It might also surprise people to point out that the two cities are only about 100 miles apart. There’s also an interesting tourist stop about halfway between these two cities – in Canton, Ohio. The Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Ohio-Western-Pennsylvania connection, and the links between these two teams, are both wide and deep. Ben Roethlisberger played high school football in Findlay, Ohio. He also played at Miami University in Ohio. The Steelers star linebacker and playmaker who suffered a serious back injury during a game and became an emotional hero for the whole NFL, Ryan Shazier, played at Ohio State. Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, both Steelers coaches, played for the Browns. Noll was born in Cleveland. Marty Schottenheimer was from Pittsburgh. Jack Lambert and James Harrison are both from Ohio.
Part of the reason this rivalry matters is because of its history. The other part is that Cleveland is battling back into relevance. I think that some Pittsburgh fans have lost interest in this rivalry because they have dominated it so much recently. The Browns haven’t done well against the Steelers lately. They haven’t done well against anyone, but the Steelers have dominated them even in times of relative success. The last time the Browns went to the playoffs – the only time the current expansion Browns have gone to the playoffs – they lost in the first round. In Pittsburgh. To the Steelers.
In this decade, the Browns are 2-14 against the Steelers. One of those wins was against Charlie Batch, who was filling in for an injured Roethlisberger. The other happened during that strange, miraculous run Brian Hoyer had as a Browns quarterback in 2014. I think we can all see why Steelers fans have very little interest, and very little respect, for this team and this rivalry.
From a Steelers fan perspective, I think a lot of the interest shifted to Baltimore when the former Browns moved. Many Browns fans were deeply moved when then Steelers owner, Dan Rooney, was one of only two owners who voted against the move. But his fan base shifted their attention. It’s true that the Steelers and Ravens have met several times in the playoffs, and both teams have won Super Bowls in the past decade, often having to defeat the other to get there. Many people pick the Steelers to win this division, and the Ravens to finish second.
The Browns have become like the little kid wanting to get picked for the team, and getting ignored. I think that’s the biggest reason this rivalry matters, especially to Browns fans. It’s a way to win back some respect.
To be honest, I think that Cleveland fans are a little jealous. Pittsburgh, as a city, has managed to transition from a “rust-belt” Midwestern city to something of a technology hub. Cleveland has been trying. Pittsburgh, starting in the seventies, became (for a time) an NFL powerhouse. They managed to do so again in the 2000’s. Cleveland has, again, been trying. They have been to the Super Bowl eight times, and won six, most recently in 2009. They have also been the opposite of the Browns in terms of consistency.
Where the Browns have had a famously long list of quarterbacks (28), the Steelers have had only a few (8), mostly a consistent, veteran starter and the occasional backup. Where the Browns have had a revolving door of head coaches and general managers, the Steelers have also been consistent. I think that any Browns fan, if they are being honest, would admit that they would love their team to be more like the Steelers. It might take a little effort to get them to admit that, but it’s still true.
So it is with the utmost respect that I hope that my team, the Cleveland Browns, politely and with the greatest of professionalism, beats the living crap out of the Steelers this Sunday. What a great way to start our new winning ways – by beating the neighborhood kid who thinks he outgrew us.
Ben Kuhlman is a Cleveland Browns writer for Full Press Coverage. So follow him on twitter @bkuhl2you.