – 1999
Yet as exciting as that first win was, it just couldn’t compare to the team’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The city of Cleveland was unbelievably excited to have football back after their team was ripped away from them following the 1995 campaign.
Famous television host Drew Carey, a Cleveland native, gave a pre-game speech to a sellout crowd, and although the Browns were shutout 43-0, the result of the game didn’t overshadow the real win that day. Football was back in Cleveland, where it had always belonged.