To continue our celebration of the franchise’s 75th anniversary, we’re launching “Browns Countdown: Top 75 Moments” presented by Bridgestone. Over the next month, through videos, articles and more, we’ll be highlighting the top 75 moments in Browns history. Our video tributes, which will be available at ClevelandBrowns.com, the Browns’ mobile app and the Browns’ official YouTube Channel, will dive deep into the top 20 while our articles will put the spotlight on a number of different moments that are sprinkled throughout the top 75.
We’re moving down to No. 30, which highlights the final game in the original — and beloved — setting for Cleveland Browns football.
As the clock ticked down to 0:00 for the final time at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on Dec. 17, 1995, players weren’t quite ready to leave the grass field that had served as their stomping grounds for the previous five decades. The 55,875 fans in attendance weren’t ready to exit, either.
The Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-10, for their final home game in Cleveland, which learned six weeks earlier its cherished football team was relocating to Baltimore. The city wept as the Browns trudged through their final four quarters of football at Municipal Stadium, erected in 1931 on the edge between downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie, and wondered whether the city would ever receive the gift of a football team again.
“It was an emotional day out there for us,” Browns quarterback Vinny Testaverde said after the game. “I think we’re going to reflect back on it after the season, and there’s going to be a hole inside of us. Something’s going to be missing, and it’s that we’re not going to be playing here.”
Several players remained on the field after the game and completed laps around the stadium to slap hands with fans desperate for a final moment with their favorite players up close. Some fans took stadium seats and even pieces of sod home with them.
The entire feeling, though, was surreal, unforgettable and sad for everyone in the stadium.
“It was probably the saddest day in Cleveland sports history,” Doug Dieken said to The News-Herald in a story written about the game last year. “In a lot of ways, it was like a funeral. There was a lot of sadness in the stadium. You saw grown people crying. It ripped your heart out because it meant so much to so many for so long. At that point in time, there was no definite idea whether you’d ever have another team.”
One of the players who soaked in every last moment was Earnest Byner. The running back, who was in his second stint and seventh season in Cleveland, was just as shocked as everyone else. He was perhaps the biggest catalyst behind giving fans a win in their final chance to witness the team — he carried 31 times for 121 yards and caught seven passes for 36 yards, which was his best single-game performance since Dec. 15, 1990, when he played for Washington.
Byner never forgot what he saw in the stands as he paced around the field one final time. Fans were crying, seats were being ripped from the concrete and many fans continued to remind Byner that Cleveland will never forget him.
“I saw a lot of tears out there, and I felt a lot of grief,” he said after the game. “But I also felt some happiness. The fans were saying, `I love you’ and, `You’ll always be a Brown,’ and that gave me an even deeper sense of appreciation for them.”
Three months after the game, the NFL announced Cleveland would be given a new team at the beginning of the 1999 season. Fans were still full of heartbreak, but a date was officially set for when Browns football was coming back to Northeast Ohio.
Municipal Stadium, however, would no longer be the setting — Cleveland Browns Stadium, now known as FirstEnergy Stadium, debuted as the franchise’s new stadium in 1999.
But Municipal Stadium will never be forgotten in the history of Cleveland’s football roots. The stories of Jim Brown, Lou Groza, Otto Graham, Leroy Kelly, Marion Motley, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome and other Browns greats will always be told with Municipal Stadium in the backdrop.
Earlier this year, the Browns commissioned a panel of historians, alumni and journalists to rank the top 75 moments in Browns history. The group met multiple times to discuss the moments and each member submitted their own final rankings, which were averaged against each other to create the ultimate list.
Building the Top 75 from the bottom up
30. Browns play last game in Municipal Stadium in a 26-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 17, 1995
31. The Browns and Steelers are placed in a new AFC Central division along with the Houston Oilers and Cincinnati Bengals in 1970 to become part of the new American Football Conference (AFC).
32. Browns unleash a powerful new starting backfield of future Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell in a 45-12 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 5, 1958. Brown rushes for 129 yards.
33. Browns play first regular season game against the Miami Seahawks on Sept 6, 1946. Browns win 44-0.
34. Browns defeat the Indianapolis Colts 38-21 in the 1987 Divisional Playoffs on Jan. 9, 1988
35. Bernie Kosar debuts for the Browns after starter Gary Danielson is injured in a 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Oct. 6, 1985.
36. The Browns defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-7 on Oct. 29, 1950, in their first matchup in Cleveland. Marion Motley rushed for 188 yards on 11 carries and set a then-NFL record for highest rushing average in a single game (17.09).
37. Jim Brown breaks Don Hutson’s NFL record for most touchdowns (105) in a 35-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 3, 1965.
38. Browns defeat the Paul Brown-led Cincinnati Bengals in their first meeting on Oct 11, 1970. Browns won 30-27.
39. Browns draft Ozzie Newsome and Clay Matthews in 1978 draft.
40. Jim Brown and other Browns and athletes across sports meet in the Cleveland Summit to support Muhammed Ali’s refusal to participate in the United States Military Draft on June 4, 1967.
41. Browns defeat the Buffalo Bills 34-30 in the 1989 Divisional Playoffs on Jan. 6, 1990. Clay Matthews intercepts future Hall of Famer Jim Kelly’s pass at the goal line with nine seconds remaining.
42. Joe Thomas reaches 10,000 consecutive snaps on Sept. 17, 2017, against the Baltimore Ravens. He amassed 10,363 before retiring after the 2017 season.
43. In what would ultimately be his final regular season game of his career, Jim Brown breaks Lenny Moore’s NFL record (20) for most touchdowns in a single season on Dec. 19, 1965.
44. Browns break 19-game winless streak with 21-17 victory, led by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield over the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football on Sept. 20, 2018.
45. Kevin Stefanski named NFL Coach of the Year as first-year head coach, becoming the second coach in franchise history to receive the honor.
46. Browns defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 51-0 in the 1989 season opener on Sept. 10 the most lopsided result in the 79-game series between the teams at that time.
47. Browns defeat New Orleans Saints 21-16 with miracle “Hail Mary” on Oct. 31, 1999, for the team’s first win as an expansion team.
48. Browns hire Romeo Crennel, their first African-American coach, in 2005.
49. Browns orchestrate the greatest road comeback (25 points) in NFL history in a 29-28 victory against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 5, 2014
50. Brian Sipe breaks the Cleveland Browns franchise passing record held previously by Otto Graham (401) by throwing for 444 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-28 win over the Baltimore Colts on Oct. 25, 1981.
51. Browns defeat the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 29, 2002, to clinch playoff berth. William Green broke off a 64-yard run to seal the game away.
52. Baker Mayfield breaks NFL rookie record for most passing touchdowns in as single season (27) on Dec. 30, 2018
53. Jerome Harrison breaks Jim Brown’s single game franchise rushing record on Dec. 20, 2009 with 286 yards rushing in a 41-34 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. In the same game Josh Cribbs becomes the second player in NFL history to have two 100-yard kickoff returns in the same game.
54. Browns defeat Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-22, on Jan. 3, 2021, to end NFL’s longest playoff drought of 18 years.
55. Browns avenge their first championship game loss to the Los Angeles Rams in 1951 by crushing the Rams in a rematch 37-7 on Oct. 7, 1952.
56. Cleveland Browns draft Joe Thomas on April 28, 2007.
57. Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham is elbowed in the face by a Detroit Lions defender in the first half, and after receiving 15 stitches and a lucite face mask, he comes back in the second half to defeat the Lions, 23-21, on Nov. 15, 1953. Graham’s injury helped kickstart the widespread use of facemasks in the NFL.
59. In the first meeting of Jim Brown vs. Johnny Unitas, the Cleveland Browns prevail in a 38-31 shootout against the Baltimore Colts on Nov. 1, 1959. The game also pits Weeb Ewbank against his mentor Paul Brown. Brown rushed for 178 yards and scored five touchdowns while Unitas threw for 397 yards in defeat.
60. Browns clinch a wildcard playoff berth on Dec. 18, 1988, behind backup quarterback Don Strock, who threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-23 victory over the Houston Oilers
61. Blanton Collier replaces Paul Brown as head coach. Collier coached the Browns when they won the 1964 championship.
62. Paul Brown debuts first radio helmet 1956 with QB George Ratterman.
63. Josh Gordon becomes first wide receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard games on Dec. 1, 2013.
64. Nick Chubb breaks the Browns franchise record for longest run by scoring a 92-yard touchdown Nov. 11, 2018, in a 28-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The previous record was held by Bobby Mitchell.
65. Phil Dawson retires from the NFL as a Cleveland Brown. Dawson signed with the Browns in 1999 and kicked for the Browns for 14 years.
66. Browns defeat the Baltimore Ravens for the first time on Oct. 21, 2001.
67. Bobby Mitchell rushes for 232 yards on 14 carries for an incredible 16.6-yard average in a Cleveland Browns 31-17 win against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 15, 1959.
68. Browns’ fans create numerous music ballads that are played on Cleveland radio to celebrate the teams resurgence in the late 1980s. Songs include “Oh Bernie Bernie,” “Super Bowl Browns” and “Born and Raised on the Browns.”
69. Browns defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 21-20, on Dec. 8, 2002 with a 50-yard Hail Mary from Tim Couch to Quincy Morgan with no time left. Couch becomes the only quarterback to have two game-winning passes of 50 yards or more with no time left on the clock.
70. Browns defeat the Buffalo Bills 8-0 in a blizzard and clinch a winning record on Dec. 16, 2007. Phil Dawson kicks two field goals and the Browns record a safety.
71. Browns draft Baker Mayfield 1st overall in 2018.
72. Browns clinch an Eastern Conference title by crushing the New York Giants 52-20 on Dec. 12, 1964.
73. Browns move into first place of the AFC Central Division after defeating the Houston Oilers on Dec. 15, 1985. The Browns would go on to win the AFC Central for the first time since 1980
74. Jeff Garcia and Andre Davis combine to tie the NFL record for the longest pass in NFL history of 99 yards in a Cleveland Browns 34-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 17, 2004.
75. Hanford Dixon intercepts Terry Bradshaw three times in 1982 Browns win over Steelers.