Judge Christopher Kulik says brown is the new black.
"At some point, and I really don't know when, the city of Cleveland became one with its football team. Together, they rise and fall, in victory and in defeat. For better or worse, the Browns are Cleveland…"
When the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950, they had transferred from the much maligned AAFC, where they reigned supreme for four years. Business-like coach Paul Brown (whom the team is named after) had led a dynasty which lasted close to a decade, leading his "pass, trap, and screen team" to seven titles, winning 84% of all games. The key individuals were QB Otto Graham, nose guard Bill Willis, and fullback Marion Motley, the latter one of the very first African-Americans to play pro football. Their expert teamwork made the Browns unstoppable, with the Detroit Lions the only team to bring about an upset—a couple of times, in fact.
Then, in 1956, it slowly started to go downhill…
The Browns, like all NFL teams, has had their share of great players, determined coaches, cheering wins, and heartbreaking losses. Since the mid-1950s, they have been struggling to even touch the dominant surface which defined their veteran players. Yet, their playoff appearances—particularly at the Championships—have always been close calls, and they have yet to go to the Super Bowl. For any Browns fan, this set would be a perfect gift this holiday season, as Warner Bros. and the NFL assemble almost 4.5 hours of material.
First up, a confession: I'm not a Browns fan, and the only time I ever cheered for them was when I won a Trivial Pursuit game which lasted hours. My brother-in-law knew I was not a sports junkie and chose this question: What is the only team in the NFL who doesn't have a logo? Well, duh! Now that I think about it, I kind of respect the Browns for being logo-less. It's almost as if they are saying, "We're nothing special…we are just a football team!" While the 143-minute documentary never explains the reason for the blank orange helmets, it has no reason to either; what does matter is that Cleveland has always embraced their pro football team and rooted for them every step of the way, no matter the obstacles or number of losses.
Like all the other histories of NFL teams which have come to DVD (I've viewed three so far), the NFL History Of The Cleveland Browns splices together reels upon reels of archive footage, some if it in crude black-and-white. Added into the mix are a collection of talking heads, which include former players, former coaches, NFL historians, commentators, etc, to give a detailed account of the rise and fall of the Browns. The first 40 minutes alone are devoted to the Paul Brown coaching years, which I alluded to earlier. Then, we get a detailed summary of the Browns' attempts to re-capture that Championship glory. Among others, we learn about legendary running back Jim Brown, replacement Leroy Kelly, six-season coach Sam Rutigliano, the infamous Red Right 88 finale to the 1980 season, and—last but not least—the bitter, agonizing, and devastating back-to-back Championship defeats after playing rival Denver Broncos. These games, and their outcomes, still haunt the city of Cleveland to this day.
The documentary itself gets tackled after discussing those Championship losses. Since then, the Browns' appearance has been rare, and they were even inactive for four years (1995-1999) after the owner threatened to move the team to Baltimore. The final 30 minutes of the piece is really nothing more than a hodgepodge of the Browns over the past decade, and the talking heads virtually disappear as we barely meet the new players. Otherwise, there is still plenty of info to take in on this fine franchise, with a city full of passionate supporters ensuring they will stay where they belong. That's right: don't you dare mess with the Dawg Pound!
The second disc has all the bonus material, adding up to 117 minutes. While much of it seems to be lifted from the major doc in terms of footage and interviews (they are all featurettes which were produced exclusively for the NFL network), all of them remain worthwhile:
"Greatest Games: Browns vs. Jets 1986": This playoff matchup would prove to be bittersweet victory for the Browns, as they came back to tie the game at 20 in the final four minutes of regulation. At 71 minutes, this is the longest of the bonus features, and will especially satisfy fans as this game wasn't included in the Greatest Games package which came out last year.
"Bernie Kosar: Cleveland Legend": The 1985 draft pick for Browns QB is examined, along with his eight years throwing for the team. At 22, he got to be leader of the football team which he had been rooting for all his life growing up in northern Ohio. However, he would be cut in 1993 by then-head coach Bill Belichik, closing out his career playing as backup QB to Troy Aikman and Dan Marino.
"Frank Ryan: Genius Quarterback": One of the Browns' best QBs, he served the team from 1962 to 1968. An expert thrower, a shoulder injury would become a major malady for the rest of his career, even after years of treatment and surgery.
"Ozzie Newsome: The Wizard of Oz": This rather brief retrospective—clocking in at a mere four minutes—documents the career of the powerful tight end who played for the Browns from 1978 to 1990.
"1980 Browns Highlight Film": Running approximately 23 minutes, this archival film summarizes the 1980 team, who were known as the Kardiac Kids because of their eye-raising ability to comeback in the final quarter or minutes to win games. Unfortunately, it was the controversial, chilling Red Right 88 play which intercepted their chances of making it to the Super Bowl…and some are convinced they would have won had it not been for the Raiders' picking off the ball in the final two minutes.
This 2-disc set from Warner Bros. is presented in full frame video and DD 2.0 audio, which both do their job well. A solid documentary with fine bonus featurettes, this set is recommended heartily to the residents of Browns Town.
Verdict: Not guilty!
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