Paul Brown and his lasting influence on the NFL

Paul Brown has not coached a football game since 1975, yet he remains the most important figure in the NFL.

by Matt Verderame

You can’t stop seeing Paul Brown’s impact. You just don’t know it.

Brown has not coached since Dec. 28, 1975, yet remains the most influential figure in the National Football League. This August marked the 25th year since Brown passed away, leaving behind the most underrated and widespread legacy in pro football history.

Throughout his 30 years as a head coach in professional football, Brown changed the way that coaches coach, and players play. He was an innovator and a visionary. He was a fair man in a time of great bigotry.

Brown could hold a grudge for a lifetime. He is the inspiration for one team’s name in the modern-day NFL and is the founder of another. To this day, Brown is honored by two teams, both in the state of Ohio. He has an NFL award and a stadium named after him, yet most fans under 30 years old could not tell you which teams he worked for.

Brown remains the single most important figure in the history of professional football, yet he lingers in history’s shadow. On every snap of every NFL game, we see his mind at work in various ways. Without Brown, we do not have the sport of football in its current form, or anything like it. He revolutionized everything from the equipment to the flow of each play, unbeknownst to almost everyone in the audience.

Without Paul Brown, the NFL landscape would be seismically different.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Norwalk, Ohio native was born on Sept. 7, 1908, only 20 days before Henry Ford rolled out his first Model T and just more than a month before the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series. By 1930, Brown was coaching high school football and winning the Maryland state championship at the Severn School. In 1932, Brown returned to his stomping grounds and Massillion Washington High School. There, he would notch six consecutive state titles from 1935-40 and four national high school championships in nine seasons.

All told, Brown’s record at Massillion was 80-8-2.

Brown was the head coach of Ohio State University from 1941-43, and won a national title in 1942 — the first for the Buckeyes — before joining the United States Navy for World War II. Brown’s duty was to coach football at the Great Lakes Naval Academy outside of Chicago.

In 1946, Brown began a new venture. With legions of professional football players returning from the war to find they had been replaced, there was a glut of talent and the All-America Football Conference seized the moment. Founded in 1944 by Arch Ward of the Chicago Tribune, the AAFC hoped to compete with the fledgling National Football League. It would only last four seasons, but its impact is immeasurable.

Brown was hired by the Cleveland franchise, an enormous move for team owner Arthur McBride. Brown was a legend for his previous work in Ohio and soon saw his prominence rise to new heights due to his exploits with the team named after him. He would go on to coach the Browns to four consecutive AAFC championships before joining the NFL in 1950, leaving the AAFC with a regular-season record of 47-4-3, including a perfect 14-0-0 season in 1948.

Once in the NFL, Brown reached six consecutive championship games, winning three of them. The Browns got back to the title game in 1957, only to lose to the Detroit Lions, the team that dealt Brown three of his four defeats in the ultimate contest in the 1950s.

From 1950-56, Brown led Cleveland to a regular-season record of 58-13-1. From 1946-62, Brown had one losing season and was Sporting News Coach of the Year on four occasions. He won the award once more in 1970, when he took the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs following a 1-6 start. The team was in its third year of existence and, despite minimal talent, won the AFC Central. That division included the Browns.

Today, the NFL Coach of the Year Award is named for Paul Brown.

Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, his first year of eligibility following his tenure in Cleveland. He came back to found and coach the expansion Bengals in the American Football League, taking only three years to reach the postseason.

During Brown’s eight years coaching in Cincinnati, the Bengals got to the playoffs three times while fighting against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Oilers. At the end of the 1975 season, with the Bengals coming off a 31-28 loss in the AFC semifinals to the Oakland Raiders, the 67-year-old Brown announced his retirement.

Brown remained owner of the team into the summer of 1991 before passing away. His son, Mike, owns the team currently and named the stadium after his late father.

Brown left behind a coaching tree more expansive than any other by a considerable margin, and was an innovator and pioneer across athletic and cultural spectrums.

Getty Images

In 1943, Weeb Ewbank arrived at the Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago. Over the final two years of his three-year commission as an assistant coach for the naval football team, Ewbank was under the command of Paul Brown, a lieutenant both literally and figuratively.

Their paths would again cross in 1952, when Brown hired Ewbank as an assistant with Cleveland. It was Ewbank’s first job in the NFL, and at age 45, it seemed like a dream come true just in the nick of time. Ewbank quickly rose through the ranks and became the head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1954.

Ewbank went on to win the two most important games in professional football history. In 1958, the Indiana native led the Colts to an overtime win over the New York Giants in what has been termed the Greatest Game Ever Played. After going to the New York Jets of the upstart American Football League in 1963, Ewbank turned the tables and shocked the NFL’s Colts, who were 18-point favorites on that balmy Miami afternoon.

Ewbank’s arm of Brown’s coaching tree is extensive. Buddy Ryan and Chuck Knox, assistants to Ewbank in his time with the Jets, never won a Super Bowl but lasted decades in the game. Another Baltimore assistant was Don McCafferty, who ultimately became head coach of the Colts in 1970, following the exodus of Don Shula. That year, McCafferty won the Super Bowl.

Ewbank also coached wide receiver Raymond Berry for eight seasons in Baltimore. The Hall of Famer became head coach of the New England Patriots in 1984 and wound up in the Super Bowl a year later. The Patriots lost to the Bears and Ryan’s defense. Ryan was the defensive coordinator of the 1985 Bears and the architect of the famed 46 defense, perhaps the most devastating in NFL history.

Ryan’s branch of Brown’s tree extends out to his son, Rex, and Jeff Fisher, who both served as assistants under him at different stops. Rex Ryan has appeared in two AFC title games while Fisher reached Super Bowl XXXIV with the Tennessee Titans. Fisher had Gregg Williams serve on his staff with the Titans, and Williams went onto win a Super Bowl ring as a defensive coordinator with the New Orleans Saints in 2009.

Knox’s branch includes Ray Malavasi, who served as defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams from 1973-77. In 1979, Malavasi was in his second season as head coach and led the Rams to the Super Bowl, their only appearance during the team’s time in Los Angeles.

Knox also gave Mike Martz an opportunity. Martz was the quarterbacks coach for Knox in 1993-94 with Los Angeles and eventually won a Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator under Dick Vermeil in 1999 with the St. Louis Rams. Two years later, Martz was head coach and fell to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

For all of Brown’s greatness in the win column, it was the way he pushed the game into the future that continues to resonate.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Walter Camp was seen as the rules aficionado of American football. He was the one who coined the term “line of scrimmage” and decided on 11 players for each side. Camp was also credited with the point system and the idea of downs.

In essence, Camp gave us the rudimentary rules of football, although it should be noted he was staunchly against the forward pass. That wrinkle only came into play in 1906, when president Theodore Roosevelt demanded it be included as a legal option due to 18 deaths occurring across America from football violence in 1905.

If it was Camp who dreamed up the sport, it was Brown who vaulted the idea of strategy and deception into another universe.

Throughout his high school, college, naval and professional days, Brown came to see football in a different light than anybody before him. The coach saw the game as a chess match of 11 pieces working in concert rather than men in the same uniform trying to shove around the other group.

Brown has been credited with numerous inventions, none more important than the playbook. He was known for demanding smart players for his teams, even introducing the idea of IQ tests for his players. Brown was also the first coach to call plays from the sideline, using messenger guards and the first radio earpiece for his quarterback, Otto Graham.

Graham has plenty to thank Brown for, including the introduction of the passing pocket. Before 1978, offensive linemen were not allowed to extend their arms or open their hands to block. In fact, until Brown changed pass-blocking schemes, most teams blocked in a straight line. Brown became the first coach to instruct his tackles to turn outward, giving Graham a cup-shaped pocket to throw from.

Brown was also the first man to use the 40-yard dash as a tool to evaluate players. Off the field, the Ohio native introduced the notion of using practice and game film as a coaching tool and implored players to take notes in a classroom-style environment. Players were even asked to abstain from sex during game weeks to make sure they remained focused.

“There is no way to quantify it,” Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit said of the importance of film study in today’s era. “The whole game of football comes down to film study and the more I meet with players and coaches, the more apparent that becomes. Film study is how football becomes football.”

On the gridiron, Brown’s innovations went well beyond the pocket. He also designed the draw play and zone defenses. On the sidelines, Brown understood the importance of having coaches for each position group, and was the first to have a full-fledged coaching staff.

Brown, along with offensive coordinator Bill Walsh, also oversaw the first team to run the West Coast offense, the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968. It’s an innovation that remains to this day.

“Yes because the quick pass has become such a viable weapon in today’s game. I think people get caught up in offenses and systems but what you need to look at is concept and the 30,000 foot preservative of what they are trying to do. From that perspective, everyone is a west coast team to a large degree. The quick passing game has become the norm because many teams still throw to backs and tight ends.

In total, Brown’s contributions to the game changed the sport at practically every level, for every organization.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

After starring on both offense and defense at the University of Dayton, Chuck Noll was a 20th-round selection of Cleveland in the 1953 NFL Draft. He lasted seven seasons with the Browns before going into coaching, first working with Sid Gillman’s San Diego Chargers before becoming the defensive coordinator for Don Shula and the Baltimore Colts.

In 1969, Noll was handed the reigns in Pittsburgh, taking over a sad-sack franchise with nothing but a losing history from its inception in 1933. Noll transformed the team and continued to push the game of football forward. Oddly enough, the AFC Central division of 1970 had Blanton Collier, Brown and Noll all coaching in it simultaneously. Brown took the crown.

Noll, however, went on to give us perhaps the greatest team in NFL history. The Steelers transformed from doormat to dynasty, winning four Super Bowls in six years. Noll, along with Bill Belichick, is one of only two coaches to ever win four Super Bowls. Under Noll, Pittsburgh exhibited many of the same traits that could be seen in Cleveland during Brown’s days. The Steelers had a dominant rushing attack, a tremendous defense led by four Hall of Famers and an unrelenting amount of skill which was often found in the later rounds of the draft.

From Noll, the NFL saw the rise of both Tony Dungy and John Fox. Fox worked as a defensive assistant under Noll during the final six years of his tenure in Pittsburgh. In 2001, Fox took over the Carolina Panthers — who had finished 1-15 — and reached the Super Bowl two years later. In the 2013 season, Fox took the Denver Broncos to an AFC championship before falling to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

Dungy was a cornerback in Pittsburgh for two seasons before becoming an assistant for Noll from 1981-88. Dungy got his chance to become a head coach, taking over the miserable Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996. Dungy reached the postseason four times in six seasons with the Buccaneers before moving onto the Colts in 2002.

In 2006, Dungy won a Super Bowl, becoming the first black head coach to ever achieve the feat. Dungy beat Lovie Smith in that game, who had been his linebackers coach in Tampa Bay from 1996-2000.

Dungy also provided opportunity for Mike Tomlin, who got his first job in the NFL as Dungy’s defensive backs coach in 2001 with Tampa Bay. After a stop in Minnesota, Tomlin became the head coach of Pittsburgh, won the Super Bowl in 2008 and reached another in 2010.

Jim Caldwell was another assistant coach who benefited from Dungy’s expertise, working under him at both Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. After eight years of ripening on the vine, Caldwell took over in 2009 for a retiring Dungy and went to the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning and Co.

Photo by Vic Stein/Getty Images

America during the 1940s was experiencing its finest moment half a world away, and some of its ugliest moments on its own soil. Despite fighting an enemy in Nazi Germany that trumpeted bigotry and hate, the United States was still grappling with its own racism. Water fountains and buses were still segregated, along with many schools, theaters and sports leagues.

The NFL was no different. After allowing black players to participate from 1920-33, the league decided to quietly ban men of color starting in 1934. For the next 12 seasons, only whites would be allowed to play, while blacks were forced to the stands.

While Major League Baseball was still a year away from watching Jackie Robinson take the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the NFL and AAFC were breaking the color barrier in football. However, the reasons for the desegregation were polar opposites.

In the NFL, the Rams were moving from Cleveland to Los Angeles and were forced to take on black athletes by the Los Angeles Coliseum commission. First, former UCLA halfback Kenny Washington was signed by owner Dan Reeves. Washington then requested the signing of former college teammate and best friend Woody Strode. At UCLA, that duo was part of a dynamite trio. The other member of that backfield? Jackie Robinson.

In the AAFC, Brown was looking to acquire talent and called on two former players with similar backgrounds. Both fullback Marion Motley and defensive tackle Bill Willis were invited to training camp and subsequently signed. In Sept. 1946, they became the first black players to play a professional football game in a dozen years.

For Brown, the signings were rooted in the past. While much of America, including the northern portion, was still fighting over racial ideals, Brown was committed to excellence. Brown coached Willis after recruiting the youngster to Ohio State. Willis went onto have a tremendous career, winning the 1942 national championship, and subsequently having his No. 99 retired by the Buckeyes.

Motley and Brown first crossed paths at the Great Lakes Naval Station in 1944. Once out of the U.S. Navy, Motley pursued a career in pro football and lasted eight years with the Browns before retiring following the 1955 season as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His first year in the NFL, Motley won the rushing title. Willis also played eight seasons and then retired, having won both four AAFC titles and two NFL championships.

For both, playing in the AAFC and NFL was a similar experience to Robinson’s well-documented time in MLB.

“They found out that while they were calling us niggers and alligator bait, I was running for touchdowns and Willis was knocking the shit out of them,” Motley said in Andy Piascik’s book, The Best Show in Football: The 1946–1955 Cleveland Browns. “So they stopped calling us names and started trying to catch up with us.”

Brown’s eye for talent and lack of discrimination proved to be a boon for the black athlete, the city of Cleveland and the Browns. Willis and Motley were both inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

After playing two seasons under Brown in Cleveland and three with Ewbank in Baltimore, Don Shula made his way into head coaching in 1963 as Ewbank’s replacement. With the Colts, Shula reached the NFL Championship Game in 1964 and then Super Bowl III, losing to the man he took over from.

In 1970, Shula was traded from the Colts to the Miami Dolphins and authored one of the most impressive runs in NFL history. The Dolphins reached three consecutive Super Bowls, including a pair of championships in 1972 and 1973. The first title capped off the league’s only undefeated season. Miami went 14-0 before rolling through the AFC playoffs and beating the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

Following the 1995 season, Shula retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in head coaching wins, with six Super Bowl appearances, including two wins. Shula won NFL Coach of the Year six times.

Shula’s direct coaching tree is less than spectacular, yet he had an influence on a receiver named Ray Perkins. Perkins played under Shula for three seasons in Baltimore before winning a Super Bowl in 1970 with McCafferty, and then going into coaching. While he proved to be a middling head coach, Perkins employed a young assistant with the New York Giants by the name of Bill Parcells.

Parcells took over for Perkins in 1983 and won a pair of Super Bowls (1986, 1990) before going to the Patriots in 1993. In New England, Parcells reached the Super Bowl in 1996, losing to another member of Brown’s coaching tree, Mike Holmgren.

Of course, Parcells produced a major tree of his own. The bombastic New Jersey native produced Tom Coughlin, Bill Belichick and Sean Payton. Belichick and Coughlin both served under Parcells as defensive assistants with the Giants, while Payton learned from Parcells in Dallas.

The trio have so far combined for seven Super Bowl titles in nine appearances. The two losses were Belichick’s, and both came against Coughlin. Coughlin is one of the most underrated coaches in recent history, taking over the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995 before reaching the AFC Championship Game the following year. Coughlin led Jacksonville back to that same stage in 1999 after a 14-2 season, only to fall short once more.

In 2007 and 2011, Coughlin got his Super Bowl rings with the aforementioned wins over New England. The first win was one of the greatest upsets ever, with the Patriots coming into the game boasting a perfect 17-0 record. As for Belichick, the Maryland native took his second head-coaching opportunity and turned into a living legend.

In his 16 seasons with New England, the Patriots have won 13 AFC East titles, reaching six Super Bowls and 10 conference championship games. Thanks to the dynasty he has built in New England, Belichick is often regarded as perhaps the greatest head coach of the last 25 years.

Photo by: Henry Barr Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images

In 1961, with the swipe of a pen, Brown’s grip on his football team began to slip. Art Modell, a Brooklyn native who did not graduate high school, bought the Browns at the steep price of $4 million.

Modell was coming into the world of professional sports for the first time, and he was intent on getting involved. He was typical of his day, a hands-on owner hoping to stuff his pockets. Without a true general manager to serve as a conduit between Brown and Modell, the relationship became frayed and frosty.

Following the 1962 campaign, when Cleveland went 7-6-1 and was six years removed from its last championship game, Modell had seen enough. The lack of a title, compounded by Brown’s refusal to involve Modell in personnel decisions, forced the owner to do the unthinkable. He fired Paul Brown, replacing him with an assistant in Blanton Collier.

Collier never became a household name to those outside the Rust Belt, but he guided the Browns to the most recent championship in Cleveland sports, winning an NFL title in 1964, beating Shula’s Colts. Brown didn’t speak to Collier for the rest of his life.

After five years of football inactivity, Brown popped up in Ohio once more. The American Football League was looking to add its 10th team. With the AFL-NFL merger already in place, Brown was assured his stay in the upstart league was only temporary. For Brown, owning the Bengals was a chance both to get back into his passion and to take thinly-veiled shots at Modell and the Browns.

Cincinnati adopted similar uniforms to the Browns, wearing orange and black with a simplistic helmet that featured the same dominant color, but with “BENGALS” spelled on the sides. When the two teams played each other from 1970-80, it was borderline impossible to tell the difference between the clubs.

For Brown, one of his greatest achievements was beating Collier’s Cleveland in the second-ever meeting between the teams. After beginning the season 1-6, the Bengals ripped off seven straight wins to take the AFC Central, including a 14-10 victory on Nov. 15 at Riverfront Stadium. Brown was carried off the field.

Ed Maker/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Lou Saban played four seasons under Brown from 1946-49 before moving onto the coaching ranks. Getting his first chance in professional football with the Boston Patriots in 1960, Saban lasted two years before taking the Buffalo Bills job in 1962. There, Saban led Buffalo to a pair of American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965, winning the Coach of the Year award in both campaigns.

Saban’s branch of Brown’s tree is both underrated and extensive. Red Miller was the most notable direct assistant to benefit from Saban’s leadership, working with him at both Boston and Buffalo. Miller took his first head-coaching job with the Denver Broncos in 1977, and had them in their first Super Bowl that season. Despite three playoff appearances in four years (the worst season was 1980, when the team went 8-8) Miller was fired and never coached again in the NFL.

Saban also had a direct influence on Marty Schottenheimer, who is arguably the greatest coach in NFL history to never reach the Super Bowl. Schottenheimer played as a lineabacker with the Bills under Saban in 1965 and, after retiring from playing in 1970, went onto an illustrious coaching career.

Midway through the 1984 season, Schottenheimer became head coach of the Browns and led them to four consecutive playoff appearance from 1985-88. Incredibly, Schottenheimer was fired and went to the Kansas City Chiefs. Prior to Schottenheimer’s arrival, the Chiefs had reached the postseason once in 17 seasons. In his first season in 1989, the team went 8-7-1, but made the playoffs in each of the next six seasons.

Schottenheimer provided more quality coaches. While Dungy worked on his staff in Kansas City, the most notanle name from Schottenheimer’s branch is Bill Cowher.

Cowher coached under Schottenheimer in Cleveland and Kansas City for seven seasons on special teams and defense before replacing Noll in Pittsburgh. Given the brutal task of replacing Noll after his 23 years of service, Cowher proved to be the right hire and then some.

In his first season with Pittsburgh, Cowher earned the 1992 NFL Coach of the Year award. He reached the postseason in each of his first six seasons with the Steelers, including five AFC Central titles and a Super Bowl appearance in 1995. Cowher’s tenure lasted 15 seasons in the Steel City, with Pittsburgh making a half-dozen trips to the AFC title game.

In 2005, Cowher finally got his long-awaited Super Bowl ring, beating the Seattle Seahawks and Mike Holmgren, another member of Brown’s extensive coaching tree.

Photo by Shel Hershorn/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If not for Paul Brown, the National Football League likely does not exist in anything resembling its current form.

Brown was the only reason the AAFC got any play from the NFL, which eventually swallowed up some of its teams in the 1950 merger. Without Brown’s brilliance there is likely not a merger, as the NFL would have continued on waiting for the AAFC to perish, much like the World Football League and United States Football League of the 1970s and 1980s, respectively.

Before the NFL took in the Browns, Colts and 49ers (the Los Angeles Dons merged with the Los Angeles Rams), the league was comprised of only 10 teams including the New York Yanks (renamed the Yanks from Bulldogs after the 1949 season).

Had the AAFC fallen into oblivion, it is fair to speculate the American Football League would never have come to pass. The NFL would have likely been open to expansion in 1959, when Lamar hunt and Bud Adams both inquired about getting into the league as owners. At the time, television was booming and the NFL was healthier than ever, which gave rise to the idea of keeping others out to reap the benefits with 12 teams already in the fold. Without Cleveland and San Francisco, there would have only been 10.

As history would have it, Hunt founded the AFL in 1960 and Adams became a member of the Foolish Club, also known as the eight original AFL owners. Once the NFL realized both Hunt and Adams were serious about the new league, it offered an expansion deal, but the wheels had already been set in motion by the Texas millionaires.

Hunt’s team was the Dallas Texans while Adams created the Houston Oilers. The NFL tried to crush Hunt by hastily creating the Dallas Cowboys in 1960, who shared the Cotton Bowl with the Texans. Ultimately, Hunt moved his Texans to become the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963, immediately after beating the Oilers in the 1962 AFL Championship Game.

Had Brown not joined the AAFC or been as blindingly successful as he was, it’s unlikely the AFL would ever have existed. Without the AFL, there would be far fewer opportunities for many innovators and pillars of the current game, including Sid Gillman, Al Davis, John Madden and Ralph Wilson Jr.

Photo by Arthur Anderson/Getty Images

Bill Walsh was an assistant coach under both Sid Gillman and Brown, giving him perhaps the greatest head start to glory in the history of football. Walsh worked under Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968-75, and in those eight years developed the West Coast offense.

Walsh was eventually bypassed for the Bengals job when Brown moved into the front office as owner, and wound up with the San Francisco 49ers in 1979. Walsh won three Super Bowls — beating Brown’s Bengals in 1981-88 — and ushered in another litany of historic coaches. Without question, Walsh was the most influential assistant that ever worked under Brown.

Throughout his 10-year stint in San Francisco, Walsh took the offensive system he developed in Cincinnati and turned it into an institution. The passing game was instantly transformed from vertical to horizontal, with an emphasis on timing and changing routes based on coverage. The offense is now being used in some form by all 32 teams, and began in 1970 at Riverfront Stadium because Bengals quarterback Virgil Carter had a weak arm and a bad offensive line.

Walsh sired a tremendous amount of greatness into the coaching ranks. While in San Francisco, Walsh had the likes of George Seifert, Sam Wyche, Ray Rhodes, Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan as assistant coaches. Seifert took over for Walsh in 1989 and won two Super Bowls with the 49ers, while Shanahan’s career eventually took off with the Denver Broncos. Shanahan won consecutive championships in 1997 and 1998.

Holmgren had a prolific career, winning a title with the Green Bay Packers in 1996 before losing the big game in 1997 and 2005, the latter with the Seattle Seahawks. Wyche was a quarterback for the Bengals in the 1960s and 70s, coached by both Brown and Walsh, and reached the Super Bowl as a coach in 1989, but lost to the 49ers.

Holmgren’s assistants also had plenty of Super Bowl appearances. Andy Reid left Green Bay for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, and promptly turned the franchise around. Reid went to five NFC title games with the Eagles and made a Super Bowl appearance in 2004.

Jon Gruden also comes from the Holmgren branch of Brown’s tree. Gruden took over the Oakland Raiders in 1998 before being dealt for a gaggle of draft picks to the Buccaneers in 2002. Gruden won the Super Bowl in his first season, ironically beating Oakland, 48-21.

Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images

Brown’s impact is impossible to ignore once you realize the breadth of his football intellect. The Super Bowl, which is nothing short of an American holiday, is constantly fought over by Brown’s disciples.

In all 50 Super Bowls to date, 54 coaches have taken to the sidelines. Of those men, 33 belong to the Brown Coaching Tree. Perhaps even more amazingly, in 21 of those 50 contests, both coaches belonged to Brown’s tree, which comes out to a robust 42 percent. From Super Bowl XXXVI through Super Bowl 50, 13 of the 15 games have been coached on both sides by a man influenced by Brown.

Overall, 10 Super Bowl wins have come directly from Brown, either as a former player or assistant (Ewbank, Shula, Noll, Walsh). On the other side, nine defeats have come from Brown’s direct coaching descendants (Shula, Grant, Wyche). Furthermore, there are five second-generation championships (McCafferty, Seifert, Holmgren, Dungy), nine third-generation titles (Parcells, Shanahan, Gruden, Cowher, Tomlin, McCarthy, Carroll) and another nine from the fourth-generation (Belichick, Coughlin, Payton, Harbaugh, Kubiak).

When Brown first broke into the NFL with Cleveland in 1950, the league did not have a national television deal. There was no such thing as the NFL properties, which has turned into a juggernaut of marketing for one of the top private corporations in the world. In 1950, there were only 13 teams in the league including a franchise known as the New York Yanks.

Today’s game features four national television contracts and a network dedicated to the sport 24/7. The NFL is by far the most popular spectator sport in America, lapping the field as baseball did during Brown’s early days. It has become a way of life in the United States, a part of the fabric we consistently weave every autumn and winter weekend.

Brown changed football forever in innumerable ways, and in the process, drastically altered the game this country has grown to obsess over.

Matt Verderame NFL Editor

Matt Verderame, 30, is a national NFL writer and longform scribe. He appreciates a good run between the tackles. Rudy is the only movie that makes him cry.