What better way to celebrate Sunday's 100th Battle of Ohio (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) than to check in with some Bengals rookies to see what they know about the rivalry with the Browns before Thursday's practice on Paul Brown's 115th birthday?
"The Brown family. Obviously, there's some history with the Bengals there," said wide receiver Andrei Iosivas, who was actually born the week the rivalry returned in 1999 after a four-year hiatus. "I feel like in our division every opponent is some kind of rivalry."
Iosivas had listened well when Bengals president Mike Brown, his Ivy League counterpart, spoke to the team when the Bengals reported for training camp.
"We've been around here long enough to know the story," Iosivas said.
Somewhere along the way in pursuit of his degree in political science and government from Princeton, Iosivas may have read about a battle in Ohio because he thought the rivalry was named after an actual battle. He wondered where it was fought.
In Cincinnati and Cleveland. Twice a year, he was told.
"Right," he said. "To have 100 of them and to play in the 100th is really being a part of history."
Mike Brown is the prime reason for "The Battle."
Brown, son of Bengals founder Paul Brown, advised his father to buy the expansion American Football League franchise in Cincinnati and not go to Seattle in NFL expansion, as NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle urged. Paul Brown, his son knew, owned Ohio.
In the '30s, P.B. spawned a national high school dynasty in Massillon. In the 40s, he coached Ohio State to its first national title. In the '50s, the pro team they named after him in Cleveland became the first "America's Team," with three NFL titles.
"His following was in Ohio. We felt Ohio was our area," said Mike Brown, a Buckeye all the way as a Massillon native who grew up in Cleveland. "We had Cleveland. We had Columbus with Ohio State. We had Massillon. He went to Miami. We came down here and covered every base."
Now there have been 99 of these Battles pitting Paul Brown's two teams. Mike Brown, who makes sure he has a picture of his favorite team growing up, the 1948 Browns, has been involved in all of them and plans to be there for the 100th.
"That tells me one thing," Brown said with a wry smile.
"That it worked?"
"No. That I'm 88 years old.
"It means a lot to me. I remember when it started up there and I remember ours when it started. They were our big rival until things began to fade some. Now they're well back in that same position right now. Our division is good. Every team is competitive. There's no one who is going to run away with it."
Brown says the games that stand out in The Battle are the most recent. And so last season's 32-13 loss in Cleveland on a Halloween Monday night hangs over him like the Great Pumpkin.
"They're a good team. They have people," Brown said. "They're well-coached. They have a runner, they have receivers, they have a quarterback who can throw the ball, a very fine offensive line, unusual pass rushers from the outside. Good secondary people."
But since the Browns came back into the NFL via expansion in 1999, the Bengals hold the edge, 28-20, despite losing six of the last eight. Before they moved to Baltimore in 1996, the Browns had a 27-24 edge even though Bengals Ring of Honor member Isaac Curtis owned them like Art Modell, the Browns owner who gave rise to the Bengals when he fired Paul Brown after he had led Cleveland to the playoffs in 12 of his 17 seasons.
Before the 1973 draft, Curtis heard the Browns were supposed to take him with the 14th pick. When they picked someone named Steve Holden out of Arizona State, who would finish with 62 catches, 927 yards, and four touchdowns in five seasons, Curtis never let them forget when the Bengals were up next and picked him 15th.
He ripped through the Browns for 12 touchdowns and 1,385 yards on 18 yards per catch in 23 games the Bengals won 14 over the next dozen years.
"They tended to play us man and that didn't work out well for them," Curtis said. "We always seemed to play well against them. (Quarterback) Kenny (Anderson) and I seemed to click on those days. It was a special week. You could feel the intensity. Even after Paul Brown wasn't coaching you could sense the week was different. That week, Paul Brown had an extra pep in his step. He was a little more active."
Curtis and Anderson are the only men to play for both Paul Brown and Sam Wyche, the man who symbolized the rivalry and the man who summed up the rivalry. During a 1989 game at Riverfront Stadium, Wyche grabbed the microphone and scolded Bengals fans for throwing snowballs with the legendary, "You don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati."
Like everyone else sitting in the stands that day, Curtis had never seen anything like it.
"It was different. But Sam was a fiery guy,' said the greatest Browns villain of them all. "But I didn't have a problem with it."
Hey, it's a rivalry. Mike Brown smiled when asked how he felt about his team.
"I think we're a strong team, too," Brown said slyly. "They're the favorites slightly. I just thought you should know."
The Battle Rages.
"I know it has something to do with the owner. Mike Brown. Paul Brown," said rookie safety Jordan Battle, who knew the Browns were named after Paul but didn't know they fired him. "That's crazy. That's history. Appreciate it."
Now it's believed Battle is the first player to be named Battle to play in The Battle.
"I'm ready to battle," Jordan Battle said.