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When the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, they lost their first game to Pittsburgh 43-0. In that game, the Browns had 9 rushing yards, 40 total yards, got 2 first downs, and had the ball for just 12 minutes (the lowest time of possession in NFL history)(r/nfl)
I can’t defend the last decade, but the first regime had no chance after what the Panthers and Jags did with their new franchises. That immediate success caused the Texans and Browns to get completely shafted in the expansion process.
I’m not going to go into all the details since they are well documented all over the internet and in Terry Pluto’s* book. ~~Many Browns fans hate they guy because he is perceived as eternally pessimistic, but he has been dead on for the most part (most recently Manziel from the start), and deserves some level of respect regarding his editorial opinion.~~
If you aren’t interested in the book, here is a decent recap of the whole expansion. Credit to /u/Brokewood.
/* I was 10 beers deep when I wrote this. I still think Grossi is a solid reporter.