December 7, 2005: Who Was the Last Coach to Lead Browns to Super Bowl Contention?

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A Brief History

On December 7, 2005, former Cleveland Browns head coach Bud Carson, a lifetime heavy smoker, died of emphysema at the age of 75.  In 1989, Carson had led the Browns, once the NFL’s premier franchise and today perhaps the worst team of all time, to the AFC Conference Championship Game, the third time in a 4 year period that the Browns would be one win from making it to the Super Bowl for the first time in their history.

Digging Deeper

The Browns started life in 1946 as a team in the All-America Football Conference, a rival league to the National Football League.  The AAFC, and the Browns in particular, had challenged the NFL to games between teams from each league, but the NFL refused.  The Browns won the AAFC Championship all 4 years from 1946 to 1949, the only champions the league ever had.  The Browns had become the darlings of Cleveland when the Cleveland Rams, NFL Champions of 1945, picked up and moved to Los Angeles.  (Did you know the Rams were originally from Cleveland?)  By 1950 the Browns along with the San Francisco 49’rs and the Baltimore Colts joined the NFL and the AAFC folded.

The Browns started their NFL career by beating the reigning NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles 35-10 in their very first NFL game, showing the world the champions of the AAFC were worthy of the top rung of the NFL.  The Browns went on to win the NFL Championship in 1950, 1954, 1955 and 1964.  When the Super Bowl era began, the Browns had their first chance to make it to the big game in 1968 when they lost to the Colts in the NFL Championship Game, thus blowing the chance to meet the New York Jets of the American Football League in Super Bowl III.  In 1969 the Browns again played in the NFL Championship Game, this time getting pasted by the Minnesota Vikings.

In 1970 the AFL merged with the NFL, and the Super Bowl became the NFL Championship Game.  The Browns would not have a shot at making the Super Bowl until 1986 when they lost a heartbreaking game to John Elway and the Denver Broncos, the game known as “The Drive” in which Elway led his team on a 98 yard touchdown drive at the end of the game to win the AFC Championship and go to the Super Bowl.  Only a year later, the Browns again played the now hated Broncos for the AFC Championship and the right to go to the Super Bowl, but again the Browns suffered a last minute loss in the game known as “The Fumble.”

In 1989, coach Bud Carson, Leon H. Carson formally, a former college player from the University of North Carolina and a coach with Georgia Tech (head coach in 1967-1971 and an assistant coach for several NFL teams, led the Browns to a 9-6-1 record, and a Divisional playoff win over Buffalo.  The Browns would once again face the Broncos for their third chance in four years to make it to the Super Bowl, but once again John Elway and his famous smile took the Broncos to victory over the Browns, 37-21.

The Browns have been one of the worst teams in the NFL ever since, with January 1, 1994 the last date they won a playoff game.  The team moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season to become the Ravens, and a brand new Cleveland Browns began NFL life in 1999.  Since their return to the NFL, the Browns have played in only 1 playoff game, a 36-33 loss to the arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002.  (The Browns had been winning 24-7 in the third quarter and still lost!)  That 9-7 2002 Browns team was joined by the 10-6 2007 Browns as the only 2 that have had a winning season since the reforming of the team.  Only 2 winning seasons out of the last 22!

The abject failure of the Browns to be competitive is starting to wear thin on Cleveland football fans.  One miserable failed draft after another and a revolving door at quarterback and head coach have made a travesty of the team.  This year, 2017, was almost a sure bet to be at least a tiny improvement over the pathetic 1-15 record of 2016, and yet, 12 games into the season the Browns are 0 wins and 12 losses!  They now officially have the worst run of football in NFL history.  Of the teams that existed when the first Super Bowl was played, only the Browns and the Detroit Lions have never been to a Super Bowl.  (The Texans and Jaguars are the only other teams never to play in the big game, but they are newer.)

Will the Browns ever get better?  If so, what circumstances are necessary for that improvement to occur?  What do you suggest for the Browns?  Have you given up on them?  Should fans boycott the team until ownership/management produces a better product?  Please feel free to give us your advice and opinions.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Jeff Risdon, “Former Browns coach Bud Carson wins prestigious Dr. Z Award,” USA Today, (accessed 6 December 2017).


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.