Both on and off the field, Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh is a fierce, steely rivalry Competition is felt among the players, fans, even owners

November 13, 1995|By Drake Witham | Drake Witham,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns meet tonight, they'll be playing for first place in the AFC Central, but what takes place on the field is just part of this rivalry.

"It has a long, rich history," said Ed Bouchette, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You have two steel towns that are two hours apart. There are more fights in the stands than there are on the field."

From the cheap seats to the owners' boxes, the rivalry is heated. Browns owner Art Modell and the late Steelers owner Art Rooney delighted in rubbing each others' noses in defeats.

During the Browns' championship season of 1964, Rooney went to see Modell before a game with Pennsylvania Gov. David Lawrence and six priests. He lamented that the Steelers weren't healthy, and asked Modell if the stronger Browns could take it easy on his team.

Then Steelers running back John Henry Johnson went out and rushed for 200 yards in Pittsburgh's 23-7 win. Modell was upset after the game, when he heard someone trying to get his attention.

"He heard this 'pst, pst,' " Bouchette said. "And there's the Chief [Rooney] giving him the Italian salute."

Myron Cope, Steelers color commentator for the past 25 years, remembers that Modell never would give the Steelers a decent locker room, even after the Indians vacated Cleveland Stadium for Jacobs Field.

The rivalry would not be what it is without the fan support, though. Every year, busloads of Steelers fans make the trek to Cleveland, inevitably finding their way to the Dawg Pound, where the fights begin.

Not as many Browns fans travel to Pittsburgh, because Three Rivers Stadium is usually sold out, but Cope remembers that they came by the busload when Pittsburgh played at Pitt Stadium in the 1960s. What he remembers most is the unusual means of transport that drunken Browns fans would use to get down the hill to the old stadium.

"Browns fans would roll Browns fans down the hill because they were dead drunk," Cope said. "Then they'd prop then up in their seats for the game."

And, of course, the two teams, who have won 17 of the 24 AFC Central titles since 1970, have a heated history on the field.

Cope remembers a brawl in the 1970s in which the Steelers' Jack Lambert kicked a wide receiver who was nowhere near the melee, because "he didn't think anyone would see him." Bouchette recalls Browns defensive end "Turkey" Joe Jones lifting Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, spinning him around and spiking him head first into the frozen turf.

"We thought Bradshaw was dead," he said.

"It's the biggest rivalry in the National Football League," Cope said. "No doubt."

Cleveland owns a 52-39 lifetime advantage on the strength of its success in the 1950s and '60s. The Browns won the first eight meetings before Pittsburgh defeated the eventual champion Browns in 1954. Cleveland won 32 of the first 41 meetings.

But the second meeting in 1970, at Pittsburgh's new Three Rivers Stadium, started a 16-season home winning streak for the Steelers. Modell tried everything to end the streak. He had the team stay in different hotels and travel by bus one year and plane the next to halt the skid.

"One year, he sprinkled dirt from Cleveland Stadium on the field," Bouchette said. "That was a big deal when they finally won [in 1986]."

The Steelers have the edge of late, winning the past four, including a late-season victory in Pittsburgh to earn the division title and a 29-9 playoff victory three weeks later in the only postseason game the teams have played. Pittsburgh also has won the only Monday night game, 17-7 in 1985.

Of the team's 91 meetings, these 10 stand out either for their importance or for the way they were played.

* Jan. 7, 1995: (at) Pittsburgh 29, Cleveland 9 -- The Steelers used 21 second-quarter points to go up 24-3 by halftime in the teams' only playoff meeting. Barry Foster gained 133 yards on 24 carries, and Pittsburgh held the ball for more than 42 minutes in dominating every phase of the game.

* Oct. 24, 1993: (at) Cleveland 28, Pittsburgh 23 -- Eric Metcalf gave Cleveland a 14-0 first-half lead with a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown, but Pittsburgh had a 23-21 lead when it punted late in the fourth quarter. Metcalf turned the trick again, this time from 75 yards with just over two minutes remaining, to put the Browns in first place.

* Nov. 23, 1986: (at) Cleveland 37, Pittsburgh 31 -- Steelers kicker Gary Anderson tied the score on a 40-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining. After an exchange of possessions in overtime, Bernie Kosar hit Webster Slaughter on a 36-yard touchdown pass for the win. Kosar finished with 414 yards on 28 of 46 passing.

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