On move, Browns reach crossroads Steelers game offers )) chance to step up, or throw in towel

November 13, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- How about the "Lame Duck Browns"?

It is a nickname being tossed around the NFL after Browns owner Art Modell announced a week ago that his team was moving to Baltimore after 50 seasons in Cleveland.

All of a sudden, it's expected that Cleveland (4-5) lethargically will play out its string of seven remaining games and throw in one of the Terrible Towels tonight when the Browns play the AFC Central-leading and archrival Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4).

"I think we have a lot of character on this team. Maybe a Monday night game on the road, at the Steelers, is exactly what we need at this point in time," Browns defensive back Louis Riddick said. "Maybe we need to pull together, go on the road and take a look at one another."

Said coach Bill Belichick: "We have to become focused again. Last week was initially a shock, but in some degree, it has worn off."

Maybe. Maybe not.

Usually when Pittsburgh plays Cleveland in this 45-year-old turnpike rivalry, there's a lot of trash-talking, pushing and shoving and finger-pointing. Then, when it's over, the players don't even shake hands.

You could expect the intensity level to be turned up a few levels when the game is on national television, but no one knows what to expect from the Browns tonight.

"It's the greatest rivalry in professional sports. I hope they're the same," said Dan Rooney, owner of the Steelers. "I hope they're back up and they're playing us and we play tough football."

Toughness long has been associated with both cities, which are 150 miles apart. Both 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 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.

But tonight will be the last time the Cleveland Browns will play in Pittsburgh. The next time they come to town, barring a repeat of last season's playoff visit or successful legal action by Cleveland, they will be the Baltimore Browns.

"It doesn't even sound right," said Steelers quarterback Mike Tomczak. "It's got to be tearing their fans' hearts out. When I heard about this, I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be hard to swallow.' "

Some of the Browns still are digesting it.

"When you're married to somebody and you suddenly break it off, does that mean you just stop caring? Does that mean you no longer have feelings?" said Tony Jones, Cleveland's eight-year offensive tackle.

Others seemed to have accepted it.

"I'm from New Orleans," said running back Leroy Hoard. "I don't know anything about that place, Baltimore. But I know my check is going to Baltimore, and I'm going to chase it. I play for the Browns. If the Browns go to Timbuktu, I'm going there, too."

The Browns looked distracted and unemotional in a 37-10 loss to the Houston Oilers last week in a quiet, emptying Cleveland Stadium. Modell attributed the loss to the news of the move, and called the performance "deplorable."

It was the Browns' fourth loss in the past five games.

"Obviously, there were some things to think about last week," said Jones. "All of a sudden, you have to think about your family, the move, schools and doctors. I wouldn't want to speculate and say that it caused all our problems, but it was part of it."

Enough so that Modell flew from Dallas after the owners meetings on Tuesday to speak with his team on Wednesday.

He said he hopes the Browns realize they cannot afford another loss, even if they haven't won in Pittsburgh since a 51-0 victory on opening day 1989.

"We're really just pawns in this game," said Cleveland tight end Brian Kinchen. "It's a job, and jobs have pressure. That's life. It happens all the time in other professions, so we'll have to deal with it like big boys, and move on."

At least the game is on the road. Last week, the Browns got booed at home, and the sentiment probably will continue for the rest of the season.

"I don't think the move to Baltimore will have any effect on the game," Browns safety Dana Hall said. "The bottom line for us is execution. As for the crowd booing us, I'm going to treat every game as a road game. Cleveland fans really haven't been behind us all year. We haven't played that well, so who can blame them?"

Cleveland running back Earnest Byner suggested the Browns' problems are much bigger than the move.

"I could go into some heavy stuff right now, but I choose not to," said Byner. "I choose to plead the fifth as far as the rest of the circumstances that are causing us to play as such. It's just not right right now. It's not outside. The fight is inside. It's an inner battle. It's been on my heart to speak to some people, and I will."

Browns tonight

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers

Site: Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh

When: 9 p.m.

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Browns on Monday

Date .. .. Result

9/21/70 Browns 31, N.Y. Jets 21

12/7/70 Browns 21, Houston 10

10/4/71 Oakland 34, Browns 20

11/13/72 Browns 21, S. Diego 17

10/15/73 Miami 17, Browns 9

9/26/77 Browns 30, N. Eng. 27

9/24/79 Browns 26, Dallas 7

9/15/80 Houston 16, Browns 7

11/3/80 Browns 27, Chicago 21

9/7/81 S. Diego 44, Browns 14

9/16/85 Browns 17, Pittsburgh 7

11/10/86 Browns 26, Miami 16

10/26/87 Browns 30, Rams 17

9/19/88 Browns 23, Indy 17

11/7/88 Houston 24, Browns 17

12/12/88 Miami 38, Browns 31

9/25/89 Cin. 21, Browns 14

10/23/89 Browns 27, Chicago 7

10/8/90 Browns 30, Denver 29

10/22/90 Cin. 34, Browns 13

9/14/92 Miami 27, Browns 23

9/13/93 Browns 23, San Fran. 13

Browns schedule

The Browns' remaining games:

Date .. .. .. Opponent .. .. .. Time

Today . .. .. at Pittsburgh ... 9 p.m.

Sunday ... .. Green Bay . .. .. 1 p.m.

Nov. 26 .. .. Pittsburgh ... .. 4 p.m.

Dec. 3 ... .. at San Diego . .. 4 p.m.

Dec. 9 ... .. at Minnesota . . 12:30 p.m.

Dec. 17 .. .. Cincinnati ... .. 1 p.m.

Dec. 24 .. .. at Jacksonville . 1 p.m.

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