It's tough times for tough rivalry Even in Pittsburgh, there is sympathy for Browns fans

November 14, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- Dan Rooney was a second-team All-City high school quarterback -- first-team honors went to a player named John Unitas -- the first time the Cleveland Browns came to Pittsburgh in 1950.

Rooney, son of the late Art Rooney Sr., who founded the Steelers, said, "I never saw anything like it."

The Browns, who had just moved into the NFL after winning all four All-America Football Conference titles, had a modern passing game designed by Paul Brown, with Otto Graham as his quarterback.

The Steelers, who still were using the single wing, were no match for the Browns.

"They came out throwing the ball and our players said you ought to join the Celtics [because they were throwing so much]. [They said] This isn't football," Rooney said.

Rooney says the Browns' 30-17 victory that day was the beginning of "the best rivalry in sports."

They used to call it "The Blue Collar Bowl," the battle between the two working-class cities separated by 150 miles of interstate highway. It may be all in the past now. The Cleveland Browns' visit to Pittsburgh last night -- a 20-3 Steelers victory -- may have been their last.

Rooney believes the rivalry died last Monday when Browns owner Art Modell announced at Camden Yards that he's moving the team to Baltimore next year.

"I'm just sick about it. That killed it [the rivalry]," the Steelers owner said. "Pittsburgh-Baltimore won't be anywhere near the same. Even if they [Cleveland] get a new team, it won't be the same as this one."

What makes it even more difficult for Rooney is that he and Modell have grown to be close friends over the years.

Rooney still spoke out against the move at the owners meeting in Dallas last Tuesday and has no regrets about opposing his friend's action.

"I think it had to be said. It wasn't against him. It was against the move," Rooney said.

Rooney also said the proposed move hasn't ruptured their friendship.

"We were all right. He was a little angry about it. I was disappointed. We shook hands. I still think Art's a fine person," he said.

Rooney also gives every indication that he hopes the owners will reject the move and go to court to try to stop the move.

"It's not over," Rooney said on the field at Three Rivers Stadium before the game started. "I'm trying to be diplomatic, so I've got to say we've got to follow the procedures. I don't consider it [move] a foregone conclusion."

Teams are supposed to meet certain guidelines before the owners approve their moves, but they haven't been willing to go to court to try to block one since the Raiders won a legal battle in 1982 and moved from Oakland to Los Angeles.

The owners won't decide until January whether to fight the move, but the announcement led to a strange scene at Three Rivers Stadium last night.

Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White was on the field before the game pleading Cleveland's case with the ABC-TV sportscasters and led a rally outside the stadium before the kickoff.

Meanwhile, Steelers fans, who usually hate Browns fans, were displaying empathy for them.

Although few of them wore the orange armbands that were being given out by by a radio station and a newspaper, Steelers fans patted Browns fans on the back as they tailgated before the game.

Fred Macron, a salesman who was flying his Browns banner in the parking lot, said, "It's not the hostile environment we faced last January [when the Steelers beat the Browns in the playoffs]. They're being more sympathetic. We were their favorite team to hate. They won't have anybody to hate after tonight."

The cities are so close that some Steelers fans even live in Ohio. A group of Steelers fans from East Palestine and Niles, Ohio, even brought a Browns fan, Dan Reack, with them.

Bob Burns, a postal worker who was part of the Steelers contingent, said, "I feel bad for them that they're losing the team, but I'm glad they're getting rid of Modell and [coach] Bill Belichick."

One fan from Cleveland, Michael Manelski, who's going to school in Pittsburgh, carried a sign reading, "Thank you Pittsburgh from Cleveland and all the Art Modell Haters."

Those were some of the more restrained comments. T-shirts with an obscene reference to Modell were doing a brisk business in the parking lot and there was one sign comparing Modell to Judas, saying he "sold his soul and our rivalry for 30 pieces of silver."

One Steelers fan, Mike D'Alfonso, a therapist, carried a sign reading "Art's Baltimore Clowns."

"I hate it that money is running the NFL, period," he said.

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