Tim Benz: For Steelers fans, Browns hype replacing Patriots obsession | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz: For Steelers fans, Browns hype replacing Patriots obsession

Tim Benz
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield reacts during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Washington Redskins, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Cleveland.

For almost two decades, Pittsburgh Steelers fans have had an unhealthy, but necessary, obsession with the New England Patriots.

How could it be avoided?

If you support an AFC contender, New England has always been the team standing in the way.

As we’ve discussed here, however, the unfortunate truth for the Steelers during the Mike Tomlin era is that other teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens have more often been the roadblock between them and Super Bowl success.

Since 2018 ended, though, there has been a noticeable shift. It’s been pretty much a “Patriots-free” offseason when it comes to media discussion surrounding the Steelers and their rivalries within the conference.

Even with the season opener occurring in Massachusetts on September 8.

That speaks less to the Pats themselves and more to three things about the Steelers.

1. The entirety of the offseason has been dedicated to the Steelers cleaning up their own backyard instead of “keeping up with the Joneses” in Foxborough.

2. The Steelers are better served figuring out how to simply make the playoffs than focusing on how to outlast Tom Brady and company in the postseason.

3. There are a lot more people to hate these days.

Let’s hone in on that last one because I think that’s where the truth lies. Because, for as much as the Steelers are preaching a message of “it’s all about us,” it’s not like the fans and media have been concentrating exclusively on the Black and Gold.

We’ve spent tons of time and energy discussing the “new-look Cleveland Browns,” Antonio Brown’s move to the Oakland Raiders, Le’Veon Bell’s jump to the New York Jets and Baltimore’s revamped offense with Lamar Jackson at the helm full-time.

I dare say that I’ve spent almost as much time writing about those topics here, and talking about them on TV and the radio, as I have the Steelers themselves.

Far more than any single offseason’s dedication to tracking New England.

Can you blame me? Based on the phone calls I’ve gotten on-air and the number of reads we get from visitors to the site, response to discussions about those topics have driven traffic nearly as well — and in some cases, much better — than Steelers-specific issues.

Of course, readers and social media followers deny their interest. Every time I post a story about one of those topics, especially about Brown or Bell, I get the predictable reaction of, “Who cares! This is Pittsburgh n’at. Move on!”

Well, apparently, you care, pal. You cared enough to click on the story, read all the way to the bottom, and send a comment. That seems to be some pretty interested disinterest there.

But it is clear that Steelers fans have become annoyed with the amount of offseason attention paid to the Browns, Ravens, Bell and Brown.

Far be it from me to ignore a chance to capitalize on that angst.

With that in mind, while I was hosting on 105.9 the X recently, I posted a poll on Twitter asking people which of those clubs bothers them the most heading into the 2019 season.

Which of those players or teams do you want most to fail? The results were a little surprising.

Given how Bell screwed over the Steelers last year, I thought he’d get a few more votes. And I thought the Raiders, with Brown’s antics being so omnipresent, would have finished closer in second place.

Brown and the Raiders would’ve gotten my vote. I despise the Raiders for rewarding Brown by giving him a new contract after he forced his way out of a valid one in Pittsburgh. Enabling that kind of behavior makes me ill.

And I can’t be happier that Brown has brought that virus with him to the Bay Area so far.

Also, I’m not as put off by all the Browns hype as many Pittsburghers are because I see more credence to it. I actually think the Browns are going to be a better team this year and will probably win 9 or 10 games and get in the playoffs.

The Steelers are probably close to that same range. So, I get it. Sending out anti-Cleveland vibes into the ether is a more practical vote. Like Baltimore, hoping for the worst for your division rivals is always a good thing.

So there you have it. The people have spoken! We hate the Browns again. And maybe it’s because we think they are overrated, but who cares? It’s fun to hate the Browns again.

No offense, New England. You’re still hated, too. But this feels like old times.

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Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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