Northern Tears

by Tuesday Morning Tailback

The Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and Detroit Lions each border our neighbor to the north, with various bodies of water separating these teams’ home cities from the great country of Canada. They also each have a storied history with days of glory and championships years ago. Unfortunately for each, those were many, many years ago.

In fact, none of these teams have won any of the 47 Super Bowls and neither Cleveland or Detroit has even been to a Super Bowl. This is quite a remarkable fact when you consider that these three teams won a combined eight championships in the sixteen seasons prior to the first Super Bowl. Recent years have been especially futile for these three teams, with only the 2011 Detroit Lions making the playoffs in the past ten years.

The Bills are the newest of the three, starting with the inception of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960. Led by quarterback (and future Vice presidential nominee) Jack Kemp, the Bills won the AFL titles in 1964 and 1965. In 1966, the Bills played the Kansas City chiefs for the right to go to the first Super Bowl but lost that game 31-7. After a lean decade in the 1970s, the Bills began to win again in the 1980s, making the playoffs four times during the decade. Starting in 1990, the Bills made it to the Super Bowl four consecutive years. They lost a one point heartbreaker to the Giants the first of those years and got blown out the other three. Following the 1999 season, the Bills made playoffs for ninth time in eleven seasons, but after losing to the Tennessee Titans in the “Music City Miracle”, the Bills have not returned to the playoffs. Their current 13-season playoff drought is the longest in the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns got their start in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), formed following World War II. During that league’s four short seasons, the Browns dominated the AAFC and won its championship in each of those seasons. They were led by innovative coach Paul Brown, who also gave the team their name and became one of the most influential coaches in NFL history. Following the 1949 season, the NFL agreed to take three of AAFC teams and, ironically the Browns absorbed a team called the Buffalo Bills when moving to the senior league. The Browns won a championship in their inaugural NFL season and made it to the NFL Championship game each of their first six seasons in the NFL, winning two more championships in that span in 1954 and 1955. The Browns resurged in the mid 1960s, winning another championship in 1964 and making the playoffs seven times in nine seasons. In the 1980s the Browns made it to the AFC Championship three times but lost each time to the Denver Broncos. In 1995, owner Art Modell announced he was relocating the franchise to Baltimore following that season. After several lawsuits, Modell relinquished rights to the Browns’ name, intellectual property, and history, renaming the Baltimore franchise the Ravens, The Browns were returned to Cleveland as a new franchise in 1999, but have only made the post season once in those 14 seasons and consistently finish at or near the bottom of the NFC North.

The Detroit Lions are the oldest of these three teams, starting in 1929 as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. They moved to Detroit in 1934 and became the Lions to compliment the baseball Detroit Tigers. Here the team soon found success, winning its first NFL championship in 1935 after defeating the New York Giants 26-7. The Lions and Giants also played to a 0–0 tie in 1943, the only time an NFL game has ended with a scoreless tie. Detroit enjoyed its greatest success in the 1950s, led by quarterback Bobby Layne. In 1952, the Lions won the NFL Championship, defeating the Cleveland Browns 17-7 and they repeated in 1953, again defeating the Browns in the Championship Game, 17-16. They did get blown out by the Browns 56-10 in 1954, the third consecutive Lions-Browns NFL Championship but returned the favor in 1957, when the Lions won their final NFL Championship by defeating the Browns in a 59-14 rout. Following the 1959 season, minority owner Ralph Wilson split off from the Lions to form a franchise in the American Football League called the Buffalo Bills. From 1960 to 1962, the Lions and Bills had identical blue and silver uniforms, causing allegations that Wilson used second-hand Lions equipment for his new team. In the 55 seasons since their last championship, the Lions have had little success, only ever making multi-season playoff appearance during the Barry Sanders era of the 1990s.

Each of these teams started the 2013 season of Sunday afternoon at home but only the Lions were able to pull out a victory. Eventually, either the Bills, Browns, or Lions will bring a Super Bowl trophy to the Great Lakes region and reward their long-suffering yet loyal fans. Until then, three of the saddest slumps in sports continue in the Northern Tier.

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Tuesday Morning TailbackTuesday Morning Tailback is a weekly article during football season which take a critical look at the NFL. We do this from the base belief that NFL football is the greatest game in the history of mankind, but some recent policies and the overall direction of the league has chipped away at this greatness. Our primary goal is to spark debate on these subjects, so please leave your own opinion on this article in the comment box below.

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