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The Denver Broncos Fan Guide: AFC North

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Mile High Report is taking a Bronco-centric look at teams around the NFL.  It’s important that, as football fans, we understand the history and the blood (good or bad) that exists between our Denver Broncos and the rest of the league. For the AFC East, click here. For the NFC North, click here.

The AFC North is a division with history that dating as far back as 1933.  Two of its teams were formed outside of the NFL and all have enjoyed some degree of success (some more recently than others). Two of its teams were forced to reluctantly join the AFC during the merger and one has thrived while the other has not. One team even magically appeared out of the ether.  Needless to say, the histories of these teams are rich and, frankly, football is better with these teams in it.  Here’s why.  

The great thing about football, college or professional, is that it seems to be the lone industry that regularly rewrites history to serve its own needs.   Like college championships that simply don’t appear in historical record (vacated due to rule violations), the Baltimore Ravens’ origin story is a bit of an enigma. According to the history books, the Baltimore Ravens officially came into existence in 1995.  The Cleveland Browns never left for Baltimore despite the fact that its owner, Art Modell, front office staff and players were largely the same as the team that played in Cleveland a year earlier.  Technically, the Browns became an inactive franchise once Modell’s franchise (that was the Browns, but would become the Ravens) moved to Baltimore.  Cleveland was awarded an expansion franchise (which makes no sense if you really think about it) to "reactivate" the Browns franchise in 1999.  The whole thing is awfully confusing if you’re not a Browns fan.  If you are a Browns fan, Art Modell ripped the Browns out of Cleveland and planted them Baltimore. The whole thing is pretty silly.

The Ravens have won one Super Bowl (XXXV).

Overall Record:
The Ravens are a winning franchise, posting a 128-111-1 all-time record.

Record Against the Broncos:

With the few exceptions (the Miami Dolphins), there aren’t many teams that own the Broncos like the Ravens do.   Though Denver’s record is only 3-5 against them, the margins of victory are what make it seem even worse than it is.  In the five victories that the Ravens have had over the Broncos, they've won by an average of 18.6 points. I choose to look at it like six field goals a game rather than the two touchdowns plus that it really is.  Want to hear something even more depressing?  The Broncos have never won in Baltimore (against the Ravens).

Fan Temperament:

These are people that proudly wear purple for their team. I would like to hold Raven fan Carmelo Anthony against them (let’s be honest the Anthony trade and the Cutler trade were worlds apart), but I admire the fact that he stuck with the home team even when he lived in another city.  They also play outdoors and so I grade them as good-ish.  

Memorable Broncos vs. Ravens moment:
October 26, 1996
There really isn’t much to look at when it comes to memorable moments with the Ravens.  However, the first time the two teams squared off, it was the Ed McCaffrey, Terrell Davis and Jason Elam show.  Easy Eddie had three touchdowns, Terrell Davis had two touchdowns while Jason Elam was responsible for booting nine total points.  John Elway threw for 326 yards and rushed for one touchdown.  Despite all this offense, the Broncos only won by eleven points, 45-34.

Cincinnati Bengals:
The Cincinnati Bengals are the lone American Football League entrant in the AFC North.  They joined the AFL as an expansion team in 1968 and became an NFL franchise when the two leagues merged in 1970. They have played in two Super Bowls (XVI, XXIII). They were named for a previous team that played in two other leagues also called the AFL (not to mention a year as an independent and a year playing as part of the American Professional Football Association) from 1936-1942.  However, it’s worth noting that this early professional franchise wasn’t always known as the Bengals.  For the first two years of existence they played as the Cincinnati Models.  In 1938 they became the Blades before finally adopting the Bengals moniker in 1939.  

During the 1936-37 campaigns, it’s worth noting that there was another Ohio AFL pro-team based in Dayton called the "Rosies."  One can only imagine what a horrifically brutal match-up it was when the Models of Cincinnati squared off against the Rosies of Dayton.

Overall Record:
For the most part, the Bengals have struggled with exceptions being a couple notable years in the 1980’s when they appeared in pair of Super Bowls. Their overall record: 286-372-2.  

Record Against the Broncos:
In the twenty-five total match-ups over the years, the Broncos are 17-8 against the Bengals.

Fan Temperament:
My heart goes out to Bengal fans.  Here in Los Angeles, if you venture down to the local sports bar you can more often than not find a lone Bengal fan.  You’ll know him by his tattered Ken Anderson jersey and most often has a corner staked out where he can quietly watch his team self destruct.  What’s also odd about this lone Bengals fan is that even though he sits by himself, he usually has a full pitcher of beer close by that always seems to remain full. I grade Bengal fans as resigned.

Memorable Broncos vs. Bengals Moment:
December 24, 2006 - Merry Christmas Broncos Fans
Another classic Broncos game in the snow, this one was closer than any of us would have liked.  Riding on the game was a wildcard playoff spot for both the Bengals and the Broncos.  The Bengals controlled their destiny while the Broncos needed to win this game and the game the following week against San Francisco.

The Broncos fell behind early but claimed the lead in the 3rd quarter.  In the final minute of the game, Carson Palmer tossed a ten yard touchdown to TJ Houshmandzedah.  With the extra point, the game would be tied and would most certainly go into overtime.  However, LS Brad St. Louis launched the ball over K Shayne Graham’s head and the extra point was not to be.  The Broncos took over and ran out the clock.  Denver would then lose the following week to the 49ers and neither team would go to the playoffs.

Memorable Broncos vs. Bengals Moment II:
October 22, 2000 - Corey Dillon Eats Our Lunch
Denver arrived in Cincinnati with a 4-3 record to play a winless Bengals team.  By all accounts, Denver - who had the second-best run defense in the league - should have won this game handily. What wasn’t expected was that Corey Dillon would run for 278 yards in 22 attempts.  At the time, this was a regular season single game rushing record, breaking Walter Peyton’s mark of 275 yards that he set in 1975.  Even though this record would only last until 2003,  (when the Ravens’ Jamal Lewis would run for 295 yards against Cleveland), it still stands as one of the biggest defensive failures in Broncos team history.

Pittsburgh Steelers/Pirates:
The Pittsburgh Pirates football team was founded in 1933 as an NFL franchise.  They were named after the baseball team that, at the time, had a name worthy of borrowing. In 1940 they changed their name to the Steelers.  

Because of player shortages in the NFL during WWII the Steelers would merge with a pair of other NFL teams in order to remain operational.  During the 1943 season, Pittsburgh merged with the Philadelphia Eagles and became the Phil-Pitt Eagles. The following year, the Steelers merged (strangely enough) with the Chicago Cardinals and become Card-Pitt (or as they were more commonly known, the Carpets).   

In 1970 when the AFL merged with the NFL, there was a realignment of the teams that would comprise the new NFL.  The Steelers name was drawn out of a hat and was forced (against the protests of the Rooney family) to join the AFC.  To smooth things over, the Steelers (like the other teams making the move - the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns) received $3 Million in compensation for being banished to the new conference. Despite their long history, the Steelers never won an NFL Championship until they moved to the AFC.  Since the move, they have enjoyed six Super Bowl victories (IX, X, XIII, XIV, XL, XLIII).  

Overall Record:
The ineptitude of early seasons have been trumped by the successes of the post-merger Steelers.  They are
541-499-20 all-time.  

Record Against the Broncos:
Despite all the Super Bowl appearances, the Broncos hold an impressive lead over the Pittsburgh. In the twenty-one times they’ve played in the regular season, the Broncos are 13-7-1.

Fan Temperament:
I have more than a few friends who root for the Steelers and they all seem pretty normal.  However, we’ve all seen them at sports bars and even our own stadium.  They are more often than not the obnoxious ones who insist on using their terrible towel for just about everything other than absorbing spills or wiping wing sauce off their face (I suppose those towels are terrible for that sort of thing). The play outside and their fans travel with the team better than just about anybody.  I grade them as obnoxiously devoted.

Memorable Broncos vs. Steelers Moment:
December 24, 1977 - The Broncos First Playoff Win
This was the first playoff victory in team history.  It was a total team effort with Rob Lytle, Otis Armstrong, Riley Odoms and Jack Dolbin all scoring touchdowns.  Jim Turner kicked a pair of field goals and the Broncos were set to host the Raiders the following week at Mile High Stadium in the AFC Championship game.

Here is the game clinching pass from Craig Morton to Jack Dolbin:

Cleveland Browns:
The Cleveland Browns were founded in 1946 as an founding member of the All-America Football Conference.  The first coach, general manager and vice president was Paul Brown, who had been hugely successful as head coach for Ohio State.  When a contest was held to name the team, the citizens of Cleveland chose to call them the Browns in honor of their coach.  However, Paul Brown didn’t really like the name and wanted to name them the Cleveland Panthers.  Little did Brown know, but the Panther name was already taken by a previous American Football League franchise that played in Cleveland for only the 1926 season.

When the Browns began play, they thought that they would have to compete for fans with the NFL’s franchise, the Cleveland Rams (yes, those Rams).  The Rams of Cleveland would win an NFL Championship in 1945 and then promptly pack up their bags and depart for Los Angeles to begin play in 1946.  This would prove to be a wise move because the early Cleveland Browns were better than good - they were scary good.  In the first four years of existence, they would win the AAFC Championship in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949.  

In 1950 they (along with the San Francisco 49ers) would merge with the NFL. Their dominance continued and they went on to win the NFL Championship in 1950, 1954, 1955, and then again in 1964. In the AFL/NFL merger of 1970 the Browns, like the Steelers, were drawn out of a hat and were forced to join the AFC in realignment. Since their move to the AFC, they’ve been unable to obtain the level of success they enjoyed early in their history.   

Overall Record:
The Browns early successes have provided quite the cushion for recent failures.  Their overall record is an impressive 485-398-13.

Record Against the Broncos:
The great thing about the NFL is that though one team might have your number, there’s always a team out there that you consistently beat.  The Browns are that team for the Broncos. In twenty-three regular season match-ups, the Browns have won only five of them (Broncos lead the series 18-5).  Most interesting is that the Browns have not defeated the Broncos since 1990.  Also worth noting, the Denver is undefeated against the Browns in the playoffs.  

Fan Temperament:
I may catch a little heat over this, but I have to say that I feel bad for the fans of Cleveland. Let’s put aside Lebron’s decision.   Let’s look beyond the Ravens’ immaculate conception at the expense of the Browns franchise. We’ll even give them a pass for their icky color combination that comprise their uniforms, arguably the worst in professional sports since the San Diego Padres wore brown themselves.  The fact is that these fans have suffered for a long time.  Even though I do feel bad for them, I have to say that without their suffering we’d not have many of our team’s greatest moments.  I grade Cleveland fans as sadly due... for better things.

Memorable Broncos vs. Browns Moment:
January 11, 1987 - The Drive

January 17, 1988 - The Fumble

Next week, we take a look at the AFC South!