Tony Tomsic-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Tomsic-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns -- A Long-Time 49er Nemesis

Gary Mialocq
Oct 2, 2019 at 10:37 PM

For the first time in 21 seasons, the San Francisco 49ers are undefeated at 3-0 and leading the NFC. While old-time 49er fans look on with interest, recognizing the similarities between this team and some of the great ones, like the 1981 and 1984 teams, and posting mainly positive responses on social media, younger fans are not familiar with winning and the focus is on what will happen when the bottom falls out. So let's look at this week's opponent, the Cleveland Browns.

Very few fans are aware that Cleveland has been a thorn in the side of the 49ers since they both became franchises in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946. For the four years the league was in existence, the 49ers were an offensive powerhouse, finishing 39-15-2. Unfortunately for the 49ers, over that same four year period, the Cleveland Browns were the powerhouse of the league, finishing an incredible 47-4-3, and winning all four titles. The Niners were the only team in the league to defeat the Browns twice, winning their first game ever in 1946 34-20 at Cleveland.

The team's second victory over the Browns came on a day I will long remember, my 7th birthday on October 9, 1949, by a score of 56-28, to move one-half game ahead of the Browns in league standings. It was Cleveland's first loss in two years as it had gone through the 1948 season undefeated at 14-0, while the 49ers finished 12-2. Kezar was packed with over 59,000 fans in attendance, and the stands went crazy. Little left-handed QB Frankie Albert from Stanford out-played Cleveland HOF QB Otto Graham (which rarely ever happened) by throwing five touchdown passes to Otto's three, and HOF RB Joe Perry ran for 155 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns. All told, the potent 49er offense compiled 507 yards in a solid beatdown of the perennial champions. The Niners held onto first place the next weekend by pasting the Buffalo Bills to the tune of 51-7.

Two weeks later, the 49ers, obviously looking ahead to their next week's battle with the Browns in Cleveland, lost on the road to the New York Yankees, 24-3. The following week, they lost a heartbreaker to the Browns, 30-28. They met in the AAFC title game at Cleveland and lost 21-7. That was the final game played in the AAFC as the league merged with the NFL. Three AAFC teams — Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts — joined the NFL intact.

As a side note, to realize the enormity of the 49ers' two victories over the Browns, one must realize that Otto Graham never played on a professional team that lost more than four games in a single season. He led the Browns to 10 division or league titles in 10 years. He made All-League in nine of ten years. He was just as dominant in the NFL as he was in the AAFC, throwing four touchdown passes in the NFL title game in 1950, the year the AAFC teams joined the NFL. In 1954, he threw three touchdown passes and ran for three more scores in the NFL title game. The man was so dominant, he is probably the reason that Frankie Albert didn't make the HOF.

The 49ers finished the AAFC with a 2-7 record vs. the Browns. The teams faced one another only five times in the 1950s with the Niners winning twice. The 1960s saw them meet only twice, with the Browns winning both games. The league merged with the AFL in 1970, and the 1970s were no better for the 49ers who lost three of their four contests. So, over a 35-year period, the NIners managed only a 5-14 record against the Browns, who clearly had the 49ers' number.

So we now fast forward to 1981, the year of the 49ers' 16-3 record and first Super Bowl victory behind Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. You guessed it, on November 15, 1981, Cleveland defeated the 49ers 15-12. It appeared that the hex was still in place. That changed in 1984 when the best 49er team of all-time, the 18-1 Super Bowl champions FINALLY put it to rest with a 41-7 shellacking of the Browns. The Niners then won two more games in the 1980s and one in 1990 over the Browns.

From 1993 through 2015, the 49ers faced the Browns five times, winning ONLY ONCE. That is a 9-19 record against their rivals from the AAFC over the years. That, my friends, is dominance. On social media, old-time 49er Faithful are talking caution and are aware of the history. The youthful fans are split. You have the haters who always fear the worst, and those who know nothing about winning and disregard such things as tradition, patterns, etc.

In my humble opinion, this 49er team has the defense to take it all the way, and defense wins titles. However, there is that creepy feeling that arises every time the 49ers face Cleveland. As a fan for all of the 70-plus years the 49ers have thrilled us, I can't help that feeling in the pit of my stomach that creeps in any time the Browns come to town with those haunting memories of only nine wins in more than 70 years. I predict a 49er victory, but I'm sure you will understand why it's given with a shaky feeling of confidence.

49ers - 38
Browns - 24
  • Gary Mialocq
  • Written by:
    Native of SF. Attended Washington HIgh, CCSF and SF State University. Investor & Startup Business Consultant, Former Juvenile Detention Counselor, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Self-employment Specialist, Real Estate Investor, Genealogist. Senior Pro Golfer.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Don Williams
    My dad used to say that Otto Graham was the best football player he ever saw play. He saw him a couple times at the Coliseum against the Rams. Dad and his Navy buddies were huge Rams fans. I grew up in Southern California on Navy and Marine Corps bases, and in 1969, to dad's chagrin, fell for the 49ers when I found out that John Brodie's birthday was the same day as mine. I watched a mud bowl between the Niners and Browns in the 70's- maybe 1974 because the QB was Tom Owen. Wilbur Jackson, one of my favorites, ran the ball. I like the 49ers in this one, 27-23. Should be fun.
    Oct 5, 2019 at 9:03 PM
    Response: Hi Don. I, too, think that Otto Graham was the best QB I ever saw play despite my love for Joe Montana and Steve Young. Ollie Matson was the best football player I ever saw. First saw him play in high school, then at USF. Graham played 10 seasons and went to 10 title games, winning seven (7) of them and never losing more than 4 games in any one season The Browns between 1946-1955 were the most dominant team in NFL history (although the first 4 were in the old AAFC).
  • mbniner
    Yeah, I remember Graham sitting in the pocket with all day to throw and he would pick apart secondaries. Paul Brown founded and coached and he was the first to design modern pass blocking schemes and to acquire really good OL men. The also had an accurate FG Kicker, Lou "The Toe" Groza who won them a lot of games. The also had a huge RB (Motley?). Brown was way ahead of his time, same as Walsh in the 80s.
    Oct 3, 2019 at 10:09 AM
    Response: You're absolutely right. You're referring to Marion Motley, a 245 lb. full back. They also had two dynamic wide receivers in Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie. Their punter, Horace "Big Horse" Gillom was fantastic. He used to punt it as high as anyone I've ever seen and his hang time enabled his coverage men to meet up with the runback man often at the same time. They were truly a great team. What I didn't mention in the article was the fact that Cleveland made the Championship game in the NFL every season between 1950-1956, a remarkable achievement.

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