Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Browns-Bengals: A Brief History of a Rivalry Ruined

It once was a rivalry of great pride for the state of Ohio and both cities. Cleveland, situated on Lake Erie in the northeast, Cincinnati situated on the Ohio River in the southwest.

Both teams’ initials matching those of their common founder Paul Brown. Both teams’ using orange as a secondary color as homage to Brown’s beloved Massillon Tigers.

The Bengals came into existence when Brown was fired from the team that bore his name by Art Modell. Brown responded by founding the Bengals shortly thereafter in 1968 and an instant rivalry was born, founded on the hatred between the two men. The rivalry hit its peak in the 1980s when both teams were perennially battling for play-off positioning.

The rivalry began to deteriorate in the 1990s when Paul Brown’s sons, led by Mike, took over the day to day operations of the team. The Bengals embarked on a downward spiral that they still have not come out of today. Their focus on money, namely not spending it, has held them back and makes them a laughingstock of an organization.

Of all the NFL franchises, they put the least amount of money into college and free agent scouting. This has resulted in an inordinate amount of off the field transgressions by their players.

It also handcuffs them in the front office as the fail to make personnel changes in the coaching and management offices in fear of having to pay salaries in full while also paying those who would take over.

This resulted in a 52-108 record in the 1990s and a 54-74 record from 200 to 2007. The Bengals only made two play-off appearances in that time, 1990 and 2005.

While the Browns feasted on the Bengals in the 1990s, that dominance was short lived. Not because of action on the field but those off it.

Modell ran his businesses into the ground financially and faced personal bankruptcy. To avoid it, Modell moved the Browns franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore after the 1995 season. The city of Cleveland fought to keep the name, history and colors of the team while Modell was in essence granted a new team and clean slate in Baltimore.

Cleveland waited for three years for the Browns to return in 1999, but the expansion form of the Browns look nothing like its glorious history. Dealt a bad hand by the NFL who awarded ownership to Al Lerner with little time to prep for 1999 the Browns suffered their worst seasons in team history in 1999 and 2000.

Lerner passed away and his son, Randy, took over the reigns. The Browns have had three regimes in the ten years the team has been under their watch and has produced only two winning seasons (2002, 2007) and one play-off appearance (2007) under their watch.

In five of the last six seasons, the Browns have accumulated ten or more losses. It is, by far, the worst ten year span in team history. The team faces a fourth possible “reboot” under the Lerner Family after the team fell from 10-6 last year to 4-10 this season.

The teams have met 70 times, with each franchise winning 35. Fitting for two teams that share the same state and the same founder. Disappointing, in that both teams have tarnished the image and legacy of that man, Paul Brown, by running their franchises into the ground both on the field and off it.

Until Mike Brown and Randy Lerner figure out how to turn their respective teams around, the Bengals and the Browns will continue to flounder, and a once proud rivalry will continue to be ruined.

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