Interested in rooting for one of the NFL's 32 teams -- but don't know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Cleveland Browns.
What you need to know so you don't sound stupid
When people became hip to this series, some chuckled and said, "Good luck with the Cleveland Browns."
And I'm like, what the hell is that supposed to mean?
OK, I kind of get it. The Browns haven't been great in recent years. Sorry to be so harsh. I feel like we've spent some time together over the last few weeks, and I'm just being honest -- there's no other way to spin it.
But let me tell you the story of another sports franchise that didn't do [stuff] for years and years and years. Now it is the best -- and probably most popular -- North American sports franchise: the Golden State Warriors. This team was radioactive for the majority of my time here on Earth, with the franchise high point being when the Warriors stole a game from the Lakers in the playoffs in the 1980s. And now they are -- oh, (expletive) me. I'm so sorry. They just beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. I wasn't even thinking about that ... This one is on me.
How about this: I'm an L.A. Kings fan. We sucked for most of the post-Wayne Gretzky years. I mean, Adam Deadmarsh did lead us to a win over the Wings in the playoffs, but we lost to the Divealanche anyway in the conference semis in 2001 when we should have been the sentimental choice of all-time sentimental choices. When we finally won the Stanley Cup, it was freaking magic! I'm tearing up just thinking about it. (And even then, it's not a great comparison, because we had the Lakers for so long. Cleveland had none of that until last year.)
So, it can happen for the Browns. Hell, it did happen for the Browns. They were one of the most dominant professional football teams in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Taxi tycoon Mickey McBride founded the team and hired Paul Brown (hence the name*) in 1945, and the Browns won four consecutive titles in the All-America Football Conference. When they joined the NFL for the 1950 season, folks thought the Browns were going to get served; instead, they beat the Los Angeles Rams for the NFL title. And that was after the NFL threw the Browns to the wolves in Week 1 by putting them up against the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles. The Browns won that first game, 35-10. Could you imagine a team joining the NFL and winning the whole damn thing in the first season? Because that's what the Browns did.
In all, the Browns have won eight titles, four in the AAFC and four in the NFL. (Tell Steelers fans you know that those titles do indeed exist, whether they want to believe it or not. And denying evidence is no way to go through life.) It should also be pointed out the Browns played in the championship game of whatever league they were in for 10 consecutive years, right from the start.
Don't ever talk about ...
Art Modell. Moved the team to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Unlike other cities that have lost franchises in the past, the city of Cleveland actually got tokeep the Browns' name, marks and records. The team was reborn in 1999. Cleveland has since had two winning seasons (2002 and 2007), one playoff appearance (2002) and no playoff wins.
Don't ever talk about, part II ...
Don't ever talk about, part III ...
Nowhere to go but up
Yes, things are terrible now. But the team had like 90 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. And Cleveland did pretty well. Of course, it should be said that grading a team's draft is like judging a movie by its trailer. It's risky -- who didn't see the "Suicide Squad" trailer and think it was going to be the best movie ever? But let's remain optimistic here, because "Wonder Woman" had a great trailer and somehow managed to exceed expectations.
First overall pick Myles Garrett was considered the best player in the draft, so that's good. (Don't worry about that foot!) Jabrill Peppers is going to be a great pro. He reminds me of Brian Urlacher, in that both did everything in college. Peppers was a steal at No. 25. David Njoku is a high-ceiling guy who could be a Gronk-type tight end. And then the Browns snagged QB DeShone Kizer in the second round. I mean, any of the quarterbacks drafted this year (Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, et al.) are risky. The Browns didn't pay a lot for Kizer. Which is nice.
Again, I'll be real honest here: This team might not win the Super Bowl this season. But you have something to look forward to. This is a young roster with some talent. Maybe not a No. 1 receiver, but some talent.
Oh, yeah -- one of the guys calling the shots for the Browns was once portrayed by Brad Pitt in the movie "Moneyball" a few years back. All right, he wasn't; Paul DePodesta was actually played by Jonah Hill. And he didn't want his name associated with the film, so the character was reimagined as Peter Bland. I'm sorry, Peter Brand. But that's still kind of a perk. Maybe if the Browns become a thing, DePo will actually let his name be used in a film. Though there's already a movie called "Draft Day" about a fictitious Browns GM played expertly by the K-Dawg himself, Kevin Costner. There's a lot to unwrap here. Let's move on.
The franchise's best
I've made it rather clear Walter Payton is the best running back in NFL history. But I will politely listen to any Browns fan who wants to prop up Jim Brown. I get it. Brown led the NFL in rushing in eight of his nine NFL seasons. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in five of his nine seasons. I love to talk about dominating your peers. He was second to none in that category.
So, yes, I'm just going to sit here in my Walter Payton jersey and keep my mouth shut.
Not enough credit
Bill Belichick's time with the Cleveland Browns. This gets warped because of the way the Browns moved right after. But the Browns were 11-5 in 1994. They were AFC favorites the following season. The announcement of the move to Baltimore in the middle of the 1995 campaign nuked this team. And the Browns weren't the ones who fired Belichick. That was the re-formed Baltimore Ravens. (I've made that mistake before.) Make fun of the Ravens, not the Browns. But damn, you wonder what could have been had this team just stayed in Cleveland. The Brown were on to something, though I don't know if this makes things better or worse.
Not enough credit, part II
The "best quarterback ever" debate boils down to Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Why? Super Bowl rings. But Otto Graham won four AAFC titles with the Browns (1946-49) and three NFL championships (1950, 1954 and 1955). You know me by now, and you know I love to compare players to their peers when we're talking about dominance. Graham was the best quarterback of his generation.
Closing fun fact
The Browns are a team that actually checks a lot of boxes. You will never be considered a front-runner -- the team would need to reach Otto Graham-levels of success for that to be remotely possible. The fans are great. I try to make the trip to Canton, Ohio -- which is just outside Cleveland -- every year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I love these people. I know this isn't scientific, but I think I've friended more Browns fans on Facebook after chance encounters than people from any other fan base. I love the city, too. I'm sure it's because it's August when I usually see the area, and there aren't huge banks of snow on the ground. But it's pretty great. There is some young talent here. Which means they could be good in the near future. Seriously, this could be the world's next version of the Warriors. (Sorry, but it really drives home the point.) Don't you want to be a part of that? (Unless you have the NFL version of a 3-1 lead and blow it, but I feel like the Falcons already took care of that.)