I've had to bite my tongue more than a few times in recent memory, lest I be branded a heretic. Oh my, yes. But no more.
I am here to tell you that I can once again express myself in the way I know best. My old blood feels new again. On October 17th, 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers set me free once more.
* * *
Over these last few years, give or take a decade, Cleveland Browns fans like myself would occasionally poke our heads out of whatever pit of despair and/or cost-effective drinking establishment we were in, and look around the AFC North. We would be relatively assured of looking up at the rest of the division, but, even so, it's best to occasionally get the lay of the land.
Once we committed to exploring the AFC North, what would see?
Our eyes would first be cast briefly on the goings-on in Baltimore, a bastion of thuggery, graveyard of quarterbacks, and a land where the team's very foundation is built on the primal needs of the self. The product of an unholy mix of Ayn Rand determinism, bad estate planning, and gluttonous feeding out of the public trough, the Baltimore Ravens franchise represents one of the worst infections possible in that town's petri dish of doom. Their sole misbegotten Super Bowl win, back at the turn of the century, appears destined to be their last until they once again dig up an unneeded soul to exchange with the devil. That's always possible, seeing as how the Ravens were even able to barter a ring from Ol' Scratch for Art Modell's barely functional unit. They had to push it onto the lot. For now, though, the pestilence seems contained.
Bravely soldiering on, we would then turn our gaze upon the asylum that is Cincinnati. Here, head coach Marvin Lewis furiously shuffles small scraps of paper on his desk while humming a happy nonsense tune. Meanwhile Chad OchoJohnso runs amok, jumping on the furniture and taking pictures of himself tweeting, as his buddy TO glowers angrily at the floor while doing push-ups. We quickly discover that we have blundered into a place so felonious that volume discounts have been set up for taxi services between the team's training facility and various penal institutions scattered throughout Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Shuddering in deep, almost incomprensible fear at the notion that these men, too, were somehow fashioned in the image of the same God as ourselves, we make a quick blasphemous note to consider worshipping Cthulhu and go to our next stop.
Our next stop, indeed, is close to home, for we now turn our attention to Cleveland. Looking deeply into the mirror, we fight against our gag reflex as we see the haunted, broken faces of the 47 or so quarterbacks who have started for the franchise since 1999. Their catatonic stares tell us that these men have seen ancient horrors beyond reckoning, most of which weighed 250-325 pounds and were last seen careening towards them with malicious intent. Turning from this tragic outpost, we briefly consider the fanciful activities taking place at the team's headquarters, prompting a vision of the team's owner discussing business strategy with a man wearing a dog bone hat. The works of Lewis Carroll spring to mind.
So, I ask you: With the rest of the AFC North as a backdrop, is it any wonder that some within our midst have occasionally offered a faint sigh filled with envy as they contrasted these lumbering oafs to the oft-competitive Steelers franchise?
I have heard these three comments so many times that I've lost count:
** "The Steelers? Now there's a classy franchise".
** "The Steelers are a model organization - we have to admit that they do things right".
** "You know, Browns fans and Steeler fans aren't that different".
I have bitten my tongue long enough. To the first statement I say: "No."
And to the second: "No."
And to the third: "If you say that again, one of us is going get a large housecat painfully inserted into our left nostril. And it's not going to be me, because I'm allergic."
* * *
Based on my unscientific polling, which mostly involves quickly ramming fingers into my ears when anything positive is said about the franchise, the much of the positive perception of the Steelers organization is built around the concept of stability.
The franchise has a "system", it's said, into which the player/personnel staff (mind-melded to the coaching staff at a biological level) insert the easily obtained components year after year.
The Steelers appear to grow star linebackers like the US Poultry Industry grows freakishly deformed McNugget-ready chickens,but without most of the accompanying biohazards. It looks ridiculously easy, at least from our perch in the land of Kamerion and Chaun. The Steelers let star linebackers leave, and others magically pop up to take their place. "Would you like the 20-pack of Pro Bowl linebackers, sir? How about putting that in a #$@!*& Happy Meal?"
For the sake of keeping this joint as classy as my operation of it allows, I won't go into what I think the Steelers want in terms of defining characteristics at the quarterback position. Let's just say a Steelers version of Colt McCoy would want to hit the weight room, adopt David Boston's training regimen and watch every season of America's Next Top Dancing Model until his brain begins killing itself off in sections. Then, and only then, would he be big and lunkheaded enough to be acceptable to the Steelers franchise.
If you feel any pangs of jealousy, let me tell you now, straight out:Check yourself. Admiring the Steelers organization invalidates everything we represent, and wishing to emulate them in any way is not justified by even the furthest reaches of drunken logic.
Even while we can ponder their "system", the stability that it represents, and the winning record it has achieved, let us not lose sight of the Steelers' inherent hate-ability. This is something I think Browns fans, after a couple of decades of our team leaving us defenseless in fan-vs-fan battles, have occasionally forgotten.
And it's why I'm so happy today.
With yesterday's game, the Steelers have once again given us all a terrific set of reasons to hate them. Let us revel in their sudden loathsomeness, and dive into it with the same abandon that Ben Roethlisberger would dive into a giant kettle of co-eds and jello.
1. First and foremost, one has to consider the various helmet-to-helmet hits of LB James Harrison. While "hard nosed football" is something we admire, Harrison's trail of bodies long ago left the realm of "unfortunate accidents" for the land of "clearly identifiable pattern". He's a serial concusser at this point; a dark, scheming version of the wholly innocent TJ Ward. Every thinking football fan knows that Harrison needs to be fined and suspended, but, as Browns fans, our primary takeaway from yesterday's game is that we can now feel free to absolutely freaking despise him, as the NFL Gods intended.
2. Likewise, Steeler Nation's adoring and seemingly morally oblivious reception to Ben Roethlisberger's return to action provides us with a motherlode of hate munitions that we can use at our leisure. Naturally, we know that all football fans will grasp at any rationalization they can to welcome back miscreant players if they're important enough to on-field success. Did Ray Lewis' career teach us nothing but flappy bird dances and jumping on the pile after the whistle? No. It's hateability that we're looking for here, and Roethlisberger has it in somewhat dull-colored spades*.
3. It goes without saying, of course, that the Steelers get favorable treatment from officiating crews and TV announcers, as well as having a fanbase filled with bandwagon jumpers though-out Northeast Ohio. I don't even have to outline the evidence here - it was fully documented in yesterday's chat transcript. This runs counter to our very nature as Browns fans. We love the underdogs, hate the overdogs. We are the former, and the Steelers are the latter. Despicable.
4. Even the most seemingly likeable player on the Steelers roster, good ol' Smilin' Hines Ward, has proven to be a public nuisance of late, with his brazen and totally unforgivable abuse of the NFL's social media policy. In-game tweeting is strictly forbidden, people. F-O-R-B-I-D-D-E-N. I think that we can all agree that this type of lawless behavior leads to anarchy, which leads the collapse of all of civilization. That's a lot to lay on one man, but we need to hold Hines Ward accountable for destroying Western Civilization. As pointed out during last week's radio show, a poll of Cleveland Browns fans finds Hines Ward and Hitler indistinguishable.
To many, I'm sure, yesterday's 28-10 loss just seemed like another moribund exercise in a long-running morality play involving an evil king (wearing black, naturally) ruthlessly concussing the good peasant (wearing earth tones).
To me, though, it's the game that revealed the AFC North's despot for exactly what he is: A loathsome, slick-moustached villain whose stomping, stumbling, dullish version of evil gives us a chance to revel like Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi when we ultimately fly our Millenium Falcons into the unshielded warp cores of their souls.
From here on in, the hate is back. Without any remorse or second thoughts, let us lustily boo the evil king as he ruthlessly concusses the friendly and innocent peasant. Over and over again, until even the king's henchmen start wincing.
Put away your regrets. Bring out the stretchers. It's OK to hate again.
* Don't bring up that article I wrote a few weeks ago. I was crazy back then. Nuts.
Barry McBride is a one-time useful member of society who now runs the Orange and Brown Report. He hates it when his email client mistakes email messages for spam, so please contact him via the OBR contact form, via Twitter, or on the forums.