It's the most wonderful time of the year. Football season. And there's one man to thank for it. Paul Brown.
I'll start this most wonderful time of the year sweating and cleaning up Rottweiler poop by the tree out back, and finish it in a North Face jacket with boots on digging out Rottweiler poop in the snow.
Between cleaning up the leavings of a large dog, I'll meet people I have not seen for years during Knights games, see old friends during Buckeyes games, and see more friends and make new ones while I spew invective during Browns games.
This most wonderful time of the year brings old friends together and makes new ones, whether we like the sport or not.
It's a great sport, and a great opportunity to get together.
The game we love, whatever team we root for on which level, would not exist in its present form without a man who was before my time, but whose legacy almost provoked riots in Cleveland when the man who fired him moved the team who bears his name to Baltimore.
Paul Eugene Brown.
He set standards for the sport of football at every level, innovated in ways that are part of the game to this day, and was far ahead of his time.
Paul Eugene Brown was the son of a railroad dispatcher who was known for his precision, and the apple did not fall far from the tree.
Brown was the quarterback at Massillon High School, went to Ohio State, realized he was not big enough to handle major college football, and transferred to Miami of Ohio, graduating with a B.A. in education. Later, Brown would get his M.A. in education from Ohio State.
Paul Brown, after graduating Miami of Ohio and coaching at a Maryland prep school, went back to his high school alma mater as head coach at the age of 23. In his nine years as head coach, the Tigers went 80-8-2, winning 35 games in a row along with six consecutive Ohio high school football championships.
From Massillon, he became head coach at Ohio State, bringing the Buckeyes their first national championship in 1942. At Ohio State, he was known as "Precision Paul," as his teams were known for speed, discipline and controlled aggression.
Wartime found Brown commissioned as a Navy lieutenant, and from 1944-45, he coached a Great Lakes Naval Station team that played NCAA competition, compiling a record of 15-5-2 with what was essentially a military pickup team.
At the end of World War II, although having an open invitation to return to coach the Buckeyes, Brown pursued a new venture.
The Cleveland Rams were leaving town for Los Angeles, and Arthur B. (Mickey) McBride wanted to launch a startup team in the new All America Football Conference.
For a share of ownership and control of football operations, Paul Eugene Brown was in as the first head coach of a team that bears his name.
Brown wanted no part of having the team named after him, but the suggested names "Bulldogs" and "Panthers" were already copyrighted.
The AAFC may not have its records recognized as the original AFL does because the Browns simply dominated the league, winning all four of that league's championships before it folded.
Why is the game not the same without Paul Brown? Without his innovations, we'd never know football as it is, and we'd be poorer for it.
What were Paul Brown's innovations that created the game we know today?
• Brown was the first head coach to give his prospective players intelligence tests.
• Brown was the first to integrate professional football, prior to Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson integrating baseball.
In 1946, Brown put fullback Marion Motley and defensive lineman Bill Willis on his squad, and both have busts in the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
• Brown was the first coach to have his players wear facemasks.
• Brown was the first to have his players undergo classroom instruction on the professional level.
• Brown was also the first professional football head coach to use film study.
• What we now know as the "practice squad" in the NFL was begun by Brown and McBride, who owned a cab company, as the "taxi squad."
Players who did not make the final roster cut, but might be able to fill in in the case of injury, drove cabs for McBride. Generations later, Clevelanders still call the practice squad the "taxi squad."
• And finally, the commonplace radio helmet for quarterbacks was experimented with by Brown in the preseason of 1956.
In the days of vacuum tubes and shortwave, it did not work too well and Brown scrapped it, but nonetheless, the NFL banned it. No sense in giving Brown another advantage.
Brown's final record in Cleveland was 167-53-8, including four AAFC championships and three NFL championships.
After a record of 7-6-1 in 1962, new owner Art Modell, who had authority clashes with Brown previously, fired Brown January 9, 1963, when both the Cleveland Press and the Plain Dealer were on strike.
Long before The Move, older Clevelanders cursed Modell and swore the Browns would never see another championship.
Firing Paul Brown was one thing. Doing it in the midst of a newspaper strike, where the firing would barely be covered, was another.
The old men were correct, save for Blanton Collier winning one in 1964 with Brown's players.
Paul Brown's coaching tree also is the tallest with the deepest roots in the NFL, but that's for another article.
For now, in this most wonderful time of the year, when you see your old high school play, your college play or your favorite NFL team play, think of Paul Brown.
Without Paul Brown, you would not be seeing football as it is.