The Skirmish of Ohio


Funny, but I was just thinking the same thing last night that kirk mentioned this morning: the “Battle of Ohio” just ain’t what it used to be.

Being an old fart of 43, I can remember another time, a time when the week before a Bengals-Browns game was its own little media circus. There would be plenty of smack talk in the papers and on the tube, and the mayors of the two towns would wager gift baskets of local favorites on their teams. When the Browns won, Skyline Chili, Montgomery Inn ribs and Hudepohl beer would be shipped north; when the Bengals won, truckloads of garbage would roll south, to be dumped in the Ohio and set on fire in honor of the mighty Cuyahoga.

But it’s been a long time since that’s been the rule, no doubt because it’s been a long time since the Browns or the Bengals mattered on more than an occasional basis. Cincinnati’s record of futility is well-documented, but Cleveland has done its share of long-term losing as well.

Since returning to the league in 1999, the Browns have just two winning seasons: 9-7 in 2002, and 10-6 in 2007. And they hadn’t exactly been stomping on the terra before their three-year hiatus, either. From 1990 through 1995, when the “old” Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens, Cleveland had just one winning season, 11-5 in 1994.

Put another way, from 1991 — generally regarded as the start of the Bengals’ “Lost Decade” — through last year, Cincinnati had one winning season, 2005. Over the same span, Cleveland rang up a whopping three winning seasons, and spent three years “on hiatus” to boot. For the mathematically challenged, that adds up to four winning campaigns in 33 combined seasons.

As my co-blogger Nate might put it: barf.

It’s sobering for me to realize that an entire generation of Browns and Bengals fans have grown up without ever knowing a winner. In the Eighties, when I was in high school and college, Cleveland went to the playoffs seven times, never making the Big Game, while the Bengals turned three playoff berths into a pair of Super Bowls. One or both of the teams made the playoffs in all but two years that decade, 1983 and 1984. And the bi-annual Battles of Ohio were the highlights of good times that would never end.

Except they did.

But there are those of us who remember. It wasn’t always just a game. And with a little luck (and a lot of work) maybe soon it won’t be just a game again.