What years did the Browns not have a team?
The Cleveland Browns are unique as a team in the fact that they once disappeared from a town only to return a few years later as a completely new club.
Understanding this situation is complex and helps to explain one of the most controversial moments in Cleveland sports history.
Why Cleveland Lost Its Beloved Team
Although the Cleveland Browns had once been one of the most dominant teams in football history, they had steadily declined under owner Art Modell since 1961.
While it is true that Modell won a championship with the team in 1964, the team had seen a lot of ups and downs under his leadership.
A new trip to the Super Bowl in the early 80s was the highlight of his post-64 ownership, and many fans either tolerated his presence or remembered him as the owner who fired all-time great coach Paul Brown or who pushed Jim Brown too hard and forced him to retire after nine seasons.
However, these decisions paled next to his 1995 announcement on November 6: at a press conference in Baltimore, Modell shocked the city of Cleveland by announcing that he was planning to relocate the team to Baltimore.
The move was a financial one: Modell wanted a new stadium but couldn’t afford to build it himself.
And Cleveland had struggled to provide him with any money for the new stadium, which he claimed had forced his hand and made a move necessary.
By contrast, Baltimore was ready to enter the NFL and get the money that a football team would bring to the city.
They extended an offer to Modell that he claimed he could not pass up.
Ironically, the public referendum Modell needed to pay for the upgrades to the stadium passed only days after he made his announcement.
At that point, the cash from Baltimore was too high, and the deal was already made, so plans were made to start moving the team by 1996.
But Cleveland didn’t go down without a fight.
The Fight to Keep the Browns
After the announcement, Modell became Cleveland’s most hated personality, and the city prepared to fight against the move.
Michael White, who was mayor at the time, talked to his lawyer Fred Nance and then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue about the situation and declared: “Mr. Tagliabue, I’m here to tell you we’re not gonna take it lying down.
The battle centered on a breach of contract suit based on an agreement Modell had made with the city to play home games in Cleveland for the next several years.
His move to Baltimore would violate this contract and cause significant problems.
And the residents of the town responded to this move by extending even more lawsuits, protesting the move, and boycotting the NFL.
Modell was firm in his decision and Tagliabue, looking to protect the NFL over all other causes, was stuck in a hard place.
As a result, a deal was struck that came just days before Judge Kenneth Callahan was ready to rule against Modell and force the Browns to stay in Cleveland.
The deal was unique – Modell could take the current Browns’ staff and team to Baltimore but as a new expansion team, the Ravens, who would have a completely new team.
Cleveland would own the rights to the name “The Browns” and could sell them to a buyer in 1999.
As a result, the town would be without a team for three years.
When the Browns Returned
The return of the Browns in 1999 was heralded by the creation of a new team by owner Randy Lerner.
A brand new stadium was built to house the team, and fans were excited to get back to watching the team that they loved.
While some complained that the new stadium was too “corporate,” most fans were glad to have their team back.
However, the team’s success since their three-year absence has been minimal.
Though they’ve made the playoffs just once in that time, the team has mostly struggled just to stay competitive.
Their first season they went 5-11, which isn’t uncommon for new teams in the league.
However, they had a stretch of football incompetence in which they had two separate 17-game losing streaks and an 0-16 season.
In spite of these struggles, their 7-8-1 record in 2018 was one of their best showings in years and could be a signal for better days ahead.
After such a lengthy battle and going AWOL for three years, Cleveland fans deserve a team that can compete in a way that makes them proud.