Oh, thy Browns, how are thee so bad? Are you noble at heart or just defeated in mind and soul? A tragic bunch of lads. You’ve been doomed since the start; will victory ever come in the Super Bowl?
Perhaps a tragic poem will be inscribed in the Browns’ locker room (much better than the above one), or an epic tale of defeat and horrid luck will be read by grandfather’s to their newborn grandchildren, or a blockbuster film will portray the franchise’s struggles over decades of disappointment. Cleveland is on the brink of one of the worst NFL seasons of all time – only the ’08 Lions have felt the ultimate embarrassment. Yes, there have been other win-less seasons, but Detroit is the only team to lose all 16 games. Until now of course…
Okay, the Browns still have a chance to turn the season around and get that first – and probably lone – victory. Though the franchise has only made the playoffs twice since 1990, they seem to have a streak of success every couple generations. The ‘50s were great for the Browns, winning three NFL Championships sandwiched between an undefeated season in ’48 and another championship in ’64. After the ‘60s it wasn’t until the ‘80s when things became promising again. So if I’m doing my math correctly – and I should be because I’m using a calculator for an easy equation – then Cleveland is due… past due actually.
So in honor of hope we will look at the 8 players who loved playing for the Browns, and just to be safe, the 7 who absolutely hated it. Not everyone is an optimist, you know.
Before we get started, I would like to mention Josh Cribbs as a player who probably hated playing for the Browns, but should have loved it because he was considered so good just because everyone else was so bad. After he left Cleveland, his career dwindled.
21 Loved: Bill Willis
A defensive beast who also played on the offensive line from time to time when needed, Bill Willis was an important piece of Cleveland’s success in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Browns’ fans remember him as a great player during the franchise’s start, but they also recognize his importance to the nation as a whole. Willis was one of the first African-American players to compete in professional football. The year was 1946, and he along with teammate Marian Motely and Los Angeles Rams player’s Woody Strode and Kenny Washington were the only four African-American players in the league. Surprisingly, this was before Jackie Robinson’s impact on baseball. It doesn’t matter who broke the color barrier or when, just that it happened, and Willis returned his gratitude to the Browns’ franchise by playing incredible football. A great man for a then-great franchise who helped shaped an important part of American history.
20 Hated: Jamie Collins
Just give it time. You can hate in the past tense while still on the team – ex: he hated that his team was blown out this weekend and the fact he is stuck playing for them. Jaime Collins has to be bitter; he went from perennial Super Bowl contender and a great organization in general to the bottom of the league and a franchise in complete disarray at the moment in a matter of a couple days. There were reports that Collins and his old coaching staff weren’t on the same page, but when it comes to football coaches, New England’s staff may just know a bit more than a fourth-year player. Just saying. Still, Collins is a talented player, and all he was worth to the Patriots was a conditional third-round draft pick, fourth-round guaranteed if that fell through, and it’s the Browns so even things they don’t have control over won’t go their way.
19 Loved: Leroy Kelly
Sometimes you just have to reward the people who gave you a shot. Leroy Kelly did just that for the Browns, showing his gratitude in the way he played. He was an eigth-round pick and third in line to be the great Jim Brown’s successor. His hard work on special teams helped the Browns win the ’64 championship and his coverage talent continued throughout his career, but his love for the game was obvious considering he did end up earning the starting running back position as well. In fact, he was the MVP in ’68, just three seasons after Brown had retired. I guess he made the best of his opportunity, and though he was eventually waived by Cleveland late in his career because his productivity was dropping, he still has the franchise to thank for giving him a chance… and he ran with it. That was a stupid pun, sorry.
18 Hated: Robert Griffin III
Again, give it time. Robert Griffin III joined the Browns in free agency after his disappointing stint with the Washington Redskins ended in 2016. Then again, it probably ended well before that, but there are too many parties to blame at the moment – or maybe just one stubborn young quarterback. If Griffin was looking for a career revival, he couldn’t have picked a worse team. 26 quarterbacks have started for the Browns since 1999, including six this year alone. It’s like the Florida of the NFL – no, not like a franchise in Florida, but more of where the elderly migrate to before, well, you know. Griffin may have been better off becoming a third-string quarterback on any other team for less money. At the rate injuries are going, anyone can become a starter; actually, except maybe Griffin because he seems pretty prone to that kind of stuff. Maybe I could become a starter? For the Browns!
17 Loved: Lou Groza
How many people do you know who have a college football award named after them? It’s quite the honor, and Lou Groza is the proud inspiration behind the Lou Groza Award that is given to the top college kicker every season. Yes, good job figuring it out, he was a kicker, but did you know he was also an offensive tackle? Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum from a size standpoint (except Sebastian Janikowski of course – who won the Lou Groza Award twice by the way). Groza played both positions for the Browns and was a Pro Bowler and eventually a Hall of Famer. However, he was as great off the field as he was on, supporting Northeast Ohio communities his entire life. He loved the area, he loved the franchise, and he was a cornerstone of the good old days in Cleveland. He played 21 seasons for the Browns and participated in 13 championship games. Talk about dedication.
16 Hated: Colt McCoy
Speaking of ex-starters who became injury prone, but while playing for the Browns. The great Joe Thomas did everything to protect Colt McCoy during the quarterback's tenure in Cleveland, but the rest of the line seemed to forget how to play football those years. An ankle injury his rookie year, then a whole bunch of violent sacks and knockdowns, and then the hit from Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison the following season that knocked McCoy into a different realm; the quarterback claiming he didn’t remember anything from the play. Obviously he had a concussion that the Browns were criticized for not handling it correctly. After three tough seasons in Cleveland, McCoy got out. He is now a great backup for Kirk Cousins in Washington which RGIII could have been doing, but we just discussed his situation. Strange how things flip-flop like that. McCoy is at least safer I suppose.
15 Loved: Ozzie Newsome
Though Ozzie Newsome didn’t get to experience the glory of the Browns of old, he did earn some postseason chances with the team which is more than the players who have competed for Cleveland over the last 27 years. Actually, just three playoff games would trump that number, and he was part of three playoff wins alone. He was hard-working and revolutionized the tight end position with his athletic style. He never missed a game for the Browns, and then was given a front office job after his retirement in ‘91. Luckily for him, the team moved to Baltimore and he was a key developer in the Ravens’ Super Bowl run in 2000, earning his promotion to the team’s General Manager – the first African-American to hold that position in the NFL. He loved the Browns so much he followed them to Baltimore; there are husbands and wives who won’t even do that for their spouses.
14 Hated: Earnest Byner
Earnest Byner is on this list for one reason: The Fumble. Truth be told, he may have enjoyed his time as a Brown because he was an awesome running back on a really good offense. However, one play can change everything for everyone. Byner had an amazing AFC Championship game before fumbling close to the goal line against the Broncos with about a minute left, securing Denver’s trip to the Super Bowl instead of possibly heading into overtime. He was devastated, the whole city of Cleveland was disappointed (what’s new?). After the following season he was traded to the Redskins. What’s with all these Cleveland-Washington connections? This worked out nicely because he scored a touchdown in a very important game with the Redskins, helping them win Super Bowl XXVI. Redemption? Perhaps. He became a Brown for one more year before the franchise move to Baltimore (he’s more comfortable in Maryland I guess).
13 Loved: Gene Hickerson
Gene Hickerson was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Browns. A great blocker, athletic, and the fastest for a man his size, but didn’t receive the Canton honor until he was near-death which has been a sour topic in Cleveland for quite some time. The man loved the franchise, playing in 15 seasons and only missing one due to a broken leg. I guess that’s a legitimate reason. However, playing for the same team for that long is something amazing, especially in comparison to the modern way of doing things in the NFL. To prove his importance to the team, the year after he retired, the Browns had their first losing season in the team’s history. That’s right, you read that correctly. Now they’re just waiting for someone to retire so they can have a winning season… anyone, please retire! Why wouldn’t Hickerson love the franchise after never experiencing a losing season? I'm sure he played a large part in that accomplishment.
12 Hated: Josh Gordon
Is this a Cleveland problem or a Josh Gordon problem? At Baylor he got busted for marijuana twice, eventually losing his spot on the team. Luckily, he received a second chance by being drafted by the Browns in the 2012 Supplementary Draft. After a great rookie season he once again showed his talent. Then, he violated the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. After an even better sophomore season he proved how amazing of a receiver he was. Then, he was charged with a DUI. Then, he violated the NFL’s substance-abuse policy again. Then, he violated team rules. Then, he violated the NFL’s substance-abuse policy again again. What is this dude’s problem, seriously? Maybe he was depressed that he was a Brown because rather than taking advantage of his second, third, fourth, and fifth chances, he would rather sell used cars or not have a job altogether.
11 Loved: Bernie Kosar
There are a handful of recognizable Bernies in the world: Bernie Sanders, Bernie Mac, Bernie Williams, those guys’ dead uncle they spent a weekend with in that movie, and of course, Bernie Kosar. Kosar was the quarterback of the last span of good years the Browns had. He was born and raised in Ohio, went and won a NCAA Championship with Miami (Florida, not Ohio), and then came back and almost did the same for his beloved Browns. He even declared for the draft after his sophomore season because there was a good chance he would be drafted by Cleveland, and he made it clear to other teams he only wanted to play for the Browns. I know, right, who actually wants to play for them? Kosar loved the Browns, but just like any love, he had to suffer through heartbreak. The villain: John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Those AFC Championship highlights are still difficult to watch in Cleveland – spoiler alert: unless you’ve seen Hot Tub Time Machine.
10 Hated: Johnny Manziel
This guy. Talk about wasting talent and ruining chances; Johnny Manziel should be on a poster for bad decisions and how not to live life. When a guy tells a franchise like the Cleveland Browns that the two of them together would “wreck this league” then you know it’s a bad sign. Did he even know the history or current performance of the Browns or was he just that egotistical? Well, then again, what exactly did he mean by wreck? I guess it was a prediction in regards to his own life. However, he does hold the record for the most rushing yards by a Cleveland Browns quarterback in franchise history. I’m sure Bernie Kosar and Otto Graham (RIP) are super jealous. He certainly wrecked that one game, but now doesn’t play football anymore. Would he have been better off playing for a different franchise that isn’t currently quarterback-cursed? He doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.
9 Loved: Jim Brown
It was really tough not putting Jim Brown as number one on this list. Let’s face it, the guy has the same last name as the team. When I was younger, I literally thought the team was named after him because he was so good. Then again, younger people are stupid (I’m still young). The man is one of the most dominant running backs in history and he loved playing in Cleveland. He played all nine of his seasons for the Browns, never missing a game, and retired at the ripe age of 29. Too early? Yes, but was it because he didn’t want to play anywhere other than Cleveland? That’s very debatable, but we will never know because he choose to pursue his acting career instead. Browns’ fans remember him as a bruising Hall of Fame back who brought them their last NFL Championship. He could probably suit up for them today if he wanted to – and it would be a definite upgrade.
8 Hated: Tim Couch
Poor Tim Couch. I don’t think the Browns had much more anticipation for a rookie quarterback than that of Couch. He was supposed to be the savior! Well, in retrospect I guess he was considering he’s the only quarterback to lead Cleveland to a playoff spot this century. Many consider the Kentucky-product to be one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, but I’m sure others would disagree because he wasn’t necessarily bad, but maybe he was just on a bad team? Given the track record of the Browns since 1990, the defense for Couch certainly piles up. On the other hand, after being released from the Browns after the 2004 season, Couch failed miserably at continuing his career, battling shoulder injuries and banned-substance allegations. He is now a Fox analyst and has two children with Playmate Heather Kozar (not Kosar; it would be weird if she was related to Bernie). I guess life after Cleveland isn’t so bad.
7 Loved: Otto Graham
If anyone knows Browns’ history – and the experts have certainly suffered throughout – then they know of Otto Graham. Actually, if you know football history then I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of the guy. The Hall of Fame quarterback was a modern dual-threat before modern dual-threats were a thing. He was a great passer and a great runner, a completely dominate player really. Amazingly – and this is seriously amazing – Graham was the signal caller for the Browns for their first ten years and the team made the championship game each and every one of those seasons. The Browns? Championship games? Yes, they were once very very good, and it has a large part to do with the play of Graham who was a three-time MVP and never missed a game. Never! Players can barely go one season in the NFL without missing a game nowadays. Ahh, those were the days – the Browns’ days.