What are the best moments for each NFL franchise? Yahoo Sports provides our opinion, which you are free to disagree with (and we’re sure you will).
5. Brian Sipe wins NFL MVP
Only one Cleveland Brown has been named the league’s Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl era, and it was Brian Sipe in 1980. Sipe threw for 4,132 yards and 30 touchdowns, which would be solid numbers even in today’s pass-happy NFL, and piloted a Cleveland team that had 13 games decided by one score or less, earning the nickname “Kardiac Kids.” Returning to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, Cleveland bowed out early with a Sipe interception against the Oakland Raiders that would come to be known as “Red Right 88.” Still, the Browns went 11-5 and were the only team to seriously challenge the eventual Super Bowl champion Raiders that postseason.
4. Franchise reactivated for 1999 season
“Everything that has been the Cleveland Browns franchise will be reactivated next year.” With those words in March of 1998, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue closed an ugly chapter in franchise history after then-owner Art Modell had controversially moved the Browns to Baltimore three years prior. And it happened the way the city of Cleveland wanted it, with a brand-new team that inherited the Browns’ history and uniforms rather than a relocated club. While the new Browns have floundered for nearly two decades, getting pro football back in Cleveland was a big moment.
3. Kevin Johnson’s Hail Mary catch
The Browns lost their first seven games upon returning to the NFL in 1999, but the first win was about as memorable as it gets. After a Doug Brien field goal gave the Saints a 16-14 lead with 21 seconds left, Cleveland drove to its own 42-yard line. Then, Tim Couch unleashed a Hail Mary pass with no time remaining. The pass bounced serendipitously off two New Orleans Saints defenders and into Kevin Johnson’s arms in the corner of the end zone. What’s more, the Browns followed their ensuing bye week with a win over the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, giving fans something to cheer about during an inevitably tough expansion season.
2. Browns draft Bernie Kosar
In rather unprecedented fashion, Bernie Kosar and the Browns made several moves to maneuver the Northeast Ohio native to Cleveland. In mid-March 1985, Kosar declared his intentions to enter the draft and went on the record to say he wanted to play for the Browns. But there was one problem: Minnesota wanted the star Miami quarterback too, and had a higher pick than Cleveland. So then-general manager Ernie Accorsi traded four picks, including two first-rounders, to Buffalo for the Bills’ first overall pick in the supplemental draft. By entering the supplemental draft, Kosar could dodge the Vikings and play for the team of his choice. The Vikings didn’t like this, for obvious reasons, and contended that Kosar was gaming the system (which he was). But then-league commissioner Pete Rozelle ignored the Vikings’ threats to sue, allowed Kosar to choose which draft he wanted to enter, clearing the way for him to go to Cleveland. Kosar lived up to his billing, giving the Browns the kind of consistently excellent quarterback play they’ve almost exclusively lacked in the Super Bowl era. And the fact a blue-chip prospect wanted to play for the Browns? All the more reason to celebrate.
1. Browns dominate the second half of the 1980s
It’s hard to fathom for the past couple generations of football fans, but there was a time Cleveland was an annual contender in the AFC. Led by Bernie Kosar, head coach Marty Schottenheimer, Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome and All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., the Browns captured four division titles in five years from 1985 to 1989, winning 62 percent of their games and earning 26 total Pro Bowl selections. They also went 8-2 against the bitter rival Steelers, including a 51-0 win at Three Rivers Stadium, and recorded three of the franchise’s six Super Bowl-era playoff wins. While these Browns teams are more popularly known for their playoff failures, there’s no question the second half of the 1980s was the team’s best stretch of the past half-century.