Tale of Two Cities

The Browns and Bengals are connected by more than just 250 miles.

Georgetown, Ky. -- Although this August has proceeded different from those of past years, the axis of the football universe is currently rotating around Canton, Ohio.  Despite the annual Hall of Fame Game being cancelled thanks to the NFL's labor dispute, Saturday night's induction ceremony offered the chance for fans to focus on the history of the game – as presented from one of its birthplaces.

As such, it's fitting that Canton could serve as an intersection between Ohio's two NFL franchises.

Although the Bengals have achieved some recent success, including a 2009 AFC North divisional title, the Marvin Lewis-led squad is facing uncertainty heading into the 2011 season.  In Cleveland, another season brings yet another coaching change, as Pat Shurmur takes over for the departed Eric Mangini.  In doing so, Shurmur is introducing a new system to a roster that has grown dramatically younger in recent months.

In a departure from the heartland of American football crowning its newest members of the professional elite, both the Browns and Bengals appear to be searching for the first steps towards NFL legitimacy.  Besides sharing a common heritage and regional distance from each other, these two franchises are strikingly similar in other respects.

Both teams are roughly 27 million dollars under the 2011 salary cap – despite efforts to sign a few free agents.  Of the free agents signed by both squads, only a few – Cincinnati's Nate Clements, Manny Lawson and Cleveland's Usama Young – will likely start for their respective teams.

Both teams are installing the always trendy West Coast offense in an attempt to jumpstart a shaky offense.  In both cities, the transition could prove dramatic.  Cincinnati relieved decade-long offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski for newcomer Jay Gruden.  Meanwhile, Cleveland's Shurmur will take on dual roles as head coach and offensive coordinator.

Both teams are counting on an untested, young quarterback to deliver success in 2011.  In Colt McCoy's defense, he at least started a handful of games in 2010.  In Cincinnati, Andy Dalton is charged with the tasks of adjusting to NFL life, becoming a starter and replacing Carson Palmer's production.

Both teams' sportswriters have already exhausted their supply of soap opera quarterback headlines.  "Will Carson return?"  "Is McCoy's arm strong enough?"  In the name of cheap page views, is there nothing else to cover?

Both teams feature young wide receivers that appear close to "turning a corner."  The Bengals feature two fourth-year wideouts in Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell who were blanketed behind the star crossed Chad Ochocinco in recent years.  In Cleveland, Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie could prove better fits in the team's new offense.

Both teams have mercurial wide receivers in their rear windows.  Along with Ochocinco, the Bengals' past litany of self-serving wide receivers also includes Terrell Owens, T.J. Houshmanzadeh and the late Chris Henry.  Around Browns Nation, Braylon Edwards has become a Twitter hashtag for irresponsible behavior.

Both teams were hand-crafted by the legendary Paul Brown.  Brown's mark on Cleveland can be found in the grainy images of Otto Graham and Marion Motley, while Cincinnati owes their football identity to the coach responsible for several contemporary innovations to the game.

Both teams haven't won playoff games since the mid-1990's.  Despite the Bengals' recent mini-streak of success, Cincinnati hasn't experienced a playoff win since 1990, while the Browns have suffered a drought dating back to 1994.  Even more remarkable is that the two quarterbacks responsible for these wins are now a combined 97 years old.

Both teams boast real fans who would never acknowledge the other's existence on such a list.  There's always been an odd social class dynamic in play regarding Browns and Bengals fans.  Bengal fans characterize mediocrity as greatness, while Browns fans are quick to dispel any such evidence.  In either case, both sides eternally paint the other as inferior.

This can only mean that some would take the following as a compliment. As former Bengal coach Sam Wyche famously cried out to a hostile Cincinnati crowd, "You don't live in Cleveland!  You live in Cincinnati!"


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