The 1995 NFL season is one that Cleveland Browns fans would like to have stricken from public records. It was announced during that season that after 50 years in Cleveland the Browns would be moving to Baltimore. We all know what happened next. By February of 1996, Cleveland kept the rights to the Browns franchise, was awarded an expansion franchise and the City of Baltimore had to name the franchise that so many in Cleveland would immediately hate. Our beloved franchise was gone for three full seasons, not returning until 1999.
20 years ago, Cleveland was rocking as few had ever seen. The Browns would play football once again and all seemed right with the world. Yet, all was not right. The Browns did a miserable job of acquiring talent in the expansion draft. The players took reads like a Who is Not Who. They had a shot at some veterans, Pro Bowlers and talented players and came close to whiffing entirely. When Tim Couch was drafted in the NFL Draft in April of 1999, it was absolutely the right pick. Couch was the real deal. He just didn’t have a team around him. He took a beating in 1999 and again in 2001, being sacked over 50 times each season. His injuries started the quarterback carousel and the Browns’ putrid records precipitated the revolving door for both head coaches and GMs.
The city was so excited leading up to 1999. It really felt like we would have our competitive Browns back in short order and things would be like they were before our real franchise was stolen. We were sold a pipe dream. The Browns were not ready to compete in the NFL. The fans have suffered through 18 losing seasons in 20 years since the so-called reincarnation.
The good news is that this is not the story of a team that has a proclivity for creating endless suffering and possesses no reasonable pathway toward winning in the future. This is the story of a franchise being born again with this rebirth taking place 20 years after an emotional return to the NFL. For the return in 1999 was a return only in name. The return in form, excellence and in a manner representative of a true Cleveland Browns franchise is happening two decades later before our very eyes.
The great franchises of the NFL are spoken of in term of great players and coaches, not in whispers of mediocrity and disfunction. The Cleveland Browns have been one of the great franchises in the history of football in America. They ruled the gridiron for season after season producing greats that are synonymous with football itself. Men like Paul Brown, Lou Groza, Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and others wore the orange and brown with pride, instilling fear in the opponent. Most teams of the past 20 seasons are not representative of these greats or of this franchise.
The true rebirth is underway. Players and coaches currently residing in Cleveland will be among the greats that we’ll tell our kids and grandchildren about. Regardless of whether you’re a fan who needs to see wins first or not, you must recognize the talent on this roster and the talent evaluation skills possessed by Browns General Manager John Dorsey.
Building a football team starts at the top. This rebirth is occurring due to the hiring of Browns GM John Dorsey. None of this happens without him. Yes, I understand that people paved the way for him, and others are also important in the molding of this team. Yet, if you subtract John Dorsey, you also subtract a large portion of the talent on this roster.
You may disagree, but I believe the Browns have solved their general manager, head coach and quarterback issues all in a short period of time and that is how you start a solid franchise. Browns fans have suffered for over 20 years waiting on a return to the respectable, competitive and proud days of this franchise. The rebirth is finally happening. We deserve it.