Top 6 Browns Rivalries of All Time
When it comes to rivalries, the Browns have some of the deepest roots in the NFL. Though many would say they have only two main rivals today—the Ravens and the Steelers—you could reasonably argue the Bengals should be included in the mix, as well. In addition to these three divisional rivals, the Browns also have a rivalry with the Lions, as well as historical rivalries against the Broncos and the Rams.
Historical Rivalries of the Browns
When the Browns joined the NFL, they won in dominating fashion. They won the NFL championship in their first season in the league, opening the year by beating the former champion Eagles and ending the year with a championship victory over the Rams. Going forward, they would rise and fall in dominance. A constant back and forth in championship games between the Browns and the Rams in the early 1950s led to the creation of the Browns' first-ever rivalry.
6. The Rams
The Rams had a history in Cleveland long before the Browns ever came into the picture. Before 1946, the Rams were the Cleveland Rams, owned by Dan Reeves. Los Angeles had won a championship in Cleveland in 1945 against Washington, but despite the great success, Reeves moved the team to Los Angeles the following year. This led to bitterness towards the new Browns, despite never having played them, at least until they joined the NFL four years later.
The 1950 NFL Championship
When the Browns entered the NFL in 1950, they weren't taken seriously by many teams because they believed the Browns only won because they played in the seemingly weaker All-America Football Conference. However, Cleveland surprised everyone by winning 10 games in the regular season and facing the Rams in the NFL championship game.
The Browns trailed going into the fourth quarter 28–20 but scored 10 fourth-quarter points to ultimately win the game 30–28. The Browns were led by quarterback Otto Graham, who had 298 passing yards and 99 rushing yards. He also threw for four touchdowns. The Browns' defense played well, too, intercepting five passes in the game. Coach Paul Brown would later say that it was "the greatest game I ever saw."
The Rams' Revenge: 1951 NFL Championship
The following season, Graham was named the NFL's MVP (an award he would win twice more in 1953 and ‘55). The Browns improved their record, winning 11 games on their way to the NFL championship for the second year in a row. Again, they faced the Rams in the championship. While the Browns' defense showed up again, forcing three total turnovers, Graham did not play as well as he did the previous year. He completed only 47.9% of his passes and threw three interceptions in the game. Despite this, the Browns tied the game 17–17 late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, a 73-yard pass from Rams quarterback Norman Van Brocklin put the Rams in the lead, ultimately completing their revenge.
The Final Meeting: 1955 NFL Championship
Four years later, in 1955, the Browns would play in their 10th straight championship game. Graham won his third league MVP award that season and the Browns held a record of 9-2-1. They faced the Rams in the championship for their third and final championship meeting in league history. The game was more one-sided than the previous two games, with the Browns winning 38–14. Graham, who had announced his retirement following the Browns’ championship win in 1954, returned in '55 at Paul Brown’s behest—and he went out with a bang. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more. The defense intercepted Van Brocklin six times, returning one 65 yards for a touchdown.
Between Cleveland's anger for losing their team and the trading of championships throughout the 1950s, the Rams became the Browns' first-ever rival. The rivalry eventually faded away, as the teams failed to face off in the playoffs again—and they aren't considered rivals today.
Ironically, the Browns' rivalry with the Rams would later connect to their rivalry with the Ravens. The original owner of the Rams, Homer Marshman, who sold the franchise to Reeves, would later feel bad about selling to a man who moved the franchise. To make up for this, he bought the Browns in 1953. Eight years later, he would sell the team to Art Modell, who would ultimately move the franchise away from Cleveland after the 1995 season.
5. The Broncos
The strength of the rivalry between the Browns and the Broncos depends on which fan base you talk to. Cleveland fans speak of Denver with vitriol and disdain, while Denver fans see Cleveland as a stepping stone to their Super Bowl victories. Regardless, outside of the Steelers and the Ravens, most Browns fans would say the Broncos are their most hated rival in NFL history. With plays like The Drive and The Fumble etched into the memory of all Browns fans, the rivalry with Broncos is intensely felt in Cleveland, at least. The two teams met in three AFC championship games in their history, and all were won by the Broncos.
The Drive took place on Jan. 11, 1987, when the Broncos and the Browns faced off in the 1986 AFC championship game. The Browns were playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl for the first time ever, and it was their first championship game since 1969. The Browns scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, taking a touchdown lead with 5:32 left on the clock. The Browns kicked off, and the Broncos' return man misjudged the ball, letting it go past him and stopping two yards from the end zone. The Browns quickly jumped on the ball, forcing Broncos quarterback John Elway to drive the team 98 yards to tie the game.
The Browns elected to use a prevent defense, a style of defense that keeps defensive backs far back from the line of scrimmage, allowing for short plays to succeed but preventing big plays that could swing the game. Elway used this to his advantage as he completed six of nine passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. The Drive took five minutes and one second to complete, leading to overtime. The Broncos won the coin toss, received the ball and drove down the field again to win the game with a 33-yard field goal. The Browns' Super Bowl hopes were dashed.
The Fumble took place a year after The Drive, in the 1987 AFC championship game. The Browns were looking to avenge the previous year, but they started the game off in terrible fashion. At halftime, the Broncos led 21–3. Despite this rocky start, the Browns didn't give up. Led by quarterback Bernie Kosar, the Browns mounted their comeback. Kosar threw for three second-half touchdowns, and by the middle of the fourth quarter the game was tied 31–31. The Broncos scored a touchdown with just shy of four minutes left in the game. Kosar and the Browns had a chance to do to the Broncos what they had done to them the year before.
They drove down the field with 1:12 remaining, and running back Earnest Byner was given the ball. He bounced to the left of his offensive line and just before he broke the plane of the end zone, he was hit by Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille, which caused him to fumble the ball on the three-yard line. Byner had been a pivotal piece in mounting the team's comeback, so to have him be the player to fumble and lose the game was heartbreaking. Cleveland would never make it to an AFC championship game again.
4. The Lions
The Browns and the Lions began as one of the best rivalries of the 1950s. The two teams met in the NFL championship game a total of four times in 1952, '53, '54 and '57. The Lions won three of the four meetings with a combined score of 103–93. After the American Football League and the NFL merged in 1970, the two teams don't meet as often as they did in the past. The league was split into two conferences, the NFC and the AFC—and the Lions joined the former whereas the Browns joined the latter. Despite this, from 2002 to '14, and returning in '18, the teams played an annual game in the preseason known as the Great Lakes Classic. Even though the rivalry games take place in the preseason, meaning the wins and losses don't affect the season record, the history lives on through the GLC.
The 1952 NFL Championship
The Browns ended their season with a record of 8–4 and faced off against the 9–3 Lions. While the Lions won the game by only 10 points, they commanded the game from start to finish. Led by quarterback Bobby Lane and running back Doak Walker, the Lions racked up a total of 199 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. They led the entire game, and despite only throwing for 68 total yards, they earned their second NFL championship by beating the Browns 17–7.
The 1953 NFL Championship
The following season the Browns tried to get revenge, while the Lions attempted to repeat as champions. The game was a back and forth brawl, with three lead changes and seven scoring plays. In the fourth quarter, the Browns kicked their second field goal of the quarter to take a 16–10 lead. Bobby Lane drove down the field for the Lions and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jim Doran to take a 17–16 lead. Otto Graham sealed the Browns' loss with his second interception of the day, ending one of the worst games of his career. Graham ended the game completing two of 15 passes for 20 yards and two interceptions. His passer rating for the game was zero.
The 1954 NFL Championship
The Browns met the Lions for their third straight championship opportunity. After the terrible end to the previous season, they were focused and prepared to redeem themselves. Otto Graham accounted for six total touchdowns, three passing and three rushing, leading the Browns to a blowout victory 56–10. Cleveland's defense also dominated the Lions' passing attack, intercepting the ball six times. Four separate players accounted for at least one interception in the game. The defense also had three fumble recoveries in the game. Lou Groza set a championship game record with eight made extra points (tied by Jim Martin in 1957). The Browns won their first, and only, championship game against the Lions. It was the team's sixth championship including the All-America Football Conference, and their second NFL championship victory.
The 1957 NFL Championship
The Browns met the Lions for the final time in a championship game without the help of Otto Graham. Graham had retired two years prior and the team was now led by quarterback Tommy O'Connell and fullback Jim Brown. The dominance of the prior meeting was completely flipped; the Browns' defense couldn't stop Lions quarterback Tobin Rote. He threw for four passing touchdowns and rushed for an additional touchdown. The Lions had at least two touchdowns in each quarter of the game, beating the Browns 59–14. The Browns threw for five interceptions in the game. It was the final championship game the Browns played in the 1950s.
Current Rivalry and the Great Lakes Classic
Today the rivalry between the Browns and the Lions isn't tied to championships or Super Bowls. Both franchises have had decades of mediocrity and failure. Their rivalry evolved into a fan-based argument of who wasn't the worst team in the league. Only the Browns and the Lions have lost all 16 games in a season in NFL history. Cleveland comedian Mike Polk Jr. made a satirical Cleveland tourism video that made fun of the city but famously ended by exclaiming, "We're not Detroit!"
Today, the Browns-Lions rivalry lives on only through the GLC, played annually in the preseason between 2002 and '14 and then revitalized in '18. The winner would get bragging rights and a trophy for the occasion, originally proposed by Browns president Carmen Policy. The trophy is a large barge that houses a helmet from both the Lions and the Browns facing each other in the center. The bottom of the trophy has plates with the winning scores of each meeting. The Browns are 9–6 all-time against the Lions in the GLC.
3. The Bengals
The Browns and the Bengals began their rivalry officially in 1970 when the teams met for the first time on the field, but their roots go back further than that. The Browns' first coach was Paul Brown, a Hall of Fame coach who led the Browns to 11 championships, winning seven. The franchise's name stems directly from the beloved coach, and his innovation helped to change the league in various ways. However, in 1963 the Browns' new owner, Art Modell, fired Brown in a highly controversial decision that the city hated.
Brown founded the Bengals five years later in 1968. He used the same orange colors he had in Cleveland and set up shop in the same state as his prior team. The Bengals began playing in the American Football League, but in 1970 that league merged with the NFL. The two teams were placed in the AFC Central division, ensuring they would play twice a year. The anger Brown had toward Modell led to a heated rivalry for decades to come.
Browns vs. Bengals and the Battle of Ohio
The teams began their rivalry by splitting their first 20 games evenly; between 1970 and '79 the Browns and the Bengals each won 10 games. They struggled with success throughout these years, but in the 1980s both teams reached their apex since the league merger. The Browns would go to three AFC championship games during the 1980s, losing each to the Broncos. The Bengals made it to the Super Bowl twice, losing both times. Paul Brown led the Bengals until his death in 1991, winning 22 of 41 games against the Browns. Since that time, the Browns and the Bengals have both struggled to be successful but have continued to meet in the Battle of Ohio twice a year, every year. As of Nov. 1, 2020, the Bengals led the series 51–44.
The intensity of the rivalry between the Browns and the Bengals has died down over the past few decades. While Cleveland enjoys beating their in-state rival, their hatred for Cincinnati has been overshadowed by more modern rivals. They haven't faced off in the postseason ever, and haven't been competitive enough in years to impact each other's playoff hopes. The rivalry with the Bengals takes a backseat to the Ravens and Steelers.
Browns vs. Bengals All-Time Record
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2. The Ravens
The Browns-Ravens rivalry is another one that stems directly from the Cleveland franchise. In 1995, Browns owner Art Modell announced that he would be moving the team to Baltimore after money and stadium issues arose with the city. Despite the city voting overwhelmingly in favor of helping Modell in order to keep the team in Cleveland, he decided to move the team anyway.
The city of Cleveland rallied and sued Modell for a breach of contract, pointing out that the Browns were supposed to play in Municipal Stadium for years to come. The result of the lawsuit was that Cleveland was allowed to retain the Browns' colors and records, as well as all other team history. They could also build a new stadium that would be ready for use by 1999. Modell was given the rights to all personnel, including players, coaches and front-office employees. He was granted the right to create a new franchise in Baltimore. Thus, the Ravens were born, and their name was chosen to honor Edgar Allen Poe's poem, The Raven. Poe had lived in Baltimore for most of his life.
The Browns Return to the NFL
From the moment the Ravens were born, bereft Cleveland fans disliked them. When the Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999 the two teams were placed in the same division. This caused their rivalry to heat up quickly, and their hatred became a two-way street.
In their first meeting, the Ravens beat the Browns 17–10. Adding insult to injury, the very next season Baltimore won their first Super Bowl behind an elite defense led by linebacker Ray Lewis. The fans in Cleveland felt that if Modell hadn't moved the team, the Browns would have been celebrating their first Super Bowl win instead of the Ravens.
Since the move, the Ravens have been constant competitors in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls since their creation. The Browns have been awful, searching for coaches, trying to find consistent general managers and looking for talented quarterbacks through the years. They've made the playoffs only once since their return to the league in 1999, and they have had only two winning seasons during that time. As of Nov. 1, 2020, the Browns-Ravens record is led by the Ravens, 32–11.
Despite Modell's contributions to the NFL, such as aiding in the creation of Monday Night Football and the televising of the games, Cleveland fans believe that his decision to move their team is grounds for keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. In 2012, Modell died. He never returned to Cleveland after he moved the franchise. After his death, 31 teams commemorated his life before their games the following Sunday. The only team that did not was the Browns.
Browns vs. Ravens All-Time Record
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1. The Steelers
The Browns' greatest and oldest rival in the NFL is the Steelers. The rivalry dates back to 1950 and is the longest-running rivalry in the AFC. The two teams have an interwoven history in terms of players, coaches and personnel who have moved between the two franchises. The two cities are located a mere two-hour drive apart, meaning their fans live amongst each other in many areas. The two teams were rarely strong at the same time, each dominating various decades of history, but the hatred between the cities never faded. In fact, the closest the teams ever finished in a decade was in the 1980s, when the Browns led by only four games.
The Rivalry's Decades of Dominance
The Steelers are currently tied for the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history, but before the 1970s they were a laughingstock of the league. The Browns began its NFL career as a perennial championship contender, playing in six championship games in their first six years in the league and winning three. Throughout their initial meetings, the Browns handled the Steelers franchise with ease, worrying more about the Lions and the Rams as challengers. Their dominance continued through the late 1950s with the arrival of Jim Brown. From 1950 to '69, the Browns led the historic series 31–9 overall. The turn didn't come until former Browns linebacker Chuck Noll took over as coach of the Steelers.
What Is the Steel Curtain?
In the 1970s, the Steelers began to play an incredibly physical defense, resulting in four Super Bowl victories in six years. In 1976, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was sidelined for four games from neck and wrist injuries. Browns defensive end Joe "Turkey" Jones was the main culprit. In their second matchup of the season, Jones beat the lineman and wrapped his arms around Bradshaw. Despite whistles blowing the play dead, Jones lifted Bradshaw high into the air and slammed him down onto his head. Bradshaw laid motionless until being removed from the field with a concussion and sprained neck.
Despite Bradshaw's injury, the defensive line finished the final nine games of the season so dominantly that it still is argued as one of the best defenses of all time. Led by "Mean" Joe Greene, the Steelers' defensive line led the team to five shutout wins that season. In their final nine games, the Steelers allowed only two touchdowns, both of which were in the same game, and their opponents averaged only 3.1 points per game. At the end of the season, eight of the 11 defensive starters were named to the Pro Bowl, and four would later become Hall of Famers. Throughout the 1970s, the Steelers beat the Browns 15 times in 20 meetings.
The 1980s and '90s
Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the two teams competed fiercely. The Browns recovered from their 1970s slump and played in three AFC championship games in the '80s. Led by Bernie Kosar, an Ohio native and Cleveland star, the Browns were able to get back on top of the Steelers in the 1980s. The tides quickly changed again in the 1990s when the Steelers were able to come back over the Browns.
In the mid-1990s, the announcement was made that the Browns were moving to Baltimore—a decision that broke the hearts of every Cleveland fan. When the league voted on the move, only two teams voted against the team's relocation. One of the teams was the Steelers. Not wanting to lose their longest-running rival, dedicated Steelers fans wrote letters to the NFL and even organized a caravan of protest against the move, where buttons and leaflets were distributed.
After the Browns returned to Cleveland, their very first game immediately rekindled their old rivalry as the Steelers beat the Browns 43–0. For Clevelanders, hatred for Pittsburgh came rushing back. In the 1980s and '90s, the Steelers won 18 games to the Browns' 17.
The 2000s to Present
The Browns continued to falter after their expansion team returned to the NFL. Lacking consistency and winning coaches, the team lost almost every season for 20 years. During this time, the Steelers found their future in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, an Ohio native. Behind his leadership and the leadership of coach Bill Cowher, a former Browns coach, the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, making Ben Roethlisberger the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. The Steelers continued their dominance even after Cowher retired and current coach Mike Tomlin took over. They made it to two more Super Bowls, winning one.
The degree of the Steelers' dominance and the Browns' leadership's incompetence since 2000 is demonstrated by their 35-6-1 record from that time period. In 2007, the Steelers took the overall lead on the two franchises' rivalry record, and as of Nov. 1, 2020, they held the overall record with 77-59-1.
Browns vs. Steelers All-Time Record
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Browns Biggest Rivals
The Browns' rivalries are unique because many of them stem from the context of the franchise’s origins and upheavals. The Bengals were created as a direct result of the Browns' owner firing their beloved coach, Paul Brown. The Ravens exist because the Browns' owner decided to move the team to a new city. Even the Steelers, while their origins aren't tied to Cleveland, found four of their championships as a direct result of a former Browns player who played under Paul Brown. With so many connected factors, it's no mystery why the Browns rivalries burn so passionately to this day. The AFC North is one of the most historically connected divisions in the NFL, and it has cultivated the greatest rivalries in the league.