A big deal was made last year of the fact most of the Browns didn't grasp the significance of the Browns-Steelers rivalry. To those living in Browns Nation around the world, such ignorance was akin to not knowing the words to the Pledge of Allegiance - or worse yet, akin to not knowing what jersey number Jim Brown wore.
Some of the newest Browns should change that - most notably LeCharles Bentley, Joe Jurevicius, Dave Zastudil and Bob Hallen because they all grew up in the shadows cast by the goalposts in old Cleveland Stadium. Though none of the four new players is on defense, Willie McGinest will take care of that side of the ball. Sure, he played his entire career with New England, but the Patriots-Jets rivalry is every bit as fierce as Browns-Steelers. McGinest will make the transition and convey the meaning of the rivalry to his new teammates.
That being said, you know what? It really doesn't matter whether the Browns know the history of this rivalry that has spanned more than a half century, because they detest the Steelers for their own reasons. Browns fans should thank the Steelers for igniting the fire with the lump of coal they left in the Browns' stockings on Christmas Eve last year.
"The 41-0 loss is still sitting in the back of our minds," running back Reuben Droughns said. "That's most of the reason why we're all here for the offseason program. We're all excited to get started. That right there is going to weigh on us until we meet Pittsburgh again. Whoever we play before that is going to feel our wrath."
The 2006 schedule comes out today. Though every team at this time of year is excited about the season ahead, the optimism in Berea is high for a very good reason, not the least of which is the Browns will be playing in the same offensive and defensive systems for the second straight year. The last time that happened was when they went from 2001 to 2002 and made the playoffs with Butch Davis as head coach, Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator and Foge Fazio as defensive coordinator.
"It's going to make a huge difference," linebacker Andra Davis said. "Nothing has really changed. They threw a lot at us last year during training camp. We're going back over it from scratch, but it's already planted in the back of our heads. The team went out and got guys who know the system and that will push us that much more."
A year ago Andra Davis scoffed at the possibility of problems changing from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense saying 'football is football.' Looking back on that remark, he admits he was being naïve.
The Browns did not have a pass rusher for that defense. Now they have McGinest. They didn't have a good nose tackle, arguably the most important player in the 3-4. Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton is an example. Now the Browns have Ted Washington who, according to Andra Davis, weighs 390 pounds.
The battles between Bentley and Hampton should be epic. Terrelle Smith wants Bentley to play guard, but Bentley told Droughns he plans on playing center. Bentley looks forward to butting heads with Hampton, because, as was said earlier, he's one that understands the Browns-Steelers rivalry. Fortunately, he's too young to remember the Three Rivers Jinx.
"I plan on helping this team get back to the glory days and establish the tradition of dominance, the days of Bernie Kosar and Webster Slaughter," Bentley said. "I idolized those guys growing up and now I want to be that guy. I'm going to do everything I can to get this team on track and be an integral part of helping this team become the dynasty that it really is."
There is no more explaining why Browns fans hate the Steelers. One way or another, the players get it.