There was a time when the Giants and the Cleveland Browns were mortal enemies, fighting several times a year in the regular season and then in the playoffs. The Giants would pit their vaunted defense, led by LB Sam Huff, against the Browns’ offense and legendary running back Jim Brown.
After Cleveland won the NFL Championship in 1964, Brown retired and the rivalry died down as the Giants fell hard times. In 1970, the Browns would be one of three NFL teams (along with the Baltimore Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers) to move to the AFC as part of the NFL-AFL merger agreement.
The two clubs have faced each other just nine times since the merger, and just four times since the Browns were re-introduced into the NFL in 1999 after the original club moved to Baltimore three years earlier.
The Browns and Giants almost met in Super Bowl XXI, but the Browns were beaten in the AFC Championship Game by John Elway and the Denver Broncos in what is now known as “The Drive” game.
Nowadays, the matchup means very little. The Giants-Browns rivalry is buried in the annals of pre-merger NFL history with very few people still above ground that can speak of it cognizantly. But when they do, what they talk about most is Huff vs Brown.
Huff was “assigned” to the great Brown by Giants’ defensive coordinator Tom Landry. His job was to not only shadow Brown but to prevent him from breaking off one of his famous long runs.
“I always say Sam got famous from tackling me,” Brown once said. “He was a great player.”
Huff would not disagree with that assessment. But he also stakes a claim that no other NFL defender can make.
”I think I’m the only guy ever to put Jim Brown out of a game,” Sam Huff recalled in 1982. ”We were playing the Browns at Yankee Stadium, and they were at our 20-yard line in the closed end. He was running to his left and he stumbled, and I hit him with my shoulder and my helmet, and Dick Modzelewski hit him, too. Jim got up and went back to the huddle, but he didn’t know where he was.”
Huff said Brown was taken out of that game, but only after the Giants’ brought Brown’s condition to the attention of Cleveland’s trainers.
Pat Summerall, the longtime NFL play-by-play announcer who kicked a winning FG for the Giants in a classic win over Cleveland in 1958, was quoted as saying the two teams used to look forward to matchup.
“I remember when the schedule came out most of us would look to see where Cleveland was, because we had such reverence or fear or a little bit of both,” Summerall said.
But the pretense sometimes usurped the actual action. Brown said that legendary Browns’ coach and owner Paul Brown would brace for the Giants and not take many chances against Big Blue.
“We always thought Paul was afraid of New York,” Brown said. “He’d get very conservative. We didn’t like the game plan usually when we played them. Too conservative.”