Which NFL franchise won a championship in its first season with the league?
The Cleveland Browns!
The Cleveland Browns are a professional American football team based in Cleveland. Named after original coach and co-founder Paul Brown, they compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the American Football Conference (AFC) North division. The Browns play their home games at FirstEnergy Stadium, which opened in 1999, with administrative offices and training facilities in Berea, Ohio. The Browns’ official club colors are brown, orange, and white. They are unique among the 32 member franchises of the NFL in that they do not have a logo on their helmets.
The franchise was founded in 1945 by Brown and businessman Arthur B. McBride as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). The Browns dominated the AAFC, compiling a 47–4–3 record in the league’s four seasons and winning its championship in each. When the AAFC folded after the 1949 season, the Browns joined the NFL along with the San Francisco 49ers and the original Baltimore Colts. The team won a championship in their inaugural NFL season, as well as in the 1954, 1955, and 1964 seasons, and in a feat unequaled in any of the North American major professional sports, played in their league championship game in each of the Browns’ first ten years of existence. From 1965 to 1995, they qualified to play in the NFL playoffs 14 times, but did not win another championship or play in the Super Bowl during that period.
In 1995, owner Art Modell, who had purchased the Browns in 1961, announced plans to move the team to Baltimore. After threats of legal action from the city of Cleveland and fans, a compromise was reached in early 1996 that allowed Modell to establish the Baltimore Ravens as a new franchise while retaining the contracts of all Browns personnel. The Browns’ intellectual property, including team name, logos, training facility, and history, were kept in trust and the franchise was regarded by the NFL as suspended for three seasons. While several of the then-30 existing franchises considered re-locating to Cleveland, in 1998 it was confirmed that the NFL would field 31 teams when the Browns resumed play in 1999, thus while the 1999 Browns were not technically considered to be an expansion franchise, the club’s roster was re-stocked via an expansion draft.
Since resuming operations in 1999, the Browns have struggled to find success. They have had only three winning seasons (2002, 2007, and 2020), two playoff appearances (2002 and 2020), and one playoff win, winning less than one third of their games in total. The franchise has also been noted for a lack of stability with head coaches (10 full time and two interim since 1999) and quarterbacks (30 different starters since 1999). From 2003 to 2019, the Browns had a 17 season playoff drought, which was snapped during the 2020 season.