Week in Review: Bengals/Browns: Behind the Rivalry


Long before Art Modell was loathed by entire city of Cleveland, he was hated with the fire of a thousand suns by just one man: Bengals founder Paul Brown. With the Bengals and Browns facing off for the final time in 2012, this is a great opportunity to revisit one of the all-time great NFL feuds.

The Cleveland Browns were named after one Paul Brown, and he coached the team from its inception in the old All American Football Conference beginning in 1946, winning the league title every year of the AAFC’s existence. After the league folded at the end of the 1949 season, the Browns moved to the NFL and won championships there in 1950, 1954, and 1955.

Brown continued as head coach into the next decade but the Browns were never as successful again, despite the presence of all-time great running back Jim Brown. Modell bought the Browns in 1961 and immediately clashed with the old-school Brown, who felt Modell meddled too much in the team’s day-to-day affairs. There were also whispers (actually, more like shouts) from former and even current players that Brown’s methods and coaching style were too old school, and did not work in the modern day NFL.

Remember that the next time you hear old men complain about today’s players lacking mental toughness.

Anyway, the personality clash eventually led to Modell firing the Browns’ namesake after the 1962 season. Modell may or may not have timed the firing to coincide with a newspaper strike in Cleveland to limit discussion of the firing. Brown may or may not have purposely chosen the Browns’ exact shade of orange to grace the Bengals inaugural uniforms in 1968. Either way, Brown called the two years coaching under Modell’s ownership as the “darkest period of my life.” It really is too bad this feud didn’t occur in the social media age.

Sep 16, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns line up during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals defeated the Browns 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

The Bengals-Browns rivalry was always my favorite growing up, although at that point Modell and Brown were both still going strong. It seems to have lost its luster the last number of years, beginning with the death of Brown, and then with the general stinkiness of both franchises over the past two decades. Perhaps it will take a repeat of history, with Fritz Shurmur instead of Brown leaving Cleveland for Cincinnati, to rekindle the rivalry. Ugh, on second thought…never mind. I’ll live without the rivalry. All of a sudden, Marvin Lewis doesn’t sound so bad.

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