Did you know that the Pittsburgh Steelers used to be the laughing stock of professional football? They were so bad when they started up as a NFL franchise, they were initially called the Pirates in 1933. Their first winning season wasn’t until 1942 and they only managed seven winning seasons from 1933-72. That’s 40 seasons if you’re counting. After the Steelers drafted players like Terry Bradshaw, “Mean” Joe Greene, Jack Ham and Franco Harris in the early 1970s, the Steelers’ status abruptly changed and still today, considered one of the premier NFL teams in the country, having won six Super Bowls.
In contrast, the Cleveland Browns were one of the most successful professional football teams early on in their history, winning eight championships between 1946-1964. However, while the Steelers started excelling in the early 1970s, the Browns began to go in the wrong direction. Outside of a decade of success for the Browns between 1985-95, the Browns have been pretty bad since.
And that brings us to the rivalry between the two teams. And yes, there still is a rivalry though some things don’t suggest that. The Steelers now lead the Browns overall 77-59-1 in the series. And when you ask most Steelers fans if there still is a rivalry most of their fans say there isn’t one anymore.
The unfortunate thing for most young Browns fans is that they’ve never seen what the rivalry was when it was at its pinnacle in the 1970-80s. So that’s why what is happening now with the resurgence of the Browns under a new coaching regime, led by head coach Kevin Stefanski is such an important step in renewing a rivalry that most don’t see.
The Browns, with a win on Sunday, can move into the playoffs. The Browns did beat the Steelers last season once, 21-7. The game that Browns player Myles Garrett got into an on-field fight with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph. But even with that win, the Steelers still don’t seem to respect the Browns. The Steelers crushed the Browns back in October, 38-7. And at the time of that game, there was a lot of chatter about what a big game that was for the Browns in getting over the head games of playing and beating the Steelers. Obviously, the Browns failed that test.
So on Sunday, the Browns get to retake the test after having studied their notes, stayed up all night, drank too much coffee and tried to figure out how to ace the test the next time.
Several years ago, I had been coaching a middle school basketball team that had had a history of not winning many games. When I started coaching that team the first season, our team lost most of our games like tradition had said it would. Teams would beat our team by 30 points most nights. But the next three seasons were better and by that fourth season, our team learned to win a lot, going undefeated on the season and we were the ones winning by 30 points.
The idea of winning and building on that tradition takes time but I believe this new Browns team has established more winning habits. What happens on Sunday between the Browns and the Steelers will certainly be something will look back on and discuss the positives and negatives. I’m excited to see how the Browns do on the retest. If they can remember their notes and breathe during the exam on the field I believe the Browns will remind the Steelers that this is still a rivalry.