The theme that Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine has instilled throughout training camp, and this season is to “Play like a Brown”. To most fans unfamiliar with the Cleveland Browns history prior to 1999, I thought I would take time out of my day to remember an NFL great that in a sense, was the “father” of our beloved Cleveland Browns. I’m talking about a man who inspired an entire generation of coaches, and was the inspiration of a whole new offensive philosophy, and hard-nosed defense. A man who has not only founded an NFL team, but to this day our Cleveland Browns bear his name. I am of course talking about HOF Coach Paul Brown, the father of Cleveland Browns football tradition. This is what Pettine means by playing like a Brown.
Born on September 7th 1908 in Norfolk Ohio, Paul Eugene Brown not only made an impact on football at the pro level, but on the high school level and college ranks as well. As a player, the 145 pound quarterback played both at Ohio State in Columbus and Miami University in Oxford. It was while at Miami of Ohio Brown was named All-Ohio small college second team by the AP. His first coaching job was at Severn School, in Severna Park, Maryland, which, at the time was a Naval Academy prep school. However his most notable High School coaching career was with my laminator the Massillon Washington High School Tigers located in Massillon Ohio. For those of you not familiar with the area, Massillon is just a few miles west of the Pro Football Hall of Fame city of Canton. During Brown’s nine year stint in Massillon he posted an impressive 80–8–2 record which included a 35-game winning streak. During that time Brown gave the Tigers six of the schools 22 state titles. Brown made the jump to the college ranks in 1941 when he accepted the head coaching position at Ohio State University. Under Brown, the Buckeyes went 18–8–1 (1941–43). In 1942 Brown led the Buckeyes to a share of the school’s first national championship. By the time Cleveland’s first professional football franchise was founded in 1945 Brown was synonymous with Ohio Football. So having him at the head of the Cleveland Browns football team was a given. Arthur McBride hired Brown for his new AAFC (All American Football Conference) team in Cleveland. McBride decided to run a newspaper contest to name the team. The winner who came up with the best name would receive a $1,000 war bond. Many entries suggested the name “Browns” naming the team after its new coach, but Brown felt it wasn’t “proper” to name the team after him. So instead the winning name suggestion was the Panthers. But as fate would have it, there was a semi-pro team called the Cleveland Panthers in the ’20s, and the owner still had the rights to the name. So, Coach Brown reluctantly agreed to name the team the Browns. While with Cleveland, Brown dominated the AAFC bringing home four AAFC titles. When the Browns joined the NFL the aggressive head coach continued his dominance wined three league titles, and seven conference titles. In all, Brown led the Cleveland Browns to 10 straight championship games winning seven of them.
Paul Brown was one of the most competitive ever to step onto a football field. He also had a bit of a “vindictive” streak as well. My favorite and perhaps most prominent examples of Browns’ “mean streak” or “vindictive nature” came in 1950. Eagles head coach Greasy Neale dismissed the Cleveland Browns’ dominance of the Eagles’ vaunted defense in the season opener by saying, “All they do is pass the ball.” In the teams’ subsequent meeting a few months later, the Cleveland Browns set an NFL record that still stands to this day by attempting “NO” passes in a 13–7 win over the Eagles. But all was not perfect for Brown in Cleveland. Differences between him and new owner Art Modell (who purchased the team in 1961) came to a head over player Ernie Davis and eventually led to Brown’s termination in 1963 from the Cleveland Browns. Paul Brown went on to found, manage, and coach the new franchise in Cincinnati known as the Bengals in 1968. Brown navigated the Bengals to three playoff appearances including one in just the team’s third year in existence. He would coach for eight years in Cincinnati before stepping down but still remained as the teams President. In 1967, Brown was enshrined in the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio just a few miles from his hometown of Massillon. In addition, two stadiums bear his name. The first is Massillon’s “Paul Brown Tiger Stadium” (built in 1939) and the second was the new Bengal’s facility “Paul Brown Stadium” which was completed in 2000. On July 29, Sporting News honored Brown by naming him to their 50 Greatest Coaches of All-Time list, appearing in the 13th position, with only two other NFL coaches listed Ahead of him. Brown is credited with many innovations in football. He is widely considered the “Father of the modern offense” Brown will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the all-time greats and will forever remembered in Cleveland and his legacy will live on in the team that bears his name. So when you hear the words “Play like a Brown” by players, and coaching staff, this is what they are striving to accomplish.