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Moment 60 - A new era

Steve King, Staff Writer

09.05.2006

The NFL had waited for this day for a long, long time.

But so had the Browns.

So in a lot of ways, then, Sept. 16, 1950 was special.

It was the Browns' first regular-season game in the NFL after dominating the All-America Football Conference for all four years of that league's existence (1946-49), winning the championship each time.

Yawn.

The Browns were 47-4-3 during that time and had a perfect 15-0 record in 1948, doing the unthinkable by winning three games in eight days around Thanksgiving.

Yawn.

They averaged 48.3 points per game over the final four contests of that inaugural 1946 season.

Yawn.

Then, in the first four games in 1947, they averaged 38.5 points, giving them a 43.8 norm over that stretch of eight contests dating back to the previous year.

Yawn.

They averaged 37.3 points in a six-game stretch in the middle of 1949.

Yawn.

But while most of their name stars were on offense, the Browns were outstanding defensively as well.

They gave up just 137 points in 1946, or an average of only 9.8 per game, and posted four shutouts.

Yawn.

They surrendered a combined total of just three points in the 1947 regular-season finale and the championship contest.

Yawn.

In 1948, they gave up only one touchdown in each of three straight games and did not allow more than 17 points to any foe until the 11th contest.

Yawn.

The 1949 club permitted just 15 points over the final four games.

Yawn.

Yes, that was the steady, unwavering reaction of NFL traditionalists, led by commissioner Bert Bell, the former Pittsburgh Steelers owner who said with a chuckle when the AAFC was forming, "Let them go get a football first." They viewed the AAFC as being about as real and legitimate as Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen's puppet. The Browns' opponents were no more of a threat to them than the members of the Bum of the Month Club were to Joe Louis. Heck, the way the NFL looked at it, Jell-O was tougher than some of those AAFC lightweights.

The Browns, one of three teams, along with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts, to be absorbed into the NFL after the AAFC's demise, were impressive in that first preseason in 1950, going 5-0 and being seriously challenged just once. But, the NFL traditionalists countered, that was just the preseason, or the exhibition contests, as they were called then. Wait until the regular season begins and the games count in the standings. That's when the true test will come.

And to make sure the Browns not only learned their lesson but learned it the hard way, Bell smugly pitted them against the Philadelphia Eagles in the opener.

That is, the two-time defending NFL champion Eagles, who had lost the grand total of just three games in two years and had posted a pair of shutouts and given up only 23 points in their final five contests in 1949.

And one more thing: The game was in Municipal Stadium - not the in Cleveland, but rather the one in Philadelphia - on the Saturday night before the rest of the teams played their opener next day, giving the entire NFL and the entire country the chance to see the contest as the 1950 season got off to a rollicking start.

The way the NFL looked it, the Browns had about as much chance to beat the Eagles as the other Browns - baseball's lowly St. Louis Browns - had of defeating Philadelphia's other powerhouse, the 1950 National League champion "Whiz Kids," the Phillies, if there had been interleague play then.

Ouch.

But the Browns were hardly afraid. On the contrary, they were supremely confident.

They had prepared physically for this game for two months, and mentally for the last four years. All along while in the AAFC, the Browns issued occasional challenges, saying they would play any NFL team at any time. But the NFL people just laughed off the Browns' words. Those minor-league chumps didn't rate a response.

And with each indignation, the Browns seethed a little more - became a little more motivated. All they wanted was a chance to show their worth, and they finally got that in 1950 against the Eagles.

The Browns knew the stakes. Even if they won, many skeptics would remain. After all, it was just one game, and anybody can connect with a lucky punch. Joe Louis has been beaten, you know.

But if the Browns lost, all the naysayers would be proven correct and everything they had worked to achieve since 1946 would be gone.

So the Browns realized they had to not only win, but win impressively. They had to slap the Eagles around and embarrass them. If they could do that, then they would win some people over and legitimize themselves and all those former players and teams from the AAFC.

This, then, was not just any ol' game. It meant a whole lot more.

In the end, the good old-fashioned whipping the NFL expected, did indeed materialize. Only it was the Browns, not the Eagles, doing the whipping.

It was a rout from the outset, with the Browns winning 35-10 and handing Philadelphia its most one-sided defeat in nearly three seasons.

And, just as they wanted, the Browns did it with flair, adding an exclamation point to the drubbing with quarterback Otto Graham's performance. He riddled the Eagles secondary to the tune of 346 yards and two touchdowns, completing 21-of-38 attempts in the process. It paved the way to the Browns getting 487 yards of total offense.

Most of the NFL was impressed, if not stunned, at what happened.

But not Eagles head coach Greasy Neale. He growled that the Browns won only because, with their sophisticated, fast-paced passing attack, they were playing basketball, not football. Let them come at us like men with the running game. Then we'll see who the real football players are.

So Browns head coach Paul Brown and his team saved their final -- and most decisive - indignation against the Eagles for last. If Neale wanted to see running plays from the Browns, then running plays he would see when the teams met in the return match in Cleveland on Dec. 3. If he wanted a test of manliness, then a test of manliness he would get.

On Brown's orders, the Browns didn't throw a single pass all day - not one! But this bold and seemingly risky plan of attack didn't change the winner of the game, just the margin of victory, as the Browns prevailed again, 13-7.

The Eagles had been silenced, and, more importantly, they were also done. There would be no third straight NFL crown for them. That was the third of four straight losses to end the season, dropping them out of contention in the American Conference after a 6-2 start and causing them to finish a dismal 6-6.

The Browns proved their two wins over the Eagles were no fluke. They finished 10-2 and tied with the New York Giants for first place in the American Conference, a full four games ahead of the Eagles. The Browns then beat the Giants 8-3 in a special playoff game and went on to edge the Los Angeles Rams 30-28 to capture the NFL title.

The Browns had waited a long time to call themselves the champions of all of pro football, and now they could do it.

Please Note: The "60 with Sixty" Moments are not listed in order of significance. They are not ordered based on magnitude.