Levine: Rivalry? What Rivalry?

Les argues that the rivalry won't return until the Browns can provide their end of it...

During the John Cooper years, Ohio State fans learned that the rivalry with Michigan lost a lot of its luster when the Buckeyes just were not competitive with the Wolverines.  A couple more years of Jim Tressel wins, to add to the 4-1 current margin, might let Michigan fans exactly how Buckeye fans felt during that nightmare period.

And now, Cleveland and Pittsburgh fans alike are wondering what has become of the rivalry between the Browns and Steelers.  I don't mean to burst your bubble, but there really hasn't been a significant rivalry on the field over the years.  Of course we remember Joe Turkey Jones almost killing Terry Bradshaw; Mean Joe Greene kicking Bob McKay in the groin; Rocky Blier going 80 yards, and Dennis Northcutt dropping an easy pass from Kelly Holcomb in the playoffs, but those are isolated instances.

Other than the obvious similarities between the two cities, I am not sure when and why these teams became ‘heated rivals', as Bill Cowher understands while Butch Davis never really did.  The rivalry that I knew growing up in the ‘50's and 60's was between the Browns and the New York Giants.  Every game meant something for both teams who always contended for the title, and there was the added bonus of Jim Brown versus linebacker Sam Huff.  When Art Modell and Art Rooney moved their teams from the NFL to the AFC in the merger, the Browns gave up that heated rivalry, which Modell knew about from his years as a Giants season ticket holder.  The two Arts also received several million dollars as a bonus for leaving the established league.  Modell also thought he could keep winning in a division with Pittsburgh, Houston and Cincinnati.

Over the past 55 years, the Browns and Steelers have almost never good at the same time.  From 1950-59, the Browns led the series 16-4, losing both games in 1959.  They were 15-5 from 1960-69.  In those two decades, 40 games, the Browns scored over 30 points in nineteen of those games, while topping the 40 point mark in nine of them.

The rivalry probably took life from the fact that the Browns scheduled their home games against the Steelers on Saturday nights from 1963-70.  It gave the Pittsburgh fans a chance to bring their Iron City Beer across the state line, not caring if the team fared well or not.  The Browns won seven out of the eight Saturday night match-ups with the only loss, ironically, 23-7, coming in the Browns championship year of 1964.  I mostly remember Steelers fans wearing yellow rain coats (before they waved Terrible Towels), and being carried out to their respective buses---long before The Bus became a great running back for them.

Then things changed in Pittsburgh's favor beginning in 1970.  In the first four years of the decade, the teams split the season series, and then from 1974-79 the Browns were only able to win one game, while losing eleven.  The trend continued in the first half of the next decade, with the Steelers going 7-5 from 1980-85, but the Browns dominated, with seven out of eight wins through '89, including Bud Carson's first win, 51-0 in his return to the Steel City.  Carson was 2-2 in his brief tenure in Cleveland.

Bill Belichick was only able to win three out of his ten games against Pittsburgh.  Despite all of the problems encountered by Chris Palmer, he was able to split his four games with the Steelers, but Butch Davis lost eight out of nine, including a playoff game.

No wonder many of the current Browns players, and perhaps some of their new coaches, are not totally aware of how the fans feel about this ‘rivalry'.  Other than the 50's and 60's and last half of the 80's, the Browns have been ‘John Cooper-esque' when it comes to this tale of two cities.


The 41-0 embarrassing loss on Sunday was probably much worse than the 43-0 shutout in the first game of the new Browns in 1999.  Members of that team probably had to introduce themselves to each other prior to that game.  This current team represents the seventh year of the return of the team to the NFL, although you would never know it from its performance.

From a distance, this might not have been the worst thing to happen to this team.  Some members of the Browns hierarchy were positively giddy over the performance of Charlie Frye in his first three starts, seeming to forget that he put up only nine points against Oakland in his first and only win.  While he has done some impressive things, it is now clear that there is still plenty of evaluation to be done.

I wonder if Frye would have evoked the same response from the fans and media if he were from somewhere other than Akron University, after growing up in Willard.  Bernie Kosar received the same type of treatment, but he was also the first pick in the supplemental draft, and came with better credentials.

Anyway, the loss to the Steelers brought everyone back to reality---except for the guy who ran out onto the field, and was ceremoniously flipped over---and, in the long run, might be a good thing.


"More Sports & Les Levine" can be seen M-F from 6-7pm with replays at 11pm on Adelphia Channel 15.  E-mail msandll@aol.com or www.leslevine.com


The OBR Top Stories