Football coaches at all levels pick and choose their spots to bring in motivational speakers to get their players to understand the importance of particular games.
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel brought in former Buckeyes All-American safety Jack Tatum, whose 1968 team defeated USC in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship, to speak to the squad before the game against the Trojans earlier this season.
Being that this is Steelers Week, a time when you are really tempted to pull out a trump card if you've got one, Browns head coach Eric Mangini was asked by The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer's Tony Grossi on Wednesday if he would bring in a motivational speaker to talk to his club in preparation for Sunday's game at Pittsburgh.
"I would do something like that if I thought it could help," Mangini said. "Why? Do you have someone in mind?"
Grossi didn't answer. Maybe because he just didn't want to, or maybe because he felt like he didn't need to. After all, there are all kinds of candidates – right in the Cleveland area, or easily accessible to the Cleveland area – who could speak fluently, and in volumes, about the rivalry and what it means to the Browns, their fans and this community as a whole.
From players to coaches, there are a lot of newcomers to the team this year, especially from the New York Jets, where the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins are the arch rivals. Thus, they don't know – nor would they be expected to know – what Cleveland-Pittsburgh means. But now that they're wearing that plain orange helmet, they should know. They must know. They are required to know.
As such, here's a list for Mangini to research of possible speakers, any of whom would do a good job – and then some:
*Doug Dieken. He was sitting in his customary seat in the corner of the last row of the Dino Lucarelli Media Center when Mangini and Grossi had that exchange. We would have spoken up and mentioned his name to the coach when he was asking for suggestions, but we didn't want to overstep our bounds and put Dieken into an awkward situation. However, nobody knows this rivalry better than he does. He played left tackle for the Browns for 14 seasons, and is in his 21st year of serving as the color analyst on the Browns Radio Network. Add in the three years he spent working as a goodwill ambassador for the Browns when the original franchise had left for Baltimore, and he is in his 38th consecutive season of being affiliated in one way or another with the club, making him the longest-tenured "employee" on the team now. He hates the Steelers more than a kid hates liver and onions. There was a joke going around that when the Steelers, as part of a fundraiser, sold tickets for a raffle to see who got to push down the plunger to detonate the explosives that imploded Three Rivers Stadium, Dieken would buy up all the ducats to make sure he was the one who got to do it. Once, before a Steelers game when he was playing, he was asked by a reporter to comment on the player against whom he would be going against, and had gone up against for years, defensive end Dwight "Mad Dog" White. He grinned slyly and said, "My mom and dad taught me that if you can't say something nice about someone, then don't say anything at all. So no comment." By the time Dieken's done talking to the team, he might be ready to don a pair of shoulder pads himself.
*Kevin Mack. Just like Dieken, he's with the team, serving as assistant director of player development. The former fullback played nine seasons for the Browns, having taken a lot of big hits and dished out even more himself. He once butted heads – literally -- with Steelers strongman, middle linebacker Greg Lloyd, and knocked him cold. If you want to know about the physicality of this rivalry, ask the man that former Browns radio play-by-play man Nev Chandler used to call "the Mack truck."
*Bernie Kosar. Being born and raised in the Youngstown, Ohio suburb of Boardman Township, located halfway between the two cities (62 miles from Cleveland and 63 from Pittsburgh), he knew all about the Browns-Steelers rivalry decades ago. He followed that up by playing against the Steelers for over eight season as Browns quarterback. Now an unofficial advisor/consultant to team owner Randy Lerner, he could do a great job of advising the players to make sure to have their best performance of the year on Sunday.
*Hanford Dixon. No one has to tell "The Top Dawg," a cornerback two decades ago, how special this rivalry is. When he was selected by the Browns in the first round of the 1981 NFL Draft, a Steelers scout was heard to chortle, "Oh, look, the Browns drafted the midget!" He never forgot that. A year later, he intercepted three passes in a one-point win over Pittsburgh that was key to the Browns making the playoffs. He's still living in the area, and there's still a fire burning in his belly for Browns-Steelers.
*Brian Brennan. The former Browns wide receiver in the 1980s is a Cleveland area resident as well. He has often said that when he played, the team almost always got the best of the Steelers. With the rivalry now tilted the other way, maybe he's got some helpful tips on how to stem that tide.
*Don Cockroft. He had a lot of big kicks against the Steelers in the 1970s, and some of them kicked Pittsburgh right where it counts. He once won a key game against Pittsburgh with a kick, in fact. When he first came to the team, the veterans told him right away about the rivalry and he took it to heart. His heart still beats with that message, and he'd love to tell it.
*Sam Rutigliano. Unlike some of his successors with the Browns, the former head coach of the Kardiac Kids really understood the rivalry – maybe better than any coach in team history. A tremendous public speaker, he could put the rivalry into its proper perspective in a way that would be both entertaining, informative and insightful. He usually charges for his talks, but we're certain this one would be done free gratis – happily.
There, are those enough names, Coach?