Thursday, January 9, 2014

January 9, 1963: The Paul Brown Era In Cleveland Comes To A Close

On January 9, 1963, an era came to an end Cleveland when Art Modell released a statement that said "Paul E. Brown head coach and general manager of the Cleveland Browns, will no longer serve the team in those capacities. Brown will remain as vice president. He will finish out the balance of his six-year contract at the same compensation and continue to be a stockholder." Some of that statement was true as Brown would relinquish his duties as coach and GM altogether. However, he would not remain with the team in any capacity. Brown had been with the team since they had began playing ball 1946 as a member of the now defunct All American Football Conference, in fact the name Browns came from Brown himself. He quickly molded the team into a championship caliber squad, in fact they won four consecutive titles in the AAFC before moving onto the NFL in 1950. He continued his winning ways in the NFL, he guided the Browns to a Championship title in that 1950 season, then would repeat the feat with back to back titles in '54 and '55. Following the championship seasons the relationship between his players would decline. When Jim Brown emerged on the scene in 1957 he helped the team reach the Championship game but were destroyed by the Lions 59-14 in the title game. He was particularly critical of the star running back following that run which led many of his players to questioning his leadership. The '58 season ended in disastrous fashion, with the Browns needing a win or tie to make the title game. They were down 10-3 against the Giants in the third quarter and had driven the ball all the way to the 16, when they lined up to kick a field goal Brown called a timeout, some players thought it alerted the Giants to a fake that Brown called then watched fail essentially costing them another shot at a title. As you and I both know us sports fans can be a fickle bunch and that one moment probable stuck out a little more than others. All of this led to great dissention between his players though and Brown did not help things by being critical of players as they continued to fall short. When Art Modell took over the team in 1961 things changed, the new owner was a hands on kind of guy which did not go over well with Brown who was used to having the majority of control in player and personnel decisions. While Modell had immediately given Brown an 8-year contract extension when he took over as majority owner and promised a working relationship with the coach it was a relationship that deteriorated as the players voiced their opinions about the coach that they no longer believed should lead the team. The straw that seemed to break the camel's back came before the '62 season when Brown traded star running back Bobby Mitchell to the Washington Redskins for the rights to Ernie Davis. Davis had won the Heisman Trophy at Syracuse and looked to have a promising career ahead of him only to be stricken by leukemia and passing away before he could ever take a snap as a pro. A year later the Paul Brown era would come to an end in Cleveland. While Jim Brown had been a very vocal critic he acknowledged that it was Paul  Brown that integrated the game without even mentioning the fact he was doing so, he just went out and signed the best talent no matter what race they might be. Along with the championships in the early days it was part of a legacy that would be carried throughout his entire life. Brown stayed away from the game for 5 years following the divorce then when the AFL granted the City of Cincinnati a franchise in 1968 the Bengals were born and a new journey would begin for Paul Brown as he was the majority shareholder in the new franchise. He would guide the Bengals as head coach until 1975, the team made the playoffs three times but never did get past the first round. With that said, he has a legacy in Ohio that extends down many avenues, he had great success as a high school coach, then led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a National Championship in 1942 before turning to the professional level. While his legacy had its fair share of ups and downs he is and always will be a legend of the game that had a long lasting impact in the game football and it will forever be remembered in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

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