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Throwback Thursday: Steelers beat Cleveland's last championship team, the 1964 Browns

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are just two wins away from giving Cleveland its first professional sports championship since the 1964 Browns. As great as that team was, Cleveland fell victim to the rough and tough Steelers, led by Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson's 200 rushing yards.

For over a half century, the 1964 Browns have been the last Cleveland professional sports team to win a championship.

While the Cleveland Cavaliers are in position to replace them in the next week, at this current time, Jim Brown's Browns is still the city's last best team. And despite their enduring greatness, history shows that even that great Browns team fell victim to its most hated foe.

That's right, the Cleveland Browns, at the height of their powers, lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that was still a decade away from their glory years of Chuck Noll, Mean Joe, and Franco.

Actually, the Steelers of the early 60s get a bum rap. In fact, before The Empire of the 1970s, the Pittsburgh teams of the early 1960s gave the city the greatest era of Steelers football at that time. Led by Bobby Layne, Ernie Stautner and John Henry Johnson, Hall of Fame players in the twilight of their careers, the Steelers strung together consecutive winning seasons in 1962 and '63. They finished second behind the New York Giants in the NFL's Eastern Division in '62, winning nine games that included six victories in their final seven contests. Only losses to the Browns and a four-point defeat at the hands of the Giants prevented the Steelers from playing the Packers for the NFL championship.

Pittsburgh went 7-4-3 in 1963, Stautner's final year in Pittsburgh. Just as they had the year before, the Steelers ended the season on a high note, going 5-2-2 over their last nine games. Just as the Steelers did a year earlier, the Browns finished a game behind the Giants in the standings, and were determined to make a championship run in 1964.

The Steelers started the '64 season the way they had ended the '63 campaign, on a high note. Pittsburgh defeated the Giants and Cowboys in consecutive weeks after dropping their opening game against the visiting Rams, and were looking for their third win in five games when they visited Cleveland in Week 5. The Browns had an even stronger start, going 3-0-1 in their first four games that included back-to-back wins against the Eagles and Cowboys, setting up a showdown against two of the better teams in the NFL over the past several seasons in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

In a classic Steelers-Browns affair, this game would come down to the battles in the trenches that pitted Brown, who paced the NFL with 1,446 yards with a 5.2 yards per carry average in '64, against Johnson, who, at the advanced age of 35, earned a Pro Bowl nod after rushing for over 1,000 yards for the second time in three years.

Simply put, the Steelers dominated the Browns in every facet of the game. Pittsburgh's rushing attack that finished second behind the NFL champion Packers two years earlier, crushed Cleveland's defense to the tune of 354 yards on 64 carries with three touchdowns. Johnson piled up 200 yards that included touchdown runs of 33 and 45 yards as Pittsburgh built a 16-0 second quarter lead.

With the score 16-7 in the third quarter, Johnson put the game on ice with his third touchdown of the day, a five-yard scamper that closed out the scoring in Pittsburgh's 23-7 triumph in what was Cleveland's lowest scoring output of the season. While the Browns offense mustered just 217 yards, Pittsburgh amassed 477 total yards, with Clarence Peaks complimenting Johnson by rushing for 96 yards on 21 tries. Oddly enough, Brown recorded more receiving yards than rushing yards, running the ball just eight times for 59 yards while catching five passes for 77 yards. Paul Warfield, Cleveland's Hall of Fame receiver, was held to just three catches for 34 yards.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, that win over Cleveland would be the highlight of the 1964 season. They dropped five straight decisions following the win over the Browns that included a loss to Cleveland in a Week 8 rematch. Pittsburgh finished 5-9 and would not post another winning record until 1972. The Browns would lose only one more game in '64 en route to their final NFL championship, a 27-0 win over Johnny Unitas' Baltimore Colts in the NFL title game. In Browns' final season, Cleveland made it back to the title game in '65, only to lose to the Packers, who would go on to win the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and '67.

While the '64 Browns still hold a special place in Cleveland fans' hearts, it's good to see a "L" on that team's schedule, compliments of the Steelers.