The Cleveland Browns began in 1946 in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), an NFL rival league. The franchise captured all four league championships and in 1950 merged into the established NFL along with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts.
For almost three solid decades, the Browns would dominate the game of professional football. From 1946 to 1955 they have been described as “The Best Show in Town.” From 1956 until 1973, the club won eight division titles, went to the playoffs 11 times, played in the NFL Championship Game four times and won one NFL title. During this time, the Browns only had one losing season.
Back in 1945, the NFL Cleveland Rams had just captured their first NFL championship 15-14 over the Washington Redskins. During the following off-season, they relocated to Los Angeles for the 1946 season for several reasons.
First off, for two years Rams owner Dan Reeves had petitioned the other NFL owners to allow him to move to California. These owners rejected Reeves on the premise that train rides to the West Coast and back were not practical. In 1946, air travel was now available. Secondly, when the AAFC Cleveland team was awarded and it was announced that Paul Brown would be their head coach, the Rams wanted nothing to do with competing with him who at the time was the most successful and famous sports person in the State of Ohio.
Cleveland AAFC owner Mickey McBride was a millionaire and had for years attempted to purchase the Rams to no avail. Now the owner of “Cleveland” he needed a team name.
In the spring of 1945, the franchise announced a name-the-team contest in the Cleveland Plain dealer. The winner was the “Cleveland Panthers.” There had been another Cleveland Panthers team that began in 1919 and played until 1933 as an independent team and also a member of the first American Football League of 1926.
However, once “Cleveland” announced their new name in the paper, the former owner of the original Panthers, Charles Zimmerman, came forward and claimed the rights to the name. During negotiations, Zimmerman offered to lease the newborn franchise the team name or even sell it outright. McBride, a shrewd businessman, realized he could call his new team anything he wanted and passed on the offer.
So at this point, it was simply referred to as “Cleveland” but most folks and the media began referring to the club as “Paul Brown’s Team.” McBride suggested calling the franchise the “Browns” since everyone was calling it that anyway. At first, Coach Brown did not like the fact that it seemed boastful as he was a humble man but structured. Eventually he relented on his stance and agreed to the team name.
But was “Browns” their official name?
Isn’t it true that the real team name was “Brown Bombers” instead named after the sensational boxer Joe Louis?
Louis is regarded as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. His nickname was the “Brown Bomber” and it is widely-rumored that Cleveland’s team name was actually named for Louis with an added tie-in to Coach Brown.
Louis was the current heavyweight champion and has the distinction of being the first black athlete to gain national hero status. As a pro boxer, he spent most of his days in either Detroit or Chicago, both cities within earshot of Cleveland.
In 1995 after Browns’ owner Art Modell announced that the team was moving to Baltimore, the Washington Post ran a story touting that “Browns” was actually short for “Brown Bombers.”
Which would play into Baltimore’s history with the airplane industry as Maryland was the manufacturing site of the fabled B-26 bombers used in World War II. In fact, the “Baltimore Bombers” was suggested as a viable team name.
Being a humble person, Coach Brown fought the name “Browns” despite everybody already referring to his new ballclub as such. And it was Coach Brown that for years offered up the Brown Bombers team name reveal.
Coach Brown contended that the name of the team represented the championship aspirations of the franchise – and Louis was certainly a beloved champion. Coach Brown contended that once Panthers was nixed, the next name on the list was Brown Bombers. He also stated that he thought it would be the right name for the new team.
The fact that it was ultimately shortened to just “Browns” was due to the fact that Cleveland won a championship in their first five years of existence and a natural parallel to himself was evident.
All the while, Coach Brown revealed about the second place Brown Bombers name. He played it coy over whether the team was named after him, publicly offering up the Joe Louis suggestion.
This was also deemed factual after Modell fired Coach Brown after the conclusion of the 1962 season, Modell supported the Louis version of the team name. Since Modell and Coach Brown were at odds with each other on a consistent basis, the fact that Modell wanted his team to not be named for Paul Brown was highly desirable. This only eliminated one more reminder of the former head coach.
From this point on until Modell moved the club to Baltimore, the Brown Bombers version was the official position of the Browns organization at the time. The fact that Cleveland was now moving to Baltimore gave the Washington Post an interesting trivia storyline in which to work with.
Upon moving, this team was referred to as the “Baltimore Browns.” When the people of Cleveland raised enough concern which forced the NFL to award Cleveland an expansion club while they kept the colors, name and history intact, Modell was more than willing to give up the name Browns and rid himself of Paul Brown forever.
Brown Bombers reveal
Truth is, Coach Brown admitted that he had made the whole Brown Bombers story up because his humble Ohio roots made him uncomfortable with a professional sports franchise that would bear his name. He admitted this in his autobiography “PB: The Paul Brown Story” published in 1979. He offered a different version — that the team was named solely after him.
In his book, Coach Brown also addressed the assertion that Brown Bombers was second on the contest list once Panthers was eliminated.
An excerpt from his book reveals:
“It has been reported that we received many entries for Brown Bombers after Joe Louis, then the world heavyweight boxing champion, and that we shortened that name to Browns, but this was untrue.”
The Browns being named after Paul Brown is the official standing with both the NFL and the Cleveland Browns franchise.
In fact in the Browns annual media guide, it states:
“Not a single entry in the contest listed Louis or his nickname as a reason for choosing ‘Browns.’”
Which along with Coach Brown’s admission to the sham, although Louis was a famous sports figure who was very successful, he was not particularly associated with the City of Cleveland in any manner whatsoever.
In the history of professional football, there have been only a few teams named after actual living people: the Los Angeles Dons (named after actor and co-owner Don Ameche), Buffalo Bills (named after Buffalo Bill Cody), Kansas City Chiefs ( named after KC Mayor H. Roe Bartle who everyone called Chief), Decatur Staleys (named after sponsor AE Staley) and the Browns.
Statues erected of Coach Brown are located at Miami University (Miami, Ohio) in their “Cradle of Coaches” plaza, in front of Paul Brown Tiger Stadium at Massillon High School (Massillion, Ohio), plus out front of Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati , Ohio.
While with Cleveland, despite winning four AAFC championships, three NFL titles, elected Coach of the Year six times, listed in the Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor, named to the NFL 100th Anniversary Team, had a record of 214-158-8 for a .767 win percentage, 11 division titles, 12 conference crowns, plus the franchise bears his name, there aren’t any statues of Coach Brown located in Cleveland.
Paul Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. He has since been referred to as “The Father of Modern Football.”