This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to the “Mistake by the Lake” to take on the Cleveland Browns in a divisional game to open up their 2018 NFL campaign. And the Steelers had better be prepared because the Browns have never been more motivated to defeat their long-time rival.
“Rival” might not be the correct word, because that would imply a rivalry existed between the two teams. A more accurate description of the Black-and-gold might be “tormentor” because the Steelers’ domination of the Browns ever since Big Ben came into the league has been nothing short of a nightmare haunting the dreams of all Browns’ fans. I know this because some of my friends are actually lifelong Browns’ fans and, believe it or not, they don’t walk around with brown paper bags over their heads. They buy all the latest gear and proudly stroll around all decked out in their team’s colors of orange and poop-brown. Not just on game days either, but all through the week. They absorb all the good-natured ribbing and picking, all the while giving back just as good as they get. Then they get in their vehicles and travel to the stadium to sit in their expensive seats the Dog Pound — all to witness in person what’s almost certain to be another loss for their beloved Brownies.
It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so terribly sad. Truthfully, I have the utmost respect for anybody who openly admits to being a Cleveland Browns fan because, for quite a few decades now, that’s been a totally one-sided proposition. Browns fans fill the stadium for every home game and cheer their hearts out for as long as the outcome of the game is in doubt, even though another inevitable defeat usually is pretty evident by halftime.
Even on the few occasions when the Cleveland Browns appeared to be standing on the brink of true success, the rug has been quickly pulled out from under them in heartbreaking fashion. This is the type of devastation that ends up getting an infamous name attached to it. Names such as ‘The Drive’ and ‘The Fumble’ will forever be part of the Cleveland Browns’ legacy. The pain of being oh so close but yet so far away.
One of my friends and I used to argue all the time when we were kids about which team had the best fans, the Steelers or the Browns. I’d always point out how the Browns had won all those AFL championships back in the days of Jim Brown and Otto Graham, and how the Steelers were the laughingstock of the league before the 70s rolled around. But now the tables are turned and the former roles reversed.
He says it takes a real fan to support the Cleveland Browns, and you know what, he’s absolutely correct. I admit I don’t know whether I could do it. I’ve been an unwavering supporter of the Steelers through some losing seasons for more than forty years, but fortunately those dismal seasons have been few and far between. We as Steelers Nation have been so spoiled by the team’s sustained excellence and six Lombardi Trophies that we are unable to see the forest for the trees. We’re so obsessed with the final destination that quite often we’re unable to enjoy the journey required to get there.
I fear this year’s Steelers team limps into the season unprepared and unfocused. I arrive at this determination due to the fact that multiple projected starters on both sides of the ball have missed some if not all of training camp and the preseason due to injuries or holdouts. They’re still unable to practice as a complete unit because one player has yet to make it to the facility at the time of this writing, and it’s anybody’s guess if and when that player will show up, if ever. That seems like a recipe for disaster.
Nobody even knows what level of commitment the Steelers will get out of their missing player if he does show up. I remember back a few seasons ago when the Steelers decided to sign a young Antonio Brown to a contract extension and let renowned speedster Mike Wallace play out his contract. Suddenly the one-trick-pony didn’t want to do his trick anymore. I screamed at the TV every time Wallace alligator-armed a pass attempt or gave another half-hearted effort. The situation hindered the team’s development and greatly affected my ability to enjoy the season. I sure hope we aren’t in-store for more of the same this season.
The Steelers have a lot to accomplish this week and very little time to do it. They have to get every healthy body prepped and ready for action. They have to install the final game plan, no matter who ends up playing, and find a way to get everybody on the same page.
All hands on deck. This isn’t a dress rehearsal, this is the real deal. This game is no longer a sure thing, a walkover, or a chance to play your backups.
The Cleveland Browns are a young, talented, and hungry football team. To make matters worse, they’re angry and they’re ready. So the Pittsburgh Steelers better be prepared as well.