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Rossi: Longing for when 'Browns Week' mattered

| Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, 10:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons sacks Browns quarterback Jason Campbell in the fourth quarter Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Brett Keisel and Jarvis Jones (95) drop Browns running back Edwin Baker in the third quarter Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Le'Veon Bell breaks the grasp of Browns defender Fozzy Whitaker en route to a second quarter gain at Heinz Field Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

It's part of aging, not necessarily growing up, to believe things were better when you were younger. It's rarely actually the case, though. Television is better now than it was two decades ago. The same goes for American cars, light bulbs, artificial turf, grocery stores and (astonishingly) Bruce Springsteen's songs.

Then there's the Cleveland Browns.

They're worse, and that's the worst.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said it well Tuesday. His squad is preparing to open the NFL season at home against the Browns. Nothing else should need to be said, though Tomlin could begin practice on Wednesday by noting it is the 710th day to pass since the Steelers have won in September.

Of course, Sunday the Browns will try to win at Heinz Field for the first time in 3,972 days.

Or for the second time ever.

The point here is not to have fun at the Browns expense, even if that's exactly what the Steelers have done since the late, great Chuck Noll retired. His Steelers teams won 25 of 46 games against his hometown team, leaving the all-time series at 50-34 in favor of the Browns in 1991.

Now the Steelers lead the series, 65-57 — and that doesn't count two playoff wins.

No wonder there aren't a lot of Pittsburghers talking about “Browns Week” like they do “Ravens Week” or “Bengals Week.” Even in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers rival any religion, it's tough to make the most out of a week that is all but guaranteed to end with the same result.

Tomlin suspects hot shot quarterback Johnny Manziel will see some snaps on Sunday afternoon.

So?

It's been since Eric Metcalf was busting through the Steelers' coverage units at Municipal Stadium in the early 1990s that anybody in Pittsburgh was worried about the Browns.

Nobody seems worried about the 123rd regular-season rendition of the AFC's most battle-tested rivalry, either. Forget that there's only one great unit between these teams, that it's the Browns' defense, and that even Cleveland's unimposing passing attack is likely to luck into some success against the Steelers' leaky-creaky secondary.

Nope, the Steelers will win Sunday and be 1-0 headed into a short “Ravens Week.”

Well, OK, that's probably true.

What if it wasn't?

What if the Browns pulled the upset and positioned themselves to sweep the season series for the first time since Ronald Reagan occupied the Oval Office?

That wouldn't be so bad in the long run — not for the Turnpike Rivalry, anyway.

Pittsburghers have never needed their beloved Steelers less.

This is a most livable city that wows visitors with its arts, impresses companies with its green initiatives and stimulates its own with neighborhoods that are changing without losing their charms.

Enough with that Rust Belt city stuff, and please stop with the Steel Town references. Things here are different than other cities that industry abandoned.

Benefit from our amazing hospitals, numerous trails and unique boutiques. See our beautiful buildings in major movies. Dine and drink further down along East Carson Street than ever before. The freshmen who have enrolled at our universities and colleges know not of a decaying town that has only a great football team.

Not all cities' college freshmen can say that much. Those cities need more of a pick-me-up from their NFL teams than Pittsburghers do ours.

Truth is, we'd have more fun going forward if that pick-me-up came at the Steelers' expense.

Some cousins live just outside of Cleveland in the suburb of Shaker Heights. The ones I know best are older, and the age gap felt like more of a distance than those miles of turnpike between us. Still, we are rooted in Crafton, and when Bill Cowher was hired in 1992, I was thrilled that my Cleveland cousins' mom would tease her kids about the Steelers' coach being from our families' place in Pittsburgh.

One Cleveland cousin and I always made bets over the Steelers-Browns games. The prize was bragging during Christmas break and summer visits. If your team won, it was richer than the lotto payoff.

I just figured that always would be a part of life for a boy from Pittsburgh and a girl from Cleveland, but years of visits have passed since she bragged about the Browns.

In fact, she doesn't even mention them, and that's the worst.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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