Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 16, 1950: A win for the little brother

PHILADELPHIA - The Cleveland Browns had waited five years for this opportunity.

When the All-American Football Conference formed in 1946, the Browns quickly established themselves as the dominant team in the league. They won the league championship each of the first four years, running up an incredible 47-4-3 record in the process. Every year after winning the championship, they challenged the NFL champion to a game to determine the best team in the country. Each year, the NFL refused.

The NFL had reasons to refuse the game. As the established league, they didn't want to give any unnecessary credibility to the AAFC and risk threatening their status as the premier league in the country. Also, there were many questions about the legitimacy of the AAFC, based on how easily the Browns won the championship every year.

Finally, after four years, a peace was reached. Though the AAFC drew more fans on average than the NFL, most of their teams were losing money. The NFL agreed to absorb three teams from the AAFC for the 1950 season, taking the Browns along with San Francisco and Baltimore. When the merger was announced, the Browns had hoped it would lead to a championship matchup against the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles, but the NFL still didn't allow it.

They did, however, throw the Browns a bone by scheduling the two defending champions to play in the opening game of the 1950 season in Philadelphia. The NFL did so with the intention of proving once and for all that their league had been the superior one. The Eagles certainly believed the hype, as they didn't even bother scouting the Browns' preseason games.

Though it was an opening-week regular season game, the game was treated like a playoff game. It was moved from the Eagles' normal home of Shibe Park to Municipal Stadium to take advantage of the increased seating capacity; in all, 71,000 people attended, more than in any previous NFL or AAFL championship game and even more than attended the first Super Bowl 15 years later.

Inspired by finally getting their chance against the NFL champions, the Browns took full advantage, dominating from the beginning. They shut down the Eagles offensively and, perhaps more importantly, found holes in the vaunted Eagles Defense, one that had been much-feared and widely imitated in the NFL for years. A 14-3 halftime lead was extended to a 35-10 Cleveland victory, silencing at least for a week the critics who doubted the talent of the supposedly inferior league.

Cleveland didn't stop there. The Browns finished the season 10-2, earning a place in the league championship game, where they beat the powerful Los Angeles Rams 30-28 for their fifth straight league title. The Browns had proven that they were the best football team in America, and they stayed near the top for a decade, winning seven titles in a 10-year span.

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