Originally created 09/12/99

Browns, Steelers renew NFL's fiercest rivalry



CLEVELAND -- Browns defensive end Joe "Turkey" Jones wrapped both arms around Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, hoisted him up and spiked him headfirst into the ground.

As Bradshaw lay flat on his back after one of the most flagrant fouls in NFL history, his legs twitched grotesquely and yellow penalty flags landed near his feet.

Browns fans danced in the Cleveland Stadium aisles. Bradshaw was flown to Pittsburgh strapped to his seat for fear of a broken neck.

Kind of sick, huh? Well, when you're talking Browns vs. Steelers, virtually anything goes.

Nearly 23 years after that play on Oct. 10, 1976, the most intense rivalry in the league lives on, even if it includes the NFL's newest team, the reborn Browns.

Oh, sure, Washington vs. Dallas has had its moments. So has Chicago vs. Green Bay and Kansas City vs. Oakland.

But in terms of sheer hatred for the other side, longevity and hitting in the stands that's been as ferocious as what's happened on the field, Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh stands alone.

And when the Browns usher in a new era of pro football following a three-season exile Sunday night, they'll have their new stadium christened with a game against their neighbor from Pennsylvania, the dreaded Steelers.

"You personally learned to hate the guy across from you when you played Pittsburgh," said Doug Dieken, a 14-year offensive tackle for Cleveland and current radio analyst for the Browns.

"I played against Dwight White for eight years. You know how after the game you shake another player's hand? I didn't shake his once. Not one time. Jack Lambert's, either. But you never wanted to shake Lambert's hand. He'd kick your grandmother's cane away from her."

Pittsburgh and Cleveland are about 120 miles apart. The cities share much more than an exit off the Ohio Turnpike, though. They're both industrial towns built by blue-collar workers who share the same values and passion for football.

"There is so much tradition in this game with these cities," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who has a unique perspective on the rivalry because he also played for the Browns. "They are so identical with the people and the passion and the way they identify with sports teams."

And if the Browns are to be welcomed back, Cowher figures, who better to do it than the gold and black.

"It's appropriate," he said. "At the end of the first day of the NFL season, we are the last game of the day. It's great that football is back in Cleveland. It really is. It belongs there. It's just like if you would take football out of Pittsburgh it wouldn't seem right."

The Browns and Steelers have taken turns dominating the series. Between 1950 and 1970, Cleveland won 32 of 42 games.

But after moving into Three Rivers Stadium in '70, the Steelers went from NFL laughingstock to powerhouse and beat the Browns 16 straight times at home.

"Bad luck, and they had good people," Dieken said, referring to reasons the Browns had problems in Pittsburgh.

During that streak, the Browns tried everything they could to break the supposed Three Rivers Jinx.

"We stayed in different hotels," he said. "We took airplanes. We took buses. We tried it all."

Coach Sam Rutigliano once made an audiovisual presentation before the game that ended with a fake front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that said: "Browns beat Steelers."

That didn't work, either, Dieken said.

This week, Browns coach Chris Palmer hasn't needed any aides to get his team fired up for the Steelers. Cleveland's first NFL regular-season game since 1995 is big enough, but just to make sure the team's younger players understand the rivalry, tackles Orlando Brown and Jerry Ball have been giving them a crash course in Hating Pittsburgh 101.

Brown, who also played in Cleveland before the team left in '96 for Baltimore, once had to be schooled, too. During Steelers Week, the Browns would bring in former players like Jim Brown, Ozzie Newsome and Hanford Dixon to fire up the team.

"I get really hyped up for it," Orlando Brown said. "I ain't going to lie. I hate Pittsburgh. I really hate Pittsburgh. I go out there and play ball. Anything yellow and black, I hit it. That's how they brought me up."

Palmer got his first taste of Browns vs. Steelers this spring when the teams took turns playing host at Grudge Luncheons to rekindle the rivalry. As Palmer quickly learned, there was no need to stoke the fires in either city despite the layoff.

"This is city on city here," he said. "With this one, records don't mean that much. That's what football is all about.