The barks are louder from the Dawg Pound than they’ve been for some time.
The Cleveland Browns are 6-3 and tied for first place in the AFC North. Now, 6-3 may not sound like a big deal but considering this team is 83-166 since returning to Cleveland as the Browns in 1999, it’s a very big deal, dawggone it. In a city that hasn’t seen a world championship since the 1964 Browns won it all, the permanent smiles on the faces of fans are a welcome sight.
Thursday night the Browns belted the Bengals 24-3 to jump ahead of Cincinnati in the standings and tie Pittsburgh for the catbird seat in the division. It’s Cleveland’s best start since 1994, the year before Art Modell announced the club would move to Maryland. But these Browns are capturing the imagination of Cleveland in a way that takes us back a tad further. These Browns remind us of the Browns of the 1980s, back when the Dawg Pound first began.
The 1980s were good to the Browns. They were the best team to not reach the Super Bowl. Sure, that sounds like kissing your sister, but considering this team has only one postseason appearance since 1999, Cleveland’s ’80s resume looks pretty good right about now. Cleveland made the playoffs seven times in the decade. They captured five division titles and made three AFC Championship games. From the exciting ‘Kardiac Kids’ squad led by Brian Sipe to the hard-nosed Dawgs teams piloted by Bernie Kosar, the Browns played as a legitimate threat for a title year in and year out.
Just like the 2014 Browns, the Cleveland teams of the ’80s were also likeable. Unless you lived in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, or Houston, it was hard to not root for the Browns back then. They had it all. Classic uniforms, bad weather, rabid fans, and a cast of characters that played the game the right way.
In the early 80s, the Browns were all about the dramatics. The 1980 squad started off 3–3, only to reel off three straight victories that featured heart-stopping fourth-quarter comebacks. They went on to win a few more games in that gut-wrenching fashion, including a squeaker in the final contest of the regular season in which they topped the Bengals to clinch the AFC Central crown. The ‘Kardiac Kids’ were exhilarating.
Kosar, tight end Ozzie Newsome, and running backs Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner provided the points while a defense filled with gutsy tough guys supplied the team’s character. Pro Bowlers Chip Banks, Bob Golic, Clay Matthews, Hanford Dixon, and Frank Minnifield led the charge. Not only did they make tackles and create turnovers but corners Dixon and Minnifield are responsible for the birth of the Dawg Pound itself. You see, Dixon and Minnifield, along with linebacker Eddie Johnson, barked during practices to fire up the troops. Other Browns followed suit. Fans started to do it, too, so Dixon and Minnifield hung up a “Dawg Pound” sign in front of the end zone seats at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The rest is history. One of the most recognizable fan bases in sports resides at Browns games. Now, finally, they have a team to cheer for that actually has a chance any given Sunday.
Those Browns teams from years ago had a penchant for ending their seasons in excruciating fashion. From “Red Right 88” to “The Drive” to “The Fumble,” Browns players and fans learned the hard to swallow lesson of always being second best. Despite all the regular season success in the ’80s, Cleveland failed to reach a Super Bowl. They remain one of only four current NFL teams to never have made the big game. But today the Cleveland Browns are 6-3 and tied for first place. For a team that was inactive for three years and has been pretty awful since their return, that’s a great place to be.
While no one is comparing Kosar to current Browns signal-caller Brian Hoyer, there are some great hometown similarities. Both are from Ohio and both came back home to play for the Browns. Fans love that stuff. They should. With Hoyer playing well and Johnny Football waiting in the wings, Cleveland Browns football is on the rise. The old Browns should be proud.
The AFC is no easy road. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are both playing well and both have the Super Bowl on their minds–not to mention Indianapolis and the three talented teams right in Cleveland’s division that are very capable. Just because the Browns are off to a nice start doesn’t mean we’ll see them in the AFC Championship Game. Making the playoffs at all is still a daunting task. No one mistakes 2014 for 1986. But for the first time in a very long time, it doesn’t sound crazy to say the Browns might be playing more than sixteen this season.
The Browns are something to bark about again. That’s good news for the NFL.