When the 6-6 Green Bay Packers take on the 0-12 Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, this will be only the 19th time the two teams have met in the regular season. That is somewhat hard to believe, knowing that the Packers have been in the NFL since 1921 and the Browns first joined the league in 1950.
Yes, both teams have been in different conferences in the NFL up until the NFL-AFL merger and beyond, but it is still a bit surprising that the teams only have met 18 times up to this point.
It’s also a bit shocking that the two teams have only met once in the postseason as well, especially knowing how good both teams were in the 1960s. As it was, the only time the two teams met was in the 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field. More on that game later.
By the time the Browns came into the NFL in 1950, after first dominating the All-American Football Conference from 1946 through 1949 (four league titles), the Packers had fallen on hard times.
1950 was the year when founder and head coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers to coach the Chicago Cardinals.
The Packers had won six NFL titles (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939 and 1944) under Lambeau, but the things changed for the Packers once Don Hutson retired after the 1945 season and the All-American Football Conference was born in 1946.
That meant the Packers and the rest of the NFL were competing monetarily for draft picks and veterans with the AAFC.
That hurt the Packers financially, as did the fact that Lambeau purchased the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949. That purchase did not sit well with the members of the executive committee.
Nor did the team’s play, as the Packers went 3-9 in 1948 and then 2-10 in 1949.
Then the Rockwood Lodge burned down on January 24, 1950, and Lambeau ended up resigning a week later to coach the Chicago Cardinals (later the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals and now the Arizona Cardinals).
The 1950s turned out to be the worst decade in the history of the Packers, as the team was just 39-79-2.
Meanwhile, the new kid on the NFL block, the Browns, dominated the NFL for the most part in that decade. The Browns played in seven NFL title games and won three of them (1950, 1954 and 1955).
The Packers and Browns only met three times during the 1950s, and as one might expect, Cleveland dominated, winning all three times by a combined score of 92-17.
But the Browns did help the Packers quite a bit in 1959. That was when their founder and head coach Paul Brown, along with assistance from George Halas of the Chicago Bears, heartily endorsed New York Giants offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi to become the next head coach of the Packers.
The Packers were reeling then, as the team had sunk to a 1-10-1 record in 1958 under head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean. Thanks to the efforts of super scout Jack Vainisi of the Packers, Lombardi was indeed named the new head coach and general manager of the team in 1959.
Brown wasn’t done helping the Packers either. After Lombardi assumed his dual role in Green Bay, he and Brown made a number of trades.
The first three trades happened in 1959, when Lombardi first traded star wide receiver Billy Howton to the Browns for halfback Lew Carpenter and defensive end Bill Quinlan.
In his second trade, Lombardi parted with a fourth-round pick in the 1960 NFL draft for defensive tackle Henry Jordan.
In the third trade, Lombardi traded a fifth-round pick in the 1960 NFL draft for defensive back Bob Freeman.
In 1960, Lombardi and Brown made another deal. This time Lombardi parted with end A.D. Williams for defensive end Willie Davis.
Then in 1961, Lombardi traded a third-round pick in the 1962 NFL draft for quarterback John Roach, who served as Bart Starr’s backup for a couple of seasons until Zeke Bratkowski arrived on the scene.
Bottom line, it was quite a haul for Lombardi in those trades. He was able to get two future Hall of Famers in Jordan and Davis, plus acquired a four-year starter at defensive end in Quinlan. Carpenter was also a solid reserve and special teams player for five years with the Packers.
Lombardi and Brown only faced off against each other one time as head coaches, which was in 1961. The Packers dominated that game, by beating the Browns 49-17 at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
The 1961 season was the first that Lombardi and his Packers brought their first NFL championship to Titletown, with some assistance from President John F. Kennedy.
Lombardi and the Packers won another NFL title in 1962, while Brown was fired by owner Art Modell after that season.
New head coach Blanton Collier led the Browns to the 1964 NFL title, but did suffer a 28-21 loss to the Packers at Milwaukee County Stadium in the regular season.
Collier and his Browns made it to the 1965 NFL title game again, this time against Lombardi and his Packers at Lambeau Field. This would be the first appearance in a NFL title game for Green Bay since 1962.
The running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year in 1965, as the Packers finished 10th in the NFL in rushing. Still, the Packers could not be stopped toting the rock on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra against the Browns.
Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and Hornung, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.
Meanwhile, the defense of the Packers held the great Jim Brown to just 50 yards rushing.
Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.
The 1965 season was the first of three straight NFL championships for the Packers. No team in the modern history of the NFL has ever duplicated that feat.
In 1966, the Packer won their second straight NFL title and also Super Bowl I. On their way to those achievements, the Packers beat the Browns 21-20 in the second game of the season at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in a stirring comeback.
The Browns, eager to repay the Packers after the 1965 NFL title game defeat, jumped to a 14-0 lead. But the Packers bounced back and had the ball down 20-14 late in the the game.
In the closing seconds of the game, and on fourth down, Starr hit Taylor with a nine-yard touchdown pass, as No. 31 avoided two tacklers. The result? A 21-20 victory by the Packers.
The Packers won their third straight NFL title in 1967, plus won Super Bowl II. During the regular season, the Packers played the Browns again, this time at Milwaukee County Stadium.
The game has become very memorable in Green Bay lore, due to the performance of rookie kick returner Travis Williams. Williams returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the “Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries, as the Packers blew out the Browns 55-7.
Another rookie on the Packers, quarterback Don Horn, got his first meaningful playing time that season in the fourth quarter.
Horn related a story to me about that game, which shows the class and dignity of his head coach.
“It’s late in the fourth quarter and I drove the team 50 or 60 yards to the Cleveland seven-yard line,” Horn said. “There’s two minutes to go and we were up at the time 55-7. So I’m think we are going to score. All of a sudden Forrest Gregg comes back into the game, as by then all the backups were in the game. So that was sort of odd.
“So I’m thinking to myself that Forrest brought in a play for me to run and we are going to score. But instead, Forrest grabs me and pulls me aside and says, ‘The old man told me to tell you NOT to score.’ So I ran the clock out just like Coach Lombardi wanted.
“After the game ended, Vince was one of the first guys to see me. He grabbed me and he said, ‘Donald (as he pointed over to head coach Blanton Collier of the Browns), you see that gentleman over there? 55 is bad enough. I’m not going put 62 on him. That man is a gentleman. Do you understand, son?’ And I replied, yes sir. Lombardi then says, ‘Okay. Good.’
From 1968 through 1989, the Packers only made two playoff appearances (1972 and 1982 and had one divisional title (1972), while the Browns were regulars in the postseason, with 11 appearances (1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989), won eight divisional titles (1968, 1969, 1971, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989) and played in four conference title games (1968, 1969, 1988 and 1989).
In that period, the Packers and Browns met five times. The Packers surprisingly beat the Browns in three of those games.
Since 1989, the Browns have only made two postseason appearances (1994 and 2002), plus have seen the original franchise move to Baltimore and become the Ravens after the 1995 season.
Since 1993, the Packers have become a regular in the NFL postseason, as the team has played in 39 playoff games since that year, winning 21 of those games. Green Bay has also won two Super Bowls, one after the 1996 season, and one after the 2010 season.
The Browns have yet to play in one Super Bowl.
The Packers met the Browns in Cleveland in 1995 after Modell announced that the team was moving to Baltimore. Green Bay won that contest 31-20.
The Browns got a new team in Cleveland in 1999, but except for a few bright moments like the one and only postseason appearance in 2004, the team has been one of the NFL’s worst teams since then.
In my opinion, a lot of that has come from the terrible ownership which has controlled the Browns since their new inception. Both the Lerner family and now current owner Jimmy Haslam have sunk the organization to depths that the great fans in Cleveland certainly don’t deserve.
It’s been especially brutal under Haslam’s “leadership”, as the team has gone 20-72 since he became owner in 2012, which includes this season’s mark of 0-12.
It’s also important to note that Mike Holmgren played a large role with both teams over the years.
While Holmgren coached the Packers from 1992 thorough 1998 (75-37 record), the team went to the postseason six times, won three divisional titles, played in three NFC title games and won twice and played in two Super Bowls and won once (Super Bowl XXXI).
After coaching the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, the Browns named Holmgren as their team president in 2009. Under his guidance, the Browns did not fare very well, as the team went 19-45.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of the Browns over the past quarter century, both before the team moved and after the new team arrived, is the play at the quarterback position, not to mention the game of musical chairs the Browns have played at quarterback.
From 1992 through 1995, the Browns had seven different starting quarterbacks in that period, led by Vinny Testaverde with 31 starts and Bernie Kosar with 14 starts.
Since 1999, the Browns have had 30 different starting quarterbacks.
Compare that with the Packers, who have seen Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers get the bulk of their starts over the past 25 years. Favre started 253 straight regular season games for the Packers from 1992 through 2007.
Rodgers has started in 141 games since then. In the games when Rodgers was injured (concussion or broken collarbone) or rested, the Packers have started only four other quarterbacks (Matt Flynn, Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Brett Hundley).
The Browns overall regular season record over that time is 94-206. The Packers overall regular season record over that time is 260-151-1.
The Packers and Browns have met four times in the 21st century, with the Packers winning three of those four games.
That puts the Packers in the lead in all-time series with an 11-7 advantage.
It still seems very strange that two teams with as rich a history as both the Packers and Browns have had throughout their time in the NFL, have only met 18 times in the regular season and just once in the postseason.
The 2017 Packers are trying to get back to the postseason for the ninth straight time, while the Browns would love to just sniff the postseason at this point.