They tried to give Al Lerner something special in 2002, but the cancer that was going through him ended his life Oct. 23 and robbed him of a chance to see the Browns make the playoffs.
What has happened to the franchise since then wouldn't have pleased Lerner, who was awarded ownership of the expansion Browns in 1999. The playoff season of 10 years ago was the first and only time the Browns have advanced to the postseason in the post-Art Modell era.
With Lerner's son Randy close to finalizing a deal to sell the Browns to Tennessee billionaire Jimmy Haslam III, the final chapter of the Lerner legacy is about to be written. It started with the fanfare of the savior Al bringing NFL football back to Cleveland three years after Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore to save the family's crumbling finances.
It will end with just two winning seasons and a 13-year cumulative record of 68-140. We were told that it would take time for the franchise to start winning consistently. No one said we would still be waiting.
All the losing has made Randy a lightning rod for criticism. His commitment to winning has been questioned. To fans he's a reclusive billionaire concerned more about ownership of his Aston Villa soccer team of the English Premier League and life on the Hamptons than the Browns.
An accurate picture of Lerner is of a shy, secretive person that became a reluctant owner after his dad's death. While it wasn't the gig for which he bargained, he accepted it for family pride and embraced the challenge of making it work in a winning way.
It was actually refreshing to see an owner that shunned the spotlight. There would be no bombastic Modell moments, nor would there be the cartoonish social media embarrassments of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Sitting front and center in the "war room" on draft day with ESPN cameras focused on him may be fine for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, but that's not Randy's style.
Those who have worked closely with Randy wish that the public would have had a chance to know him better. They saw his passion and commitment to winning and experienced his uniquely engaging personality. He was a common man's billionaire - if there is such a thing - seemingly able to trade a glass of fine wine in for a common beer.
I saw some of that side during a 45-minute, off-the-record interview in Randy's office overlooking the practice fields in Berea last February. He made me feel at ease, which in turn made for a script-less interview that quickly turned into an almost casual conversation. He talked with pride about his son Max playing quarterback for the St. Ignatius freshmen team, wondering where he got the athletic talent.
One anecdote Randy probably wouldn't mind being made public concerned his role during the draft. He is atypical of owners that use the occasion to go on a power trip. Instead, Randy said he routinely stays away from general manager Tom Heckert and president Mike Holmgren. He let the football men do their jobs without a hint of interference from him.
This was about the time the Browns were preparing to make a trade offer to the St. Louis Rams in an attempt to move up in the draft for the opportunity to select quarterback Robert Griffin III. The public image of a distant owner with no concern about the fortunes of his team seemed skewed as he sat in front of a table-full of helmets and talked excitedly about the future.
Randy was let down by bad football decisions made by Phil Savage and Eric Mangini. The team is still paying the price for the failures of Braylon Edwards, Kamerion Wimbley, Brady Quinn, Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi and David Veikune, to name a few.
If Randy can be criticized for anything, it was the quick decision to hire Mangini after Romeo Crennel was fired. While conducting a season-ending media session, Randy was told that Mangini had been let go by the New York Jets. A poor poker face couldn't hide his desire to hire Mangini, who got the job 11 days later.
Practicing a little more patience and searching the landscape for more deserving candidates would have been the prudent moves. Instead, Randy rushed into a bad decision.
Randy will probably feel a sense of relief once the sale is finalized. He will reportedly maintain a 30 percent share for now, which will allow him to continue his rooting interest.
My guess is he would be a fan even if he had to pay his way into games. It was always about winning for Randy, even if it didn't always seem that way.