I know, I am in the minority here. You don't even need to put up an argument. Most Steelers fans, especially younger ones and those not in the middle of the Pittsburgh-Cleveland geography, believe that the Steelers and Ravens are more of a rivalry than the Steelers and Browns. The Steelers and Ravens are both good teams, fighting for division titles lately in epic, hard-hitting battles. I get all that. But what happens when one of the two teams goes into a tailspin? All the sudden the rivalry, built on a beach sand foundation, goes by the wayside as if it never happened.
The Steelers and Browns, however, are not built on the moment. The rivalry is not dependent on both teams being good at the same time. The rivalry is not fleeting like the Colts-Patriots (what rivalry?). The foundation is not temporary sand, but the permanent cement of hatred. Go over to the Browns site and spend some time looking. You will see hate after hate after hate. You will see signatures with references to the Steelers. Even the site editor had a signature defacing the Steelers until a couple of my comments led to him changing it. Read the comments and articles. Anti-Pittsburgh garbage is spewed throughout the site like nothing you might ever imagine. It's almost unbelievable how much Steeler hate is written on that site, far beyond normal expectancy of a routine division rival.
The talk shows keep bringing up that one game in 2009 (as if we pull out a single game in the last 20 to talk about). That 2009 Browns win was their Super Bowl. The players still talk about people coming up to them in the community and thanking them for a glorious Christmas present - a team that won four football games.
That folks, is a real rivalry. It is a rivalry steeped in tradition - the two teams have played twice every year since 1950. It is not Johnny-come-lately. It is a rivalry steeped in geography - not two random geographies that have nothing to do with each other. Pittsburgh and Cleveland are cities that fought for turf in the steel industry when jobs were at stake for members of their respective communities. With Youngstown as the line of demarcation, both cities featured the same hard-working people who took steel lunch boxes to work and could never really get their hands clean.
Both franchises, ironically owned by a man named Art, were instrumental in keeping the health of the other in great shape. When the NFL desperately needed three teams to switch from the NFC to the AFC in the 1970 merger of the NFL and AFL, it was Pittsburgh and Cleveland, knowing that all they needed was each other, who agreed to the switch that allowed the merger to happen. That folks, is a rivalry (though interestingly and anecdotally, Baltimore was the third franchise). Those of you too young to remember the 60s and 70s have no idea what I am talking about when I refer to the vicious blasts of Joe Turkey Jones and Jack Lambert and Dave Puzzouli and Joe Greene and Ron Bolton and Mel Blount and on and on and on.
Just like the Steelers have been the Browns' "daddy" in recent times, the Browns were the daddy in the 1950s. In 1956, tired of losing, Steelers' Head Coach Walt Kiesling told the players, one-by-one, that their entire year's pay would be docked 10% if they didn't beat Cleveland. With a year's mortgage on the line, they fortunately did. That was Pittsburgh's championship game that year, and all the players felt 10% richer. Trust me, the game this Sunday is the Browns Super Bowl. They have come out and said so. The city will dance in the streets if Cleveland wins, even with nothing to play for. In fact, if Cleveland does win, it will actually hurt them. They will fall in the draft order a few places which would cripple the potential for a high pick or blockbuster trade to get their franchise quarterback. Doesn't matter. When you hate as badly as they hate, all the chips are on the table Sunday.
I don't hate Baltimore. I don't think on the whole they hate us. Hate is not fleeting. It is too strong of an emotion to be temporary or built on sand. Hate doesn't happen with random geography. It doesn't mysteriously vanish when one team goes in the crapper. I have four goals every year. The first is to beat Cleveland. The second is to beat Cleveland again. The third is to make the playoffs and the fourth is to win Lombardi. Two of the three goals have been accomplished. The fourth goal is really an unlikely achievement for any team, considering each is only one of 32. But that third goal is on the line Sunday. I was born in Pittsburgh. I lived in Youngstown for 20 years and Cleveland for 15 years. I am in a pretty unique position to understand the rivalry. Trust me, buckle your chin-strap Sunday for a rival game that since 1950 has withstood the test of time.