Mark Madden: Current Steelers-Browns rivalry doesn’t compare to battles in ’70s
For those imagining Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Cleveland will morph into a blood feud or race war on Heinz Field’s grass or in its adjacent parking lots, think again.
The current fans and players are soft as puppy excrement compared to those competing and watching when Steelers vs. Browns actually was a rivalry.
The real Steelers-Browns rivalry was the rock-hard Tartan Turf of Three Rivers Stadium and the frozen infield dirt of Municipal Stadium.
The real Steelers-Browns rivalry was “Turkey” Jones pile-driving Terry Bradshaw, and Joe Greene using the opposition’s nether regions for speed bags.
Compared to those wars in the ‘70s, what happened at the end of the Nov. 14 game at Cleveland was a slap fight. No damage got done. Only feelings were hurt.
On Nov. 14, the primary conflict was between the Steelers’ Mason Rudolph and Cleveland’s Myles Garrett. Rudolph isn’t starting Sunday. Garrett is suspended. So, come game time, who gets revenge on who?
As far as the parking lots go, here’s betting the situation will be markedly less messy than a Kenny Chesney concert. These days, fan battles get fought on social media.
Cleveland is winning when it comes to being funny. The “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirts are HILARIOUS. Hitting a Rudolph piñata with a Steelers helmet is HILARIOUS.
One (false) report said fans wearing Garrett jerseys would be denied entry Sunday. Fans will be prohibited from bringing duck calls into Heinz Field by way of encouraging Steelers quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges.
Prudent move. If 65,000 people tooted those for three hours, an army of ducks could descend and overwhelm. Roll over, Alfred Hitchcock, and tell Tippi Hedren the news.
Hodges goes into Sunday’s game after getting a very odd endorsement from coach Mike Tomlin: “I expect he won’t kill us.” In other words, Rudolph did.
This game is quite literally in the hands of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. If Mayfield and his offensive platoon don’t commit turnovers, the Steelers have no chance. Zero Pittsburgh takeaways led to an easy 21-7 Cleveland victory last time.
The Steelers stink offensively. The numbers don’t lie.
The Steelers scored 28 points or more eight times last year. They haven’t done it once this season. The Steelers have scored one offensive touchdown in each of the last four games. They are one of three teams to not have a 300-yard passer this campaign.
Hodges doesn’t figure to break that latter streak Sunday.
There’s not much video on Hodges, but figuring him out isn’t like solving the New York Times crossword puzzle. Hodges has little arm strength. He can’t get the ball to the sideline. The Browns will crowd the middle of the field.
Hodges’ main weapon is his confidence. He hasn’t figured out he isn’t very good. Rudolph has. He might need therapy to reverse that.
Sunday’s game will be fun.
A guy named “Duck” is one of the quarterbacks. The parking lots will have a Jets vs. Sharks vibe. (“West Side Story,” not NHL. How many dated movie references can I fit into one column?) Cleveland is 7-34-1 against the Steelers since rejoining the NFL in 1999, but somehow the “rivalry” has been renewed. Thank Garrett for that.
It all adds up to fun.
The NFL seems unconcerned about on-field problems. The league assigned a second-year ref to this game. Maybe that’s good. If Ed Hochuli came out of retirement to work it, it might be like waving a red cape at a bull. (Then again, he’s an attorney.)
If there are fights in the parking lot, then the fun continues on YouTube.
The Browns will beat the Steelers, perhaps comfortably. That’s no fun.
Praise the Steelers for their resilience, their coaches for resourcefulness. Playoff hopes have been kept fresh well past their sell-by date. But being swept by the Browns will finally drive home a hard reality: No Ben, no chance.