Today is Super Bowl Sunday.
It is also a day that fans of the Cleveland Browns have never been excited about. In the 51 years of the Super Bowl era, the Browns have never taken part in the game, let alone win the Lombardi Trophy.
Cleveland hasn’t been close to getting to the ultimate NFL experience since the 1989 season, 27 long and mostly dreadful years.
However, in the first 24 Super Bowl years, the Browns got to the what would now be the conference title game five times.
We all know about the game’s most famous upset in Super Bowl III, when the Jets, led by Joe Namath, beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 16-7. What is forgotten is the Colts got there by hammering the Browns 30-0 in the NFL title game.
The Colts avenged their lone regular season defeat that day.
Coach Blanton Collier’s crew got to the brink of the Super Bowl the very next year, losing to the Minnesota Vikings, who then lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the last AFL/NFL championship tilt.
That was the last success for what was really the remnants of the Paul Brown era in Cleveland, although the Browns made the playoffs in 1971 and 1972, but didn’t advance in either year.
In ’72, they did put a scare into what turned out to be the undefeated Miami Dolphins, leading in the fourth quarter before a blocked punt turned the game around and Don Shula’s team escaped with a win.
Cleveland didn’t win a playoff game again until 1986, although they did have a brief period of excitement when Sam Rutigliano was the head coach and the Browns became one of the first teams to emphasize the passing game.
In 1980, the Browns won the AFC Central and lost to Oakland in the famous “Red Right 88” game where Brian Sipe threw an interception with the team in point blank range for a game winning field goal.
To be fair, the conditions were horrible that day, and kicker Don Cockroft misses two extra points early.
The closest the Browns got to the Lombardi Trophy was 1986, with the AFC Championship in Cleveland, and Marty Schottenheimer’s squad took a 20-13 lead over Denver in the 4th quarter after Bernie Kosar hit Brian Brennan for a 48 yard touchdown strike.
Watching that game, we felt the Browns were going to get to their first Super Bowl. But then John Elway orchestrated the drive and Cleveland lost in overtime, 23-20. Denver lost the Super Bowl to the Giants.
The following year the same two teams matched up again, and again a bitter disappointment greeted Browns’ fans as Earnest Byner fumbled as he tried to score the game tying TD.
What made that game particularly galling was that Cleveland came back from a 28-10 deficit to the brink of tying the contest.
Denver again went on to lose the Super Bowl to Washington.
The last time the franchise got close was two years later, when they again lost to Denver, this time with Bud Carson at the helm.
Kosar’s finger was injured and the Browns got thumped in Denver, 37-21, and once again the Broncos got obliterated in the Super Bowl, this time by the 49ers.
Since then, the Cleveland Browns have won one playoff game, with one of today’s Super Bowl coaches, Bill Belichick, patrolling the Cleveland sidelines.
That’s been it.
Now, the Browns have started its most ambitious building process in the history of the franchise. They gutted the roster, purging most of the veterans and are now starting to build with a boatload of draft picks, which they hope will turn into a franchise quarterback, and a host of good young players they hope will lead the team back to the playoffs.
And eventually, into the first Super Bowl Cleveland has ever been a part of.
There aren’t many franchises that haven’t been to the Bowl, and the only two who pre-date the game itself are the Lions and Browns.
So, Browns fans will watch the game today without the experience of ever being part of the festivities.
But it is worth reminding everyone that the team has come close a few times, and in the early years of the game, the Browns were a contender to get there.
That was a long, long time ago unfortunately.