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The team was founded in 1946 as a charter franchise in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), with Paul Brown, the team's namesake and a pioneering figure in professional football, as its first coach. Under Brown, the Browns won the AAFC championship in all four years of its existence, including the AAFC's only perfect season in 1948. Their success continued after they became an NFL franchise; in their inaugural NFL season, 1950, the Cleveland Browns won the league championship in its first NFL season, followed by two more in 1954 and 1955. By then, the team had appeared in 10 straight championship games and won seven. The Browns were NFL champions again in 1964, but have since been only moderately successful, reaching the league's playoffs 15 times and appearing in the AFC championship game three times.
In 1995, Art Modell, who had purchased the Browns in 1961, announced he was relocating the team to Baltimore, Maryland. The outrage and controversy that erupted, as well as the NFL's desire to keep a team in Cleveland, led to an agreement whereby Modell was cleared to move his team (which became the Baltimore Ravens) but relinquished ownership of the Browns' name, colors, logos and history. That paved the way for the formation of a reconstituted team that resumed play in 1999 after three years of suspended operations.
It was to be expected that the resurrected Browns would struggle at first, as for all practical purposes they were an expansion team. However, the Browns' first two seasons were awful even by expansion standards. 1999 started with a home game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on ESPN Sunday Night Football, with Cleveland native Drew Carey participating in the opening-game coin toss. However, it would be the only highlight for the Browns that night. The Steelers got revenge on the 51–0 loss to the Browns ten years earlier (though Steelers All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson was the only player remaining from either team from the 1989 game) by beating the Browns 43–0 in their first game back. Though it is not the team's worst loss ever, it is their second worst loss since the team returned to the NFL, behind a 48–0 loss to Jacksonville on December 3, 2000.
Since coming back into the NFL the Browns have only made it to the playoffs once, in 2002.