In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Cleveland Browns play their first NFL game, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 35-10 at Philadelphia Municipal Stadium. The Browns, coached by Paul Brown, had played in the AAFC for four years, winning the league’s championship each season. The Eagles came in with back-to-back NFL Championships. The Browns proved they were worthy champions and would go on to win the 1950 NFL Championship, posting a record of 10-2.
In 1946, a new rival eight-team football league was born, the All-American Football Conference. The league lasted just four seasons, as the Cleveland Browns dominated it. The Browns won the league championship in all four seasons. As the AAFC folded, three of the seven teams were invited to join the NFL. It was the champion Browns, along with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts, who joined the NFL in 1950.
The Cleveland Browns had dominated the AAFC and were targets as they entered the NFL as nobody took the AAFC seriously. While the Browns were winning in the AAFC, the Eagles led by Greasy Neale were winning in the NFL. After losing to the Chicago Cardinals in the 1947 title game, the Eagles beat the Cardinals in a blizzard in 1948 and beat the Los Angeles Rams in a driving rainstorm in the 1949 Championship Game. The NFL, in a case of genius scheduling, had the two league champions face each other in Week 1.
The game was billed as the World Series of Football as the two champions of professional football kicked off the season. The Saturday night game was moved from Shibe Park to Philadelphia Municipal Stadium, home of the Army-Navy Game, due to the increased demand for tickets. The Eagles were heavy favorites heading into the game, as the AAFC was viewed as minor league football compared to the established NFL. This put extra pressure on Cleveland, who had to prove themselves worthy of being in the NFL while showing they were a legitimate champion. The Eagles meanwhile, were playing for the pride of the NFL, as the league looked down upon the AAFC and the Cleveland Browns.
A crowd of 71,237, more than double the Eagles' average attendance, were on hand for the season opener in Philadelphia. The Eagles scored first as Cliff Patton nailed a 15-yard field goal. The Browns, however, were able to show their ability for the quick strike, as Otto Graham connected with Dub Jones on a 59-yard touchdown pass. In the second quarter, the Browns extended the lead to 14-3 as Dante Lavelli reeled in a 26-yard pass from Graham.
The Browns continued to prove their superiority in the third quarter, as Mac Speedie caught Graham’s third touchdown pass/ Otto Graham scored on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter. It was aa sloppy game, as nine turnovers were committed between the two teams, with Cleveland coming away with five takeaways. Eagles quarterback Tommy Thompson struggled, completing just 8-of-24 passes, with two interceptions before Bill Mackrides replaced him. Mackrides completed a touchdown pass to Pete Pihos, but it was all Browns as Rex Bumgardner had a two-yard touchdown run to make the final score 35-14 in favor of Cleveland.
The Browns dominated the game, showing not only did they belong in the NFL, they were among the league’s best teams. Otto Graham passed for 346 yards, as the Browns totaled 487 yards. On the ground, Dub Jones ran for 72 yards, while Marion Motley rushed for 48 yards as the Browns crushed the Eagles. The Browns would defeat the Eagles again 13-7 on December 3rd, without attempting a pass.
The Browns finished 10-2 in 1950, tied with the New York Giants for first place in the American Conference. The Giants beat Cleveland twice in the regular season, but it was the Browns who won in the playoffs 8-3. The Browns would reach the NFL Championship Game, where they beat the Los Angeles Rams 30-28. While some scoffed at the AAFC, the Browns were now the undisputed pro-football champions.