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On This Date in Sports December 11, 1949: The Browns Dynasty

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Cleveland Browns defeat the San Francisco 49ers 21-7 to win the AAFC Championship at Municipal Stadium. It is the final game played in the All-American Football Conference. The league, born in 1946, was the first to reintegrate when the Browns signed Marion Motley and Bill Willis. The Browns would dominate the AAFC, winning the championship all four seasons as they joined the NFL along with the 49ers and Baltimore Colts.

Over the years, there were several attempts to start up a second professional football league to rival the NFL. Most leagues came and went quickly, but the All-American Football Conference starting play in 1946 was the most poised for success. In a time in which black players were not allowed in the NFL, the AAFC was formed with the goal of reintegrating the sport. The Cleveland Browns were at the forefront as they signed Marion Motley and Bill Willis. Both players would be among the biggest stars in the new league.

In 1946, the AAFC had eight teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers, Buffalo Bisons, Chicago Rockets, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Dons, Miami Seahawks, New York Yankees, and San Francisco 49ers. The Browns were named after their coach Paul Brown who initially rejected the team carrying his name. Several players were previously coached by Brown at the Great Lakes Naval station. In 1946, the Browns went 12-2 and beat the Yankees in the AAFC Championship game 14-9. Finishing 12-1-1 in 1947, the Browns again beat the Yankees by a score of 14-3. The Browns went unbeaten at 14-0 in 1948, then trounced the Buffalo Bills 49-7 for the AAFC Championship.

By 1949 it was clear the league was on its last legs as the NFL was looking to get the Cleveland Browns to join. The AAFC was simply the Browns playground as they posted a 47-4-3 mark in four seasons. The Browns’ domination was primarily responsible for the league’s trouble, as it was clear that they deserved to play in a higher league. By the time the final season rolled around, the Miami Seahawks had moved and became the Baltimore Colts in 1947. The Bisons became the Bills in 1948, the Rockets became the Hornets in 1949, and the two New York teams merged. In their final season, the league had just seven teams, with the Browns and 49ers emerging to play in the championship game.

Word of the league’s fate was known before the championship game was played at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. Attendance at the game was just 22,500 as the news of the AAFC’s demise created a pall over the game. Edgar Jones scored the only touchdown of the first half, giving the Browns a 7-0 lead. Marion Motley had a 68-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to increase Cleveland’s lead to 14-0. In the fourth quarter, the 49ers got on the board with Paul Salata catching a 23-yard pass from Frankie Albert. The Browns would quickly answer as Dub Jones had a four-yard run to clinch the 21-7 victory.

The Browns and AAFC would have one final event; the Shamrock Bowl played at Rice Stadium in Houston, with the champions taking on All-Stars from the other six teams. The game was filled with controversy as the Browns African American players were segregated from the team hotel. Initially, they were not allowed to play, but after the Browns threatened to not play in the game were allowed on the field. The final AAFC played on December 17th was a disappointment as just 10,000 were on hand in the rain to see the All-Star win the game 12-7.

The Cleveland Brown and San Francisco 49ers each would join the NFL along with the Baltimore Colts. The Colts of the AAFC, known for green and grey colors, were not connected with the modern Colts and folded after going 1-11 in only NFL season. The Colts' lone win came against the Niners, who went 3-9 in their first NFL season.

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The Cleveland Browns would prove their AAFC dominance was no fluke, as they beat the Philadelphia Eagles 35-10 in their first NFL game. The Eagles came into the game as the two-time defending NFL Champions. The Browns would post a 10-2 record in their first season, beating the New York Giants in a Division Playoff, before edging the Los Angeles Rams 30-28 in the 1950 NFL Championship Game. The Browns would play in the NFL Championship Game in each of their first six seasons in the league, winning in 1950, 1954, and 1955.