BEREA— The Browns-Steelers rivalry means many different things to many different people in both Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
For those in Southwest Pennsylvania, a battle with the Browns often means a smile-filled Sunday, as the black and gold have come away victorious in 27 of their 33 meetings with Cleveland since 1999.
Those in Northeast Ohio, on the other hand, look at the game as one of desperation— one that they must win to make their season somewhat worthwhile.
With feelings such as the aforementioned becoming rather routine, the question has been asked whether a rivalry still remains.
“I think so, maybe I’m just biased because I play in Cleveland and I live in Cleveland,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said, when asked if the Browns and Steelers could still be considered rivals. “I do think it’s a blue-collar rivalry that will always be good, even though it’s been lopsided in recent years.”
Thomas has been a part of the Browns-Steelers bi-annual battles since he arrived in the league in 2007 and believes that while things have changed, the heart of the hatred has remained.
“It always feels a little different ever year because of the changes that go on,” Thomas said. “But in the end, it’s still one of the best rivalries in football, it’s still got that good old feel to it.”
Thomas may be old enough to remember the “good old feel” that this battle had, but rookie Danny Shelton isn’t nearly as well-versed.
In fact, Shelton knows next to nothing about the rivalry.
“I just don’t know what the history is,” Shelton said. “I just know that it’s a game that we have to come ready to fight.”
It’s hard to blame Shelton for his ignorance, having grown up miles away from the battle’s beginnings and having witnessed the Browns being beaten year in and year out, but Thomas said he’ll learn soon, as will anyone who hasn’t taken part in this matchup before.
“I think that a lot of the guys that have been here will talk to some of the younger guys, or some of the guys that this is their first time in the Steelers game, to just talk a little bit about battles of Steelers year’s past and things that have happened that are pretty interesting or crazy,” Thomas said. “I think the guys figure it out pretty quickly.”
Though the players who know the history well will try to instill it upon those not as knowing, they certainly aren’t the best teachers of “Browns-Steelers 101.”
That distinction belongs to the fans.
“I just know that our fans don’t like Big Ben,” Shelton said. “They’re always talking that they hate the Steelers.”
Thomas agreed with the rookie, even as one of the aforementioned educators.
“Going out in the community and signing autographs and meeting fans, the first thing they always say is ‘you gotta beat Pittsburgh. You gotta beat Pittsburgh,’” Thomas said. “It always means a little bit more for the city.”
The Pittsburgh game might mean a little more to the fans and to the players in the Browns locker room, but head coach Mike Pettine seems to believe that Pittsburgh is on the same level as Cincinnati and Baltimore when it comes to rivalries in Cleveland.
“There’s always added importance when it’s in the division,” Pettine said. “I’ve said this every week that we’ve played a division opponent just how special our division games are.”
Thomas too emphasized the importance of the divisional games, but mentioned as well that it’s importance to keep emotions in check in order to get down to business.
“I think it’s always business as usual because you always try to conduct yourself the same way,” Thomas said. “But it’s always a fun week… It’s always a lot of fun.”
It would be much more fun for the Browns if they were able to take home a victory this week, but at just 2-7 on the season, the likelihood of that happening against the 5-4 Steelers isn’t high.
No matter their current records, nor their knowledge of the recently one-sided rivalry, the Browns will head to Heinz Field— where they haven't won since 2003— with confidence and a desire to bring back a win against the team that their fans hate the most.
“We’re respectful of who they are and what they put on tape so far,” Pettine said. “Our guys aren’t going to go down there intimidated by Pittsburgh.”
For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.