Pittsburgh and Cleveland: similarity breeds contempt

January 07, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have met 91 times in one of the NFL's longest rivalries, but never in the playoffs. When they play today in the AFC semifinals at Three Rivers Stadium, a series of great intensity reaches a new level.

"It's two towns that are similar, both blue collar and filled with hard workers," said Steelers cornerback Tim McKyer. "We're only 150 miles apart, but our fans hate their fans. Their players disrespect our players.

"And now both our seasons boil down to one game. You'd better believe there is going to be a lot of trash talking, shoving and pushing going on out there. The intensity will be like never before."

The enthusiasm was high three weeks ago when the Browns met the Steelers and a record crowd of 60,808 jammed Three Rivers Stadium to watch the Steelers pull off a 17-7 victory. That game gave Pittsburgh a sweep of Cleveland, which Pittsburgh defeated, 17-10, on Sept. 11.

After both games, several Cleveland players said the Steelers were lucky. The Steelers are still talking about how some Browns refused to shake hands after the last game.

"We want Pittsburgh real bad," said Cleveland defensive tackle Rob Burnett. "They're a good team, and we're a good team, but I think we're better. We've got something to prove."

Said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher: "Hey, someone tell the Browns we plan on showing up. We'll be there at 12:30."

Maybe these teams and cities don't like each other because they are so alike. Both cities were industrial powers that reached their heights during World War II, and then had to go through periods of rebirth.

Pittsburgh has replaced the diminishing steel industry with a focus on high-tech businesses, health care, education and service industries. Cleveland, a forgotten Great Lakes port that skirted bankruptcy in the 1970s, has recovered on the strength of manufacturing durable goods, defense hardware, aerospace and medical equipment.

Both teams have great defenses. Cleveland's was the stingiest during the regular season, allowing only 204 points. Pittsburgh's was ranked second in the league and first in the AFC, allowing 270.4 yards per game.

Cleveland has a great down lineman in Michael Dean Perry, and its linebacking corps is solid with Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks. Pittsburgh's "Blitzburgh" defense is led by outside linebackers Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd and defensive backs Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake.

The key then, for both teams, is which offense commits the most mistakes.

Which brings us to Cleveland quarterback Vinny Testaverde. The Steelers made 17 interceptions, six courtesy of Testaverde, and they led the league in sacks with 55.

"Pressure shakes him," said Lloyd. "And our team is like those raptors from Jurassic Park. My daughter has watched that movie 100 times, and I like the comparison. When you have one raptor in your sight, there may still be other ones attacking you from the other side that you don't see.

"We do a lot of disguising. The quarterback has to be a quick reader. Some teams think all we do is blitz, and sometimes that's what we want them to think.

"Vinny had a good game last week against New England [20 of 30 for 268 yards, one touchdown], but in the games we played him this year, he was what we expected of Vinny Testaverde. You put pressure on him and he thinks about it. He's vulnerable there."

Opposing players were making similar statements about Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell earlier this season, but the former University of Maryland standout has been error-free down the stretch. O'Donnell threw a league-low nine interceptions, and the Steelers led the NFL in fewest turnovers (17) and turnover differential (plus-14).

Cleveland must stop Pittsburgh's running trio of Barry Foster, Bam Morris and John L. Williams and force O'Donnell into passing situations. The Steelers' three prime-time backs combined for nearly all of the team's league-leading 2,180 yards rushing and 136.2 per game average.



* Cleveland at Pittsburgh, 12:30 p.m., chs. 11, 4


* Chicago at San Francisco, 4 p.m., chs. 45, 5



* Green Bay at Dallas, 12:30 p.m., chs. 45, 5


* Miami at San Diego, 4 p.m., chs. 11, 4

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