By all accounts, Bill Belichick still should be one of the most disliked sports figures in Cleveland history.
It was 18 years ago when the current New England Patriots coach was booed out of town in what turned out to be the final season for the previous version of the Browns. Chants of "Bill must go Bill must go" outside the locker room after games at Cleveland Stadium were a prelude to the franchise's move to Baltimore in 1996 and Belichick's dismissal as coach by then-owner Art Modell.
Time has a way of healing most wounds, which seems to be the case with Belichick. He might not be a favorite of many fans, but the incredible string of success stories he's orchestrated in New England has effectively muted the anti-Belichick voices.
There are other reasons why Belichick's tumultuous time in Cleveland has faded with time. Men like Modell and LeBron James have occupied the thoughts of many fans. Events like The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot also have played a role in soothing the anger that was built up during Belichick's five seasons (1991-95) as coach of the Browns.
As the Patriots prepare to host the Browns today, Belichick is viewed as a Hall of Fame-bound coach in search of his fourth Super Bowl championship with the Patriots. The only thing that angers Browns fans is the realization that Belichick took the lessons learned in Cleveland and turned them into what has become a 14-year dream run in New England.
Belichick isn't the type of person who dwells on the past or projects into the future, which might be a reason why his career record is 214-112 (18-8 in the postseason). Included is a 36-44 record for the Browns. He couldn't allow himself to think beyond today's game when asked if he would like to get to 50 years of coaching in the NFL (this is his 39th season).
"All I'm trying to do is play a good football game on Sunday," Belichick said.
As Browns fans continue their never-ending support of bad football, it's only natural to wonder how history would have played out if the franchise hadn't moved to Baltimore. Modell was on record saying that Belichick was the last head coach he would hire. He changed his mind when the move was made, firing Belichick and hiring Ted Marchibroda.
The Ravens cashed in on two first-round picks in the 1996 draft, landing offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis. Ogden is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Lewis, who retired after the Ravens won their second Super Bowl last season, will be inducted in the Hall of Fame in five years.
Belichick and Michael Lombardi were calling the shots for the Browns in 1995 - Lombardi, now the team's general manager, was director of player personnel. Would they have made the same decisions that were made in Baltimore in 1996? No one knows for sure, which is why the debate is wasted energy.
Browns Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, now the general manager of the Ravens, has said that the Browns would have enjoyed success if Modell had kept the franchise in Cleveland. As already stated, the debate could continue until the last living fan in 1995 dies.
Meanwhile, Belichick continues one of the greatest turnaround stories for a coach in NFL history. It began to take form when the Patriots used a sixth-round pick in the 2000 draft on quarterback Tom Brady. Brady started in place of an injured Drew Bledsoe in the third week of the 2001 season, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since then the Patriots have won 10 division titles and five AFC championships to go along with their three Super Bowl triumphs. Perhaps equally as amazing is that the Patriots haven't lost a home game to a team with a losing record since Dec. 4 of 2000.
Don't expect that streak to end today.