Browns get title trophy back

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns have back in their possession one of two known championship trophies the team has won.

The trophy from the team's first championship, which bears the names of six Hall of Fame players and a Hall of Fame coach, was brought to Berea from Raleigh, N.C., where the Browns said a grandson of a minority owner discovered it in a box in his garage.

That championship came in 1946 in the old All-America Football Conference, which the Browns dominated in their four seasons before they joined the NFL.

The Browns beat the New York Yankees 14-9 at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium with 41,181 in attendance -- a crowd that caught the attention of the NFL.

Hall of Famer Marion Motley scored on a 2-yard run, and Dante Lavelli caught a touchdown pass from fellow future Hall of Famer Otto Graham for the winning points with 4:31 left.

Graham secured the win for the Browns with an interception (many played both ways in those days). Lou Saban was one of Graham's backups, and Lou Groza was on the Browns roster. Graham had a passer rating that season of 112.1.

The dusty trophy is being stored at the Browns facility until officials from the Pro Football Hall of Fame can visit and advise the best way to clean it.

It was in the possession of Gary Cole, the grandson of minority owner Daniel Sherby. Another trophy from that game is believed to be in the possession of the family of majority owner Arthur "Mickey" McBride.

The AAFC did not present teams with trophies, only a lapel pin to commemorate the title. But shortly after the 1946 game, players got together and commissioned the trophies, paid for them and gave them to McBride and Sherby.

The NFL did not give permanent trophies for championships until 1966 -- a rotating trophy went from Cleveland to Green Bay when the Packers beat the Browns for the 1965 title. Since the Browns last won the title in 1964, the 1946 trophies are the only ones known to exist.

Browns manager of alumni relations Tony Dick drove from Cleveland to Raleigh this week to retrieve the trophy. While en route, he stopped at the Hall in Canton, Ohio, for a box that would keep it safe.

The trophy has the names of all 38 players -- 31 of whom would serve in the military -- and the scores of the games that season. The Browns won AAFC titles in 1946, '47, '48 and '49 then won the NFL title in their first year in the league in 1950. The Browns played in championship games every season but one from 1946 to 1958.

Dick carried the trophy while wearing plastic gloves, a la what NHL officials do with the Stanley Cup.

"It's pretty special that we actually have something that's physical and you can look and it says that we've won a championship," Dick said.

The Browns will work with the Hall of Fame to decide where to permanently display the trophy. Its discovery will be part of an episode of "Garage Gold" on the DIY Network in early 2014.