While the New England Patriots have winning down to a science in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns on the other hand, have managed to turn losing into an art form.
As the 2017 NFL season concludes this Sunday with the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, the Browns enter the off-season demoralized and empty-handed as they embark on year 18 of their ongoing rebuild. The 21st century has certainly not been kind to the Browns. Since their reactivation in the NFL in 1999, the Browns have radically transformed into the laughing stock of professional football to the extent where many pending draft prospects and free agents have publicly expressed extreme disinterest in signing with the franchise.
The Browns’ credentials following their restoration have ranged from minimal to nonexistent, producing only two winning seasons above .500 in 2002 (9-7) and 2007 (10-6), one playoff appearance in 2002 and zero playoff wins. Once the 2017 season came to a close, the Browns’ overall win-loss record since 1999 sits at a grotesque 88-216. Following a forgettable 1-15 season under Hue Jackson in 2016, the Browns were projected by many sports analysts and scholars to slowly improve in 2017 at 2-4 wins. Instead, their 2017 campaign notably tallied 16 regular season losses as the Browns became only the second team in league history to finish a season with a 0-16 record, sharing the ugly title with the 2008 Detroit Lions.
The Browns began 2017 with a three-point loss to the Steelers and ended their season at Heinz Field with a four-point loss which sealed their fate as wide receiver Corey Coleman dropped a wide-open pass from quarterback DeShone Kizer which would have moved Cleveland deeper into the red zone. Everything in between their divisional match-ups with Pittsburgh was heartbreaking. In all, the Browns lost in two countries, two continents, eight states and nine stadiums including Twickenham in London, England.
Adding insult to injury, after their instate divisional rivals the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17, the Buffalo Bills clinched a playoff berth in virtue of a tiebreaker, snapping a 17-year postseason drought which was then the active longest dry spell in all five major professional sports.
With the Bills qualifying for the sixth seed in the wild card round, the Browns now hold the ghastly distinction of longest active playoff drought in the NFL, traversing to a franchise worst of 15 seasons. Once a team that epitomized both football itself and the NFL, the Cleveland Browns have fallen mightily since their heyday from 1946 to 1972.
The Browns were once a proud organization, especially during the AAFC days of professional football in which owner Arthur B. McBride and then-coach Paul Brown reigned supreme over the short-lived league, amassing a 47-4-3 record in four seasons. The Browns’ robust success would continue once they joined the NFL in 1949, becoming the first and only team to win a championship in its inaugural season—a feat unequaled by any of the professional sports team in North America.
Although the Browns have never made a Super Bowl appearance since the annual championship was established by the league in 1966, the franchise was at least respectable and had a reputable track record of producing cutthroat teams, particularly in the early 1960s. Even the Marty Schottenheimer and Bernie Kosar-led teams during the 1980s were sizable competition for the domineering Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders who conquered the AFC throughout the decade.
The Browns never recovered after head coach Bill Belichick was terminated in 1996. From their former owner Art Modell betraying the loyal fan base by moving the team to Baltimore to the expansion team Baltimore Ravens consisting of Browns’ personnel built by Belichick winning a Super Bowl title in 2000, the Browns have experienced misfortune of every magnitude.
The warm memories of Otto Graham and Jim Brown seem all but distant and disaffiliated given the current state of the franchise. If you were to compare the Browns of the 1950s to the Browns of the modern era circa 1999 onwards, you would not be able to identify the franchise as one in the same. Every team undergoes a dark age but none to the degree of the Browns who, under current head coach Jackson are a combined 1-31 over two seasons, the worst winning percentage by an NFL head coach.
The franchise’s struggles begin and end with its front office, including owner Jim Haslam who has backslid in his capacity since his purchase of the Browns in 2012.
Haslam’s decision to hire John Dorsey as the Browns general manager towards the end of the 2017 season was an excellent transaction; however, his verdict to retain Jackson is one that could affect the team moving forward. Usually general managers have a hand in selecting their own head coaches. Haslam has twice selected a head coach without the approval or consultation of a general manager. Haslam did so when the team hired Ray Farmer as the general manager following the addition of Mike Pettine and brought in Sashi Brown after the announcement of Hue Jackson.
This presents an unfair advantage to Dorsey who wants to field and execute the best product. General managers typically succeed when they find coaches that cater to their strengths at selecting players via draft or free agency. Dorsey did so while he established a relationship with Andy Reid in Kansas City and stabilized the Chiefs into a contender.
The Browns, on the other hand need to show faith in their staff and personnel and allow them to make football decisions. Having Dorsey not select his own coach and begin anew can either make or break his tenure and with Haslam perched from above, the Browns will continue to be a Xerox machine at every position.
Drew Mattiola is a fourth-year student majoring in communications. ✉️ RM814408@wcupa.edu.