This Sunday the Indianapolis Colts will travel to Cleveland to face the Browns for the first time since 2008. This year, however, has a much different feel to the match-up than it has for a long time. The Colts are 8-4, and in first place in the AFC South. The Browns are 7-5, which is (somehow) the basement of the AFC North.
The last time both of these teams had a winning record when they played was Week 15 of 2002. The Browns were 7-6, and were en route to the playoffs. They were led by Kelly Holcomb at QB (they also had Bruce Arians as their Offensive Coordinator). The Colts were 8-5 and were (as usual) led by Peyton Manning. Most fans will remember this game as the one where Marvin Harrison broke the single season record for receptions. The Colts also won the game, both teams made the playoffs, and both were eliminated in the first round.
The Colts and Browns go way back to a time when both were consistently contenting squads each season. It definitely isn't a stretch to say that these two teams were rivals during the 1960s.
For this week's Throwback Thursday, I'm going to focus on two games in particular: 1964 NFL Championship and the 1968 NFL Championship.
The 1964 game was the third championship appearance for the Colts since joining the NFL in 1953. They defeated the New York Giants (who were runner-up so many years in the 1950s and 60s) on both occasions.
The 1964 game was their eighth appearance in the game since joining the NFL in 1950. They held a 3-4 record in those game at that time.
This game pitted the Baltimore Colts offense (best in the league), led by Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, and Raymond Berry (to name a few) up against the Browns offense (second in the league) of Frank Ryan, Paul Warfield, and Jim Brown. The Colts also boasted the top defense in the NFL, while Cleveland's was fifth.
The first half was a defensive struggle. The two teams finished 30 minutes of football exactly where they started: 0-0.
In the second half, the Browns took off. The Ryan touchdown passes, all to receiver Gary Collins, as well as two Lou Groza field goals (including a 10 yarder) gave the Browns a 27-0 victory over the Colts. The Browns held the Colts offense to 95 yards passing and 92 rushing. Conversely, the Browns rolled up 206 through the air, and 142 on the ground.
The Browns would reach the championship again the next year, but were defeated by the Green Bay Packers, the first of the team's three straight championships.
In 1968, the Packers' reign on the Western Conference was over and the Colts returned to the NFL Championship Game. This time, the Colts were without the services of Unitas, as they had been for most of the season. Instead it was Earl Morrall at quarterback.
The game was again in Cleveland, just as it had been four years ago. And at the end of the first quarter, the score was the same as it had been four years ago: 0-0.
Then it was the Colts who took off in the second quarter. Tom Matte ran for two touchdowns in the period, and Lou Michaels added a field goal, to give the Colts a 17-0 halftime lead. Matte would add another score in the third quarter to extend the lead. In the fourth, Michaels hit another field goal and Timmy Brown tacked on the final score to give the Colts a decisive 34-0 victory over Cleveland.
The Colts capped off a dominant NFL regular season with all but two of their wins coming by more than 10 points. Unfortunately for the Colts, there was one more game to be played, and it didn't go that well.
The Browns would return to the championship game the next season, but lost again, this time to the Minnesota Vikings. In 1970 the AFL and NFL merged into one league, with both the Colts and Browns switching over to the AFC.
The Colts would go on to win one more Championship while in Baltimore (Super Bowl V). The Browns would never, and have yet to, win another championship since their 1964 victory over the Colts.
The Sunday a rivalry is renewed in Cleveland with the new-Browns and the Indianapolis Colts. And this time, it again has playoff implications.