Paul Brown's first team beat Paul Brown's second team in the first regular-season game at Cincinnati's downtown Paul Brown Stadium before 64,006. Brown founded both teams and today is a game between two rebuilding franchises pitting a Bengals team quarterbacked by second-year man Akili Smith throwing to two rookie wide receivers against a second-year expansion team. As if on cue, Cleveland running back Travis Prentice, a product of Brown's college at Miami of Ohio, scores the first regular-season touchdown in the building late in the first quarter and the Browns never look back in a 24-7 win. Prentice, fittingly a product of Paul Brown's college at Miami of Ohio, has 46 yards on eight carries and Errict Rhett adds 53 yards on 20 carries as two Browns backs improbably outrush the great Corey Dillon. Dillon, who went off for 192 yards against the Browns back in December's final game at Riverfront Stadium, finishes with just 41yards on 12 carries. "They outplayed us. They beat us. Give them credit. There's nothing more I can say," Dillon says. "We've got to wash our hands on this."
If a Miami of Ohio product starts the scoring in the PBS inaugural, then shouldn't a Cincinnati schoolboy finish it off? Norwood's own Marc Edwards does the honors when the Browns fullback catches a five-yard pass from quarterback Tim Couch with about 11 minutes left in the game. Couch, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, evens his record at 1-1 against Smith, the third pick in that draft. "I told him he looked good, that he played well," says Smith of his post-game chat with Couch after he throws two interceptions and offers a mere 46 passer rating that Couch more than doubles. Adding salt to the wounds, the Bengals lose their defensive leader for the season when middle linebacker Brian Simmons tears his cartilage on the outside of his right knee late in the third quarter. Smith's new era doesn't get much help. One of those starting rookie wide receivers, No. 1 pick Peter Warrick, drops a first-down pass inside the Browns 5 when the score is just 14-7. Then rookie kicker Neil Rackers gets his first NFL field goal attempt blocked on the next play from the Cleveland 42. "It's such a heartbreaking loss. We all put so much into this game," says right tackle Willie Anderson. "The thing that is really disheartening, the thing that's really going to hurt tomorrow, is that we had 30 yards rushing at the half. Our whole thing is running the ball. This woke us up. We needed this loss. We didn't want it, but we needed it. I think we'll build off it." Smith knows Couch stole his opening act. "The only way it could have been worse," says Smith, "is if they shut us out here in my own stadium."