Biggest Cleveland Browns Rivalries
The Cleveland Browns have some of the strongest roots of rivalry in the National Football League. Though many would say they only have two strong rivals today, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, you could also argue they have a rivalry with the Cincinnati Bengals as well. Aside from those three divisional rivals, the Browns also have a rivalry with the Detroit Lions and shorted-stinted historical rivalries against the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Rams.
Historical Rivalries of the Cleveland 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, ultimately beating and losing to other powerhouses throughout the years. A constant back and forth in championship games between the Browns and Rams in the 1950s led to the creation of the Browns' first-ever rivalry.
The Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles 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 animosity towards the team, despite never having played the new Browns, 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-American Football Conference. Cleveland would go on to win 10 games and face 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 as well. The Browns' defense played well also, 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 Brown was named the NFL Coach of the Year, and Graham was named the Most Valuable Player. 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 LA 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 47.5% of his passes and threw three interceptions in the game. Despite this, the Browns tied the game 17–17 late in the fourth quarter of the game. 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 tenth 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 had announced he would be retiring after the season earlier in the year, 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 '50s, the Rams became the Browns' first-ever rival. The rivalry eventually faded away, as the teams failed to face off again and they aren't considered rivals today. Ironically, the Rams rivalry would later connect to the Browns' rivalry with the Baltimore 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 Cleveland Browns in 1953. Eight years later, he would sell the team to Art Modell, who would ultimately move the Browns away from Cleveland in 1995.
The Denver Broncos
The strength of the Browns and Broncos rivalry depends on which fanbase you talk to. Browns fans speak of Denver with vitriol and disdain, while Broncos fans see the Browns as stepping stones to their Super Bowl victories. Regardless, outside of the Steelers and Ravens, most Browns fans would say this is their most hated rival in NFL history. With plays like "The Drive" and "The Fumble" etched into the memory of all Cleveland fans, the rivalry with the Broncos will be acknowledged by at least the Cleveland side of the two teams. The two teams met in three American Football Conference Championship games in their history, all being won by the Broncos.
"The Drive" took place on January 11, 1987, when the Broncos and 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 their first championship game since 1969. The Browns scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, taking a touchdown lead with five minutes and thirty-two seconds left to go. The Browns kicked the ball off, and the Broncos' return man misjudged the ball, letting it go past him and stopping two yards from the endzone. They 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 6 of 9 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. "The Drive" took five minutes and two seconds 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 38-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 for revenge for the previous year, but they started the game off in terrible fashion. At halftime, the Broncos led the game 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 four second-half touchdowns, and by the middle of the fourth quarter, the game was tied 31–31. The Broncos scored a touchdown with 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 one minute and twelve seconds left, 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 endzone, he was hit by Broncos' defensive back Jeremiah Castille and fumbled the ball on the 2-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. The Browns would never make it to an AFC Championship game again.
The Detroit Lions: "The Great Lakes Classic"
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, 1953, 1954, and 1957. The Lions won three of the four meetings with a combined score of 103-93. After the American Football League and the National Football League 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 National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. The Lions became a part of the NFC, and the Browns joined the AFC. Despite this, from 2002–2014, and returning in 2019, 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 Lions who's record was 9–3. The Lions were 3.5 point favorites and, while they only won the game by 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, the 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 Brows were favored by three points. 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 with just over four minutes left in the game. 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 fifteen passes for twenty 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. With the terrible end to the previous season, they came out 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. The Browns won their first, and only, championship game against the Lions. It was the team's sixth championship including the All-American 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 was now led by quarterback Tommy O'Connell and fullback Jim Brown. The team's dominance of their 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 in the 1950s.
Current Rivalry and "The Great Lakes Classic"
Today the Browns and Lions rivalry isn't tied to championships or Super Bowls. The two 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. famously made a Cleveland tourism video that satirically made fun of the city but famously ended by exclaiming, "We're not Detroit!" The two cities have a less serious rivalry now, but there's still an annual game that fans look forward to every preseason.
"The Great Lakes Classic" is the only way the Browns and Lions' rivalry lives on today. Between 2002 and 2014, the Browns and Lions faced off annually in the preseason. 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 Browns facing each other in the center. The bottom of the trophy has plates with the winning scores of each meeting. The GLC was revitalized in 2018 after years of reports that the game was "on hold." The Browns are 9–6 all-time against the Lions in the GLC. Unfortunately, the trophy was lost in 2016 and has not resurfaced since.
The Cincinnati Bengals: "The Battle of Ohio"
The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati 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 10 championships, winning seven. Their name stems directly from the beloved coach, and his innovation helped to change the league in various ways. 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 the AFL and NFL merged. The two teams were placed in the AFC Central division, ensuring they would play twice a year. The anger Brown had towards Modell led to a heated rivalry for decades to come.
Browns vs. Bengals Through the Years
The teams began their rivalry by splitting their first twenty games evenly. Between 1970 and 1979 the Browns and Bengals each won 10 games each. They struggled with success throughout these years, but in the 1980s, both teams reached the peak of their success since the league merger. The Browns would go to three AFC Championship games during the 80s, 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 12 of 21 games during that time and extending their overall record to 21–19 vs. the Browns. Since that time, the Browns and Bengals have both struggled to be successful, but have continued "The Battle of Ohio" twice a year, every year. The final record for the two teams currently stands with the Bengals leading 50–41.
Browns vs. Bengals Current Rivalry
The intensity of the rivalry between the Browns and Bengals has died down over the past few decades. While Cleveland enjoys winning over their in-state rival, the hatred for the team no longer exists with rivals like the Ravens and Steelers in play. Even with the lead, the Bengals hold in the overall record, and it seems that the two teams beat each other regularly, despite their shared mediocrity. 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 Bengals rivalry takes a backseat to the Ravens and Steelers.
Browns vs. Bengals All-Time Record
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The Baltimore Ravens
The Browns and Ravens is another rivalry 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 in overwhelming favor of helping Modell after his announcement, he moved the team anyway. The city of Cleveland rallied and sued Modell for a breach of contract, being that the Browns were supposed to be playing in Municipal Stadium for years to come. The result of the lawsuit was that Cleveland could retain the Browns' colors and records, as well as all other team history. They would also have a new stadium built and ready to be played in 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. The Baltimore Ravens were born with their name honoring Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" poem. Poe lived in Baltimore for most of his life.
The Browns Return to the NFL
Cleveland hated the Ravens even before their team returned, and when they returned in 1999, the two teams were placed in the same division. Their rivalry would grow from that day forward, and their hatred became a two-way street. In their first meeting, the Ravens beat the Browns 17-10. What hurt, even more, was that the following season, the Ravens won their first Super Bowl behind their elite defense led by linebacker Ray Lewis. The fans in Cleveland felt 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 a talented quarterbacks through the years. They've only made the playoffs once since their return to the league in 1999, and have only had two winning seasons during that time. The Browns and Ravens record is currently led by the Ravens 30–10.
Despite Modell's additions to the game of football, such as aiding in the creation of Monday Night Football and the televising of the games, Cleveland fans believe that moving their team is worthy of 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 Cleveland Browns.
Browns vs. Ravens All-Time Record
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The Pittsburgh Steelers
The Browns' greatest, and oldest rival in the NFL is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rivalry dates back to 1950 and is the longest-running rivalry in the AFC. The two teams have interwoven history with players, coaches, and personnel interchanging between teams or growing up in the midwest area. The two cities are located a mere two-hour drive from each other, making their fans live amongst each other in many areas. The two were rarely strong teams 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 known as a franchise that is tied for the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history, but before the 1970s, they were a laughing stock of a franchise. The Browns began their NFL careers as perennial championship contenders, playing in six championship games and winning three. Throughout their initial meetings, the Browns handled the Steelers franchise with ease, worrying more about the Lions and Rams as challengers. Their dominance continued into the 1960s with the arrival of Jim Brown. Between the two decades, 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 Pittsburgh Steelers.
What Is "The Steel Curtain?"
In the 1970s, the Steelers began to play 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 first meeting 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 the injury to Bradshaw, the defensive line finished the final nine games in a way that was so dominant, it still is argued as one of the best defenses of all time. Led by "Mean" Joe Greene, the defensive line of the Steelers led their defense to five shutout wins that season. In their final nine games, the Steelers only allowed two touchdowns, both of which were in the same game. Their opponents only averaged 3.1 points per game. At the end of the season, eight of the eleven defensive starters were named to the Pro Bowl, and four would become Hall of Famers years later. Throughout the 70s, the Steelers beat the Browns 15 times in 20 meetings.
The 1980s and 1990s
Throughout the 80s and 90s, the two teams competed fiercely, with the Browns recovering from their 70s slump and playing in three AFC Championship games in the 80s. Led by Bernie Kosar, a local Ohio native and Cleveland star, the Browns were able to get back on top of the Steelers in the 80s. The tides quickly changed again in the 1990s when the Steelers were able to come back to take a close margin over the Browns.
In the mid-90s, the Browns were announced to move 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 Pittsburgh Steelers. Not wanting to lose their longest rival, the Steelers even helped with a protest against the move by letting Cleveland native, and comedian, Drew Carey host an event at Three Rivers Stadium. While the Browns did eventually disappear for a few years, upon their return the rivalry rekindled immediately with a 43–0 victory for Pittsburgh in Cleveland's first game back. The love of the Browns returned, and the hate of the Steelers grew strong all in one night. In the 80s and 90s, the Steelers won 18 games to the Browns 17.
The 2000s to Present
The Browns faltered year after year after their expansion team returned to the NFL. With coach after coach failing, and the Browns failing to find any sense of consistency, they continued to have losing seasons for almost every season for twenty 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. With the dominance of the Steelers and the incompetence of the Browns' leadership, the Steelers have a 33–6–1 record against the Browns since 2000. In 2007, the Steelers took the overall lead on the two franchises' rivalry record and currently hold the overall record of 73–59–1.
Browns vs. Steelers All-Time Record
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Cleveland Browns Biggest Rivals
The Cleveland Browns have unique rivalries, being that many of them exist solely because of their own existence. 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 actual existence isn't tied to Cleveland, found four of their championships as a direct result of a former Browns player who played under Paul Brown. With all of these things interwoven and connected, it's no question why the Browns rivalries live on with so much passion to this day. The AFC North is one of the most historically connected divisions in the NFL and also houses the greatest rivalries as a whole in the league.