Since exploding onto the NFL scene in 1950, the Browns had faced Steelers teams playing their first game under a new coach eight times.
The guys in the orange helmets had won them all.
On such a flimsy historical thread hung the optimism of Cleveland fans heading into the 2007 season opener against the hated Steelers. After all, there seemed little else to be hopeful about. The Browns had finished 4-12 in 2006. Pittsburgh had won seven consecutive meetings between the turnpike rivals and hadn't lost in Cleveland since 2000.
And it wasn't as if the Browns had steamrolled through the preseason clicking on all cylinders. In fact, neither Charlie Frye nor Derek Anderson had risen to the occasion in battling for the starting quarterback position. The former won by default.
But there was the "new coach jinx" and Mike Tomlin was gracing the Steelers sidelines for the first time since taking over for iconic Bill Cowher. And with the first kickoff comes enthusiasm and wishful thinking from one and all in the NFL.
That included Browns wide receiver and Cleveland native Joe Jurevicius.
"I don't think there is a better place than opening up at home with the Pittsburgh Steelers," the former Lake Catholic High School standout exclaimed to the News-Herald. "This is an important game to the city, to the fans and for the Cleveland Browns. We have a clean slate right now."
They also boasted potentially the most explosive skill position players since the team returned in 1999. Tight end Kellen Winslow was finally healthy, wide receiver Braylon Edwards vowed he was ready to fulfill the promise of a top five draft pick, and punishing back Jamal Lewis had joined the team over which he had run roughshod for years.
Speaking of backs that had made a habit of dissecting the Browns, Steelers veteran Willie Parker was prepared to do it again. Though quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had performed well against Cleveland, Parker and his line had played the most critical role in their team's offensive dominance of the Browns in recent seasons.
Could the Browns grind Parker to a halt? Could the defense keep Frye from getting his uniform dirty? Could the "first game jinx" befall Tomlin as it did eight Steelers coaches before him?
The Browns would soon find out.
The answer to all those questions?
Parker exceeded 100 yards rushing as usual, Frye was hounded all over the field, and Tomlin emerged with an easy 34-7 victory in his first game as Pittsburgh head coach.
And if ever a game began with bad Karma for the Browns, this was it. On their first fourth down, newly signed punter Paul Ernster (a temporary replacement for the injured Dave Zastudil) fumbled the snap and scrambled to recover before booting a 15-yarder. Meanwhile, his teammates were in the process of committing four penalties on the play.
The Steelers soon capitalized on the first of a career-high four touchdown passes by Roethlisberger, a 5-yarder that made it 7-0 and signaled the start of the rout. He would toss a 40-yarder to former Ohio State standout Santonio Holmes late in the first quarter to stretch the lead to 17-0.
By that time, the death knell on Frye's career in Cleveland could be heard. The University of Akron graduate was yanked in the first half, never to play with the Browns again. His inability to unload the ball under pressure and to complete passes when he did prompted coach Romeo Crennel to replace him with Anderson in the second quarter.
It would be pleasantly fateful decision.
If the sellout crowd at Cleveland thought their team would heap revenge on its archrival in the second half, they had another think coming. The Steelers marched downfield on their opening drive after intermission and scored on a 5-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Matt Spaeth to make it 24-0.
The move to insert Anderson into the quarterback spot paid dividends when he tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to running back Lawrence Vickers in the third quarter to chop the deficit to 24-7, but it certainly didn't start a trend on this day. The Steelers nailed the coffin shut on Roethlisberger's fourth scoring strike four minutes later as the boos grew louder from the fans that hadn't already headed home.
In the end the Steelers had forced five turnovers. They racked up 365 total yards to 221 for the Browns. They had outgained their North Division rival on the ground, 206-46. And they had spent the entire afternoon chasing down and sacking Cleveland quarterbacks.
The 2008 season had begun just as the 2007 season had ended – with little reason for hope. But a curious strain came from the post-game quotes out of the Browns locker room. This team wasn't going to be the patsy that had played the role of AFC doormat in the majority of years since the franchise returned.
But who could believe it as the Browns trudged off the field a lopsided loser?
As the dismantling of the Browns came to a merciful end, one Cleveland reporter joked, "They need to stop scheduling these guys."
No such luck. But Crennel understood that if his team didn't improve drastically in all phases of the game, the opponent would be irrelevant. The Browns couldn't beat anyone if they duplicated that performance.
"There's no explanation I can give you," Crennel told the assembled media following the game. "I think we just got beat by a better team. We were expecting a lot more. We dug ourselves a tremendous hole, and in the NFL, when you dig yourself a hole, it's hard to get out. We're not good enough to overcome a hole as deep as we dug."
Though all the Browns on both sides of the ball spent much of the game digging that hole, Frye certainly began the excavation. He had also dug himself a hole that he would not be given a chance to climb out of.
"I need to get better," he told the Dayton Daily News. "That's pretty clear."
If he was to get better, he was to do it with the Seattle Seahawks, to whom he was dispatched for a sixth round draft pick two days later.
On the other side of the stadium, the jubilant Steelers paid tribute to the coach who kicked off his tenure in style.
"You see the excitement in his eyes," Roethlisberger told the Associated Press. "He really doesn't get rah-rah. As a player you like that. He's calm. You don't have to worry about getting yelled at or spit on or getting stuff thrown at you."
What was getting thrown at the Browns was criticism. But Jurevicius sounded a note of caution to fans dooming their team to another year of misery.
"I'd like to think we got the bad one out of our system," he told AP, later expressing his view that he had a feeling a much better Cleveland team was about to emerge.
And, by golly, he was right. But on Sept. 9, 2007, nobody believed him.