The Steelers are spoiled with Super Bowl expectations, looking more like the fat cat Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers than the Cowher teams of yore that overcame big injuries and early losses on their way to another January game.
The shock, just last Monday night, was not so much that the Steelers lost to the 49ers in San Francisco, it was how they lost. Almost to a man, Pittsburgh was not prepared to play that game in mid-November. There was a lack of effort and focus that looked more like early September than the 10th game of a once hopeful season.
In Cleveland, there has been real adversity. There's the ongoing quarterback controversy between Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. Couch went 20 for 25 and 208 yards along with 2 touchdown passes, one of them to WR Kevin Johnson, on route to trouncing the Steelers 33-13 in Pittsburgh. Holcomb will start over Couch this Sunday and the Browns' leading receiver, Johnson, was recently waived by the organization.
Add the ongoing soap opera concerning troubled RB William Green and the Browns are clearly the team facing a true uphill battle. Head coach Butch Davis appears equal to the task and has his team coming off an impressive 44-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
This is the game when the expansion Browns grow up.
If the Cincinnati Bengals can rediscover their winning ways, why can't 2003 be the season when the Browns get the monkey off their backs?
We will all discover just how far the transformation of the NFL has come this Sunday if Cleveland can hold home field and send the Steelers packing for 2004.
That prospect is exactly what every Browns fan fears. What seemed so close last January will not be realized until that last second ticks away tomorrow, with Cleveland ahead, sealing the sweep.
Cleveland must win the Pride Bowl before they can think about bigger things, such as the Super Bowl Art Modell owns heading the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns must move beyond hanging their helmets on beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This game just doesn't mean the same thing to both parties. The players for the Steelers talk about the traditions and beating the Browns. The truth is that this game still means more to Cleveland than it does to Pittsburgh.
Pyrrhic victories are the current province of the teams in Ohio. The Bengals are the team that kept the champaign flowing for the great players of the undefeated Miami Dolphins. The 2003 Browns could be the team that vanquishes the hated Steelers.
Somebody might need to dial up a few of the players of Pittsburgh and let them know that this game means something. Most of the fans are hoping for high draft picks and a change at the top.
Beating the Browns would be nice, but winning the Super Bowl in 2004 is much more important.