Last Time Cleveland Browns Were 4-1, the World Was a Very Different Place

On a Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks improved to 5-0 for the first time in franchise history and the Pittsburgh Steelers won the first four games of the season for the first time in four decades, the Cleveland Browns reached a significant milestone of their own.

The Browns' 32-23 home win against the Indianapolis Colts was their fourth straight this season and left the franchise at 4-1 in the AFC North alongside the Baltimore Ravens and just one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have played one fewer game than both of their divisional rivals.

To put the figure into context, the Browns have won as many games in five weeks this season as they did across three seasons combined between 2015 and 2017. More significantly, the win over the Colts also marked the first time the Browns won four of their first five games in more than a quarter of a century.

The Browns last improved to 4-1 following a 27-7 win over the New York Jets on October 2, 1994. Cleveland went on to finish the season with an 11-5 record, before defeating the New England Patriots in the wild-card round only to lose to the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Game.

Both the Browns and the NFL have changed almost beyond recognition in the intervening 26 years. In 1994, Cleveland was coached by a certain Bill Belichick, who was yet to finish the season with a winning record after three years with the franchise, and its defensive coordinator was Nick Saban.

Over the past quarter of a century, Belichick has won six Super Bowl titles and appeared in another three, while Saban has won six national titles and eight SEC titles in college football during spells with LSU and Alabama. If Cleveland was different, so was the NFL.

The Browns played in the now-defunct AFC Central along with the Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals—both of whom remained divisional rival in the AFC North following the 2002 expansion—and the Houston Oilers, who relocated to Tennessee in 1997 and were renamed Tennessee Titans two seasons later.

The NFL, meanwhile, was far from the streamlined league we know now. In 1994, it comprised 28 teams split across six divisions, meaning only the AFC Central and the NFC West had four teams each, while the remaining four divisions featured five teams each.

So much water has passed under the proverbial bridge since the Brown last were 4-1 that their current quarterback, Baker Mayfield, wasn't even born in 1994. Head coach Kevin Stefanski, meanwhile, hadn't even entered high school and star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was a month short of his second birthday.

Away from football, the world looked vastly different too. The first episode of Friends had just premiered—it first aired on September 22—and Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You" remained at No. 1 of the Billboard's Top 100 for the fourth consecutive week.

The White House's first official website launched three weeks after the Browns defeated the Jets and Donald Trump was still five years away from buying his first golf course.

The 1994 season, however, ultimately marked the beginning of the end for the Browns. Cleveland went 5-11 the following year, Belichick was fired and Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore and professional football only returned to the shore of Lake Eerie in 1999.

Fortunately for the Browns, the current prospects look far brighter.

Jarvis Landry, Baker Mayfield
Jarvis Landry #80, Rashard Higgins #82, and Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns celebrate after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 11 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns won 32-23 to improve to 4-1. Jason Miller/Getty