IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
AFTER winning titles from 1946 through '49 in the All-American Football Conference, the Browns join the NFL, go 10-2 and land in the 1950 championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. Down 28-27 with less than three minutes to play, Cleveland's defense holds and gives quarterback Otto Graham, who has already thrown four touchdown passes, a shot at the win. Graham leads the Browns 57 yards down the field, and with 28 seconds to play Lou Groza kicks a 16-yard field goal (below), which is enough for a 30-28 victory. It is the fifth of seven titles that coach Paul Brown will win in Cleveland, all with future Hall of Fame players Graham and Groza.
THE GOLDEN ERA
THE BROWNS DOMINATED CLEVELAND'S SPORTS PAGES IN THE '50S, WINNING THREE TITLES, BUT THE INDIANS AND EVEN THE BARONS HOCKEY TEAM ALSO HAD SUCCESS
VEECK WINS LIKE HECK
HAVING purchased the team in '46, Bill Veeck (far right) leads the Indians to seven first- or second-place finishes from '48 through '56. An innovator and promoter, Veeck signs the AL's first black player (Larry Doby), its oldest rookie ( Satchel Paige, 42) and lures spectators by giving away everything from nylon stockings to beer.
AHEAD OF HIS TIME
A BIG REASON why the Browns dominate the AAFC and the NFL is future Hall of Famer Marion Motley (76). The 6'1", 232-pound fullback—the AAFC's alltime leading rusher—is the NFL's top rusher in 1950. Signed by the Browns as a 26-year-old rookie in '46, Motley is one of four black players who pave the way for future generations.
SLICK ON THE ICE
FOOTBALL may be slow to catch on in Cleveland, but hockey isn't. The Barons of the American Hockey League win their first Calder Cup in 1939. With players such as Gil Mayer (below), they take eight more titles over the next quarter century, including back-to-back championships in '53 and '54.
THE INDIANS win an AL-record 111 games behind Larry Doby's 32 homers and 126 RBIs and are heavily favored to win the World Series against the New York Giants. But Leo Durocher's Giants sweep the Indians, setting the tone in Game 1 with an over-the-shoulder catch by Willie Mays (above).
IT WAS AUTOMATIC
BROWNS star quarterback Otto Graham (left) ends his 10-year professional football career the way he begins it: with a championship. It's the seventh overall (including four in the All-American Football Conference) for the former Northwestern tailback, who lands the Browns in the league title game every year of his career, leads the NFL in passing in 1953 and '55 and is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in '65. For his career Graham passes for 23,584 yards and 174 touchdowns.
ROCKY ROAD AHEAD
ROCCO Domenico (Rocky) Colavito, identified as the Indians Man of the Year on the cover of their 1959 press guide, earns that title by hitting 42 home runs, making the All-Star team and leading the Tribe to what would be its best record (89-65) until 1995. Indians G.M. Frank Lane deals the popular outfielder to Detroit in '60, beginning years of baseball woe in Cleveland—what some have called the Curse of Rocky Colavito.
THE BROWNS' LAST HURRAH
ART MODELL doesn't win any friends in Cleveland when he fires longtime coach Paul Brown two years after buying the Browns in 1961. Brown's replacement is former assistant Blanton Collier, who leads the team to a 10-3-1 record and the NFL title game in '64 despite having one of the worst defenses in the league. That defense was not the same group that showed up to play Johnny Unitas's Colts to a scoreless tie through halftime on a windy December day at Municipal Stadium. "I wanted to go out and gun them down," Unitas says later, "but their defense didn't allow that." Jim Brown runs for 114 yards, Lou Groza kicks two field goals and quarterback Frank Ryan and wide receiver Gary Collins take care of the rest during the second half, combining for three touchdowns in an improbable 27-0 win over the heavily favored Colts.
THERE WERE NO TITLES, BUT FANS STILL HAD A PERFECT GAME, A TITLE BOUT AND SOME BROWNS' HEART-STOPPERS TO KEEP THEM ON THE EDGES OF THEIR SEATS