If former head coach and owner Paul Brown were alive today, he'd sport a wicked smirk shadowed by the legendary fedora hat heading into Cincinnati's Week Six game between the Bengals and Browns, nodding Cincinnati's 42-36 all-time advantage with approval. Then again maybe not. Despite having the same name, mascot and history, this Cleveland Browns franchise isn't the same that motivated Brown to get back into the NFL with a huge hand in developing the Cincinnati Bengals. No. This iteration of the Browns hasn't felt like an established series since Art Modell's departure for Baltimore and the emotional bickering (at most a skirmish born from pre-Ravens history) has largely dissipated through the annals of time, often made trivial within the cellar of the divisional supremacy by both teams.
Head coach Marvin Lewis has taken part in 19 games against the Browns, winning 14 including 13 of the last 16. Lewis has seen epic shootouts and close defensive battles. Yet the one consistency is that this game is relatively close every time, with the struggling team (during a given year) bringing their best effort against the favored squad. Dating back to 2009 this series has been decided by three points or less in four of the seven games and by a touchdown in all but two. In 2007 when Cleveland entered week 16 at 9-5 with a strong chance to make the postseason, the 5-9 Cincinnati Bengals exploded with 19 points in the second quarter, beating the Browns and largely eliminating them from the playoffs through tiebreakers.
But let's go back to 1970, when the 1-2 Cincinnati Bengals took a 20-16 lead into the fourth quarter on October 11 during Virgil Carter's first career NFL start (had seven starts in the AFL), completing 20 of 28 passes for 218 yards passing, including nine straight to start the game. Cleveland outscored the Bengals 14-7, winning by three points.
The rematch on November 15, 1970 resulted in a Cincinnati Bengals win, improving their 2-6 record with a third win and the continuation of an epic winning streak that would actually qualify the Bengals for the postseason that year. Yep. From 1-6 earlier that year to a seven-game winning streak and the team's first playoff berth in the NFL during the inaugural season following the merger. Thanks to 210 yards rushing, including 110 from Carter, this was Paul Brown's best victory, as the head coach enthusiastically told reporters after the game.
From the UPI's report in 1970:
"This was my best victory," Brown beamed in the dressing room afterwards. He was asked if the meant the best victory since he formed the Bengals in 1968.
"I'm talking about my best victory, period," Brown answer enthusiastically. "It's been a long, frustrating first half of the season," the former Browns coach said, "but this made it all worthwhile. It was a tremendous battle. We happened to get that second touchdown and held on for dear life."
The Associated Press draws a much different picture.
Paul Brown twirled his hat above his head, jumped in the air and dashed off the field like a happy schoolboy. The Bengals had just knocked off (the) Cleveland Browns, 14-10, and it was one of his biggest moments in his life.
"This is my best victory," Brown said later in the dressing room after the roar of a record 60,000 fans at Riverfront Stadium had died down. "It sure makes it feel like was worth coming back."
Brown would go on to finish his head coaching career in 1975 with a losing record against the Cleveland Browns, winning five of 12. But if he were alive today we're certain that the angered motivation that made this rivalry once a proud one, would give the founder some pause with pride.