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Remembering Marty Schottenheimer and the 'Last Golden Age' of Browns Football

Marty Schottenheimer's 44 wins in Cleveland are the fourth-most in franchise history.
Cleveland Browns
Marty Schottenheimer's 44 wins in Cleveland are the fourth-most in franchise history.

Longtime Cleveland Browns fans experienced a lot of nostalgia this past week. Former Coach Marty Schottenheimer died at age 77, following a battle with Alzheimer’s. And one of his players, Clay Matthews, was passed over yet again for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says both men represented a special era of Cleveland football.

The last 'Golden Age' of Browns football

Schottenheimer was hired as a Browns coordinator in 1980. He was named interim coach when Sam Rutigliano was fired in 1984. The team was 1-7. Schottenheimer led the team to a 4-4 finish. Through 1988, the Browns went 44-27 under Schottenheimer. His 44 wins are the fourth-most in franchise history.

"He left in a feud with Art Modell. That was the time of 'The Fumble' and 'The Drive' and all of this supposed frustration. But to this day, that remains the last golden age of football for Browns fans where they consistently made the playoffs and were a contender and so much fun to watch," Pluto said.

It was also the era that players Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield created what's known today as the Dawg Pound.

"[They] started calling themselves 'The Dawgs,' and they started barking," Pluto said.

Marty and Clay's legacies

Schottenheimer was never inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite his 200 career regular-season wins. Matthews was passed over for the HOF in his third year in a row as a semifinalist. Pluto believes it's because neither of them won a title.

"It's unfortunate that Schottenheimer turned around three franchises — the Browns, the Kansas City and the San Diego Chargers — but he never went to the Super Bowl," Pluto said.

As for lineman Matthews, Pluto said "people just didn't see him" spending nearly his entire career in Cleveland and not a major-market city.

Fans reminisce

For his Cleveland.com column, Pluto asked fans to submit letters recalling their interactions with Schottenheimer and Matthews. He said he received a number of responses.

One reader said he wrote Schottenheimer a letter after he was fired in Cleveland and received a personal response, one of the qualities that endeared the coach to the fan base.

"These guys just acted like regular, decent people that you'd expect to be in Northeast Ohio," Pluto said.

Despite never winning a title, Pluto says it's unfair to hold Matthews and Schottenheimer to such a high standard.

"That period was a success, and it was fun and that old stadium rocked like it never had before," Pluto said.

A new golden age?

Pluto says fans who remember the team from 1980s can draw similar comparisons to now. Their 11-5 record this past year is the best since the 1990s.

"You look at when Marty Schottenheimer took over, he was an unheralded assistant. You look at the Browns now, [Coach] Kevin Stefanski worked his way up. He was nobody's golden boy," Pluto said.

Similarities run even deeper with Schottenheimer inheriting a top prospect in quarterback Bernie Kosar and Stefanski with former No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield.

"I would love to see the next four years ... be something like what we had in the late 80's where football was fun. You didn't have any out-of-control egos or anything like that. They just seemed to be the kind of guys you expected to be playing football in Northeast Ohio," Pluto said.

Copyright 2021 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.

Sean Fitzgerald is a senior journalism major at Kent State University working as a 2020 summer news intern. Sean has been with Black Squirrel Radio, Kent State's student-run radio station since the spring of 2018 as a sports show host and co-host, a web article contributor and sports department coordinator. Sean hopes to pursue a career in sports journalism once he finishes school.