Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns

Buckeye bragging rights

It was the 1974 NFL draft. Syracuse offensive tackle Dave Lapham got a call from the Cleveland Browns asking if he had signed with the World Football League. "No, I haven't signed," Lapham said. "I want to play in the NFL." The Browns told him to wait by his phone.

Two minutes later, the phone rang again. "Cleveland?" Lapham asked. "No, no, this is the Cincinnati Bengals," came a team secretary's voice. "You better not ever say that word again."

     (source: Chick Ludwig, The Legends, Cincinnati Bengals)

Just business as usual in the "Battle of Ohio," the annual clash of two teams from opposite sides of the NFL's founding state. Ohio football fans may be united in their love for the Ohio State Buckeyes, but when it comes to the pro game, they must choose sides.

The league usually puts nearby teams in separate conferences, so cross-state divisional rivalries like the Battle of Ohio are rare in the NFL. The rivalry between Cleveland and Cincinnati hasn't gotten much national attention lately because both teams have struggled for a while, but anyone who's lived in Ohio for very long can see that it's a big deal in the Buckeye State. No matter what records the Bengals and Browns have against the rest of the league, it's their two games a year against each other that determine who is the best in Ohio.

Ohio's pro football patriarch

The Bengals and Browns share more than just the same state. They also share the legacy of Paul Brown, one of the NFL's most brilliant coaches and influential owners. Brown's innovations included the two-minute drill, the facemask, player intelligence tests, and the tactic of using timeouts to "ice" the opposing kicker before an important field goal attempt. When it comes to NFL history in Ohio, no figure looms larger than Brown, who played a major role in the origin of both teams— and the rivalry between them.

When Cleveland owner Arthur McBride was looking for a coach in 1945 to helm his franchise in the All-America Football Conference, Paul Brown was his first and only choice. Brown was already nationally esteemed for his accomplishments as the head coach of Massilon Washington High School and Ohio State. Cleveland fans voted to name the new AAFC team the "Browns" after its coach, a decision that Brown reluctantly accepted.

Paul Brown and Ohio football
1942Paul Brown coaches the Ohio State Buckeyes to their first national championship.
1945Arthur McBride hires Brown to coach the Cleveland franchise in the AAFC. The team is named the Browns after its coach.
1949The Cleveland Browns win their fourth consecutive AAFC title. The league disbands.
1950The Browns move to the NFL and win the championship.
1955The Browns win their third NFL title, having made the league title game in each of their first ten seasons.
1961Art Modell buys the Browns and gives Paul Brown an 8-year contract as head coach.
1963After two years of growing friction between owner and coach, Art Modell fires Paul Brown.
1964Modell's Browns win another NFL championship, their last to date.
1967Paul Brown is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1967Brown buys an expansion franchise in the American Football League, the Cincinnati Bengals.
1968Brown takes to the sidelines as the Cincinnati Bengals' first coach.
1970The AFL-NFL merger puts the Bengals and Browns in the same division.
1975Brown retires as coach of the Bengals, with an overall record of 55-59-1 with Cincinnati.
1991Paul Brown dies at the age of 82. Ownership of the Bengals passes to his son, Mike Brown.
1995The Browns play at Cleveland Stadium for the last time before moving to Baltimore.  The Bengals are their final home opponent.
2000The Bengals open Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati with a game against Cleveland.

Under Paul Brown, Cleveland won the AAFC title all four years of the league's existence. When the All-America Football Conference folded in 1950, the Browns moved to the NFL and won the championship there, too. And they went on winning. In their 17 years under Paul Brown, the Browns appeared in 11 AAFC and NFL title games, winning 7 of them. They had a winning record every year but one.

But Brown's last championship came in 1955, and by the start of the 1960's, the criticism that Brown was inflexible and that the game had passed him by was growing louder. In 1961, Brooklyn native Art Modell bought the Cleveland Browns for just under $4 million. He gave Brown an 8-year contract as head coach, but the egos of the two men clashed to the point that they could not continue together.

In 1963, Modell shocked the pro football world by firing Paul Brown, with the explanation that it was "my survival or his survival." Brown would later call his two years coaching under Modell "the darkest period in my life." Bengals owner Mike Brown recalls how deeply the firing affected his father: "His statement was that Modell had taken his team away from him. Other than family tragedies, I think that was the biggest blow of his life."

     (source: Tony Grossi, Tales from the Browns Sideline)

A new start

A few years later, Brown got back into the game in Ohio, this time as both owner and coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, an expansion team in the American Football League. People had to smile when they saw that the new team's uniforms featured bright orange helmets with no decoration other than the word "BENGALS." The black and orange of the Bengals was hard to tell apart from the dark brown and orange of the Browns in the NFL.

The AFL and the NFL were already in the process of merging when Paul Brown became an AFL owner in 1967; the first AFL-NFL championship game had taken place the year before, and there were plans to combine the two leagues for the regular season as well. Some AFL owners were beginning to think twice about the merger, though. The AFL had been very successful as a competitor to the NFL, so why not keep it up? But Paul Brown pushed the other owners to stick to the plan; he had bought the Bengals with the expectation that they would soon become an NFL team.

In 1970, the AFL and NFL completed the merger, and the realigned divisions put Paul Brown's Bengals in the AFC Central along with Art Modell's Browns— a sure recipe for some intense battles. The Browns won the first meeting that year 30-27 in Cleveland, but Cincinnati took the rematch on their way to winning the first AFC Central title.

Even after Brown's retirement from coaching in 1975, he relished any chance the Bengals had to beat his former team— especially if the win came in Cleveland. In 1981, the Bengals clinched the division with a 41-21 win at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Cincinnati WR Cris Collinsworth, whose two touchdown catches secured the win, remembers being congratulated by the Bengals owner after the game: "For Paul Brown, that was something special. Every time we went back to Cleveland, he would have never said it publicly and he would never have been quoted as such, but you knew it meant a little something more to him."

     (source: Chick Ludwig, The Legends, Cincinnati Bengals)

Sibling rivalry

Most Bengals fans likewise see the Browns as one of their team's biggest rivals. When the Bengals came onto the pro football scene in 1968, the Browns had already been around— and winning— for over two decades, so even in the soutwestern part of the state, the two Ohio teams were fighting over the allegiance of the same fans. And while the arch-enemy of the Browns is definitely the Steelers (and Baltimore gets its own special category of contempt), the Bengals are still high up on Cleveland's list of rivals.

Excitable Bengals head coach Sam Wyche made sure of that with a spur-of-the-moment comment to a rowdy Riverfront Stadium crowd at a December game against the Seahawks in 1989. The Seahawks were backed up near their own goal line, and several of the fans seated behind the end zone began pelting the Seattle players with snowballs as they were trying to get set for a play.

Facing the possibility of penalties against the Bengals if the barrage continued, Wyche took the public address microphone and gave a brief speech that is now famous (and infamous) in Ohio:

"Will the next person who sees anybody throw anything on the field point them out, so we can get them out of here! You don't live in Cleveland; you live in Cincinnati!"

The crowd gave a thunderous cheer, and the snowballs stopped. Wyche was blasted in Cleveland, but he didn't back down from the statement.

"It was obviously bush-league conduct, and we just don't do that in Cincinnati. And if I were to ask anybody from any part of the world that follows sports what stadium represents throwing things onto the field, the first stadium that would be mentioned would be Cleveland," said Wyche.

Wyche did give Cleveland fans a chance to get back at him in the offseason at an event to raise money for Cleveland charities. Fans could pay for a chance to drop the Bengals coach into a tank of water by hitting a target with a football or plastic dog bone. First in line was Browns QB Bernie Kosar. "Today we're here for a good cause," he said, "to hopefully dunk coach Wyche in the water." He hit the target with his fifth throw.

Highest-scoring games in NFL/AFL history
1966 at WASRedskins 72, Giants 41113 pts.
2004 at CINBengals 58, Browns 48106 pts.
1963 at OAKRaiders 52, Oilers 49101 pts.
1983 at SEASeahawks 51, Chiefs 48 (OT)99 pts.
1948 at NYGCardinals 63, Giants 3598 pts.
1985 at SDChargers 54, Steelers 4498 pts.
1950 at LARams 70, Colts 2797 pts.
1986 at NYJJets 51, Dolphins 45 (OT)96 pts.
2007 at CLEBrowns 51, Bengals 4596 pts.
2009 at ARI*Cardinals 51, Packers 45 (OT)96 pts.

The Battle of Ohio is a fun rivalry, and a lot of that is due to how evenly matched the Bengals and Browns have been over its 40-year history. Their rises and falls, for the most part, have come at the same times. When they weren't battling each other for the same playoff berth, they were fighting over the same draft picks— something to which Dave Lapham can attest!

The overall record of wins and losses for the Battle of Ohio reflects its competitive, back-and-forth nature. Bengals vs. Browns is the most evenly contested rivalry in the AFC North. The series has seen 5 lead changes and 14 ties since it began in 1970. The biggest lead either team has ever held in the overall series is 6 games.

Quite unexpectedly, two of the ten highest-scoring games in NFL history have been recent tilts between the Bengals and Browns.

at Cincinnati:  Bengals, 26-14 at Cleveland:  Browns, 23-16 in playoffs:  none
  Sweeps Shutouts Longest streak Most lopsided win  
CIN: ||||||||| 9
CLE: |||||||| 8
CIN: ||| 3
CLE: || 2
CLE: ||||||| 7
CIN: ||||| 5
CLE: 34 pts.
CIN: 32 pts.
Show all 79 scores
CLE 30, CIN 27

CIN 14, CLE 10

CLE 27, CIN 24

CLE 31, CIN 27

CLE 27, CIN 6

CLE 27, CIN 24

CLE 17, CIN 10

CIN 34, CLE 17

CIN 33, CLE 7

CIN 34, CLE 24

CIN 24, CLE 17

CLE 35, CIN 23

CIN 45, CLE 24

CIN 21, CLE 6

CLE 13, CIN 3

CIN 10, CLE 7

CLE 13, CIN 10, OT

CIN 48, CLE 16

CLE 28, CIN 27

CIN 16, CLE 12

CLE 31, CIN 7

CLE 27, CIN 24

CLE 20, CIN 17

CIN 41, CLE 21

CIN 23, CLE 10

CLE 17, CIN 7

CIN 28, CLE 21

CIN 12, CLE 9

CIN 20, CLE 17, OT

CIN 27, CLE 10

CLE 24, CIN 6

CIN 30, CLE 13

CLE 34, CIN 3

CLE 34, CIN 0

CLE 38, CIN 24

CIN 24, CLE 17

CLE 23, CIN 16

CIN 21, CLE 14

CIN 21, CLE 0

CIN 34, CLE 13

CIN 21, CLE 14

CLE 14, CIN 13

CIN 23, CLE 21

CIN 30, CLE 10

CLE 37, CIN 21

CLE 27, CIN 14

CLE 28, CIN 17

CLE 28, CIN 20

CLE 37, CIN 13

CLE 29, CIN 26, OT

CLE 26, CIN 10




CIN 18, CLE 17

CIN 44, CLE 28

CLE 24, CIN 7

CIN 12, CLE 3

CIN 24, CLE 14

CLE 18, CIN 0

CLE 20, CIN 7

CLE 27, CIN 20

CIN 21, CLE 14

CLE 22, CIN 14

CLE 34, CIN 17

CIN 58, CLE 48

CIN 27, CLE 13

CIN 23, CLE 20

CIN 34, CLE 17

CIN 30, CLE 0

CLE 51, CIN 45

CIN 19, CLE 14

CLE 20, CIN 12

CIN 14, CLE 0

CIN 23, CLE 20, OT

CIN 16, CLE 7

CLE 23, CIN 20

CIN 19, CLE 17

CIN 27, CLE 17

CIN 23, CLE 20

CIN 34, CLE 27

CLE 34, CIN 24

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