August 28, 2014

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Coughlin: Browns-Steelers rivalry has lost its old-school bite

This “rivalry” between the Browns and the Steelers holds less water than a rusty bucket. Many years have passed since Steelers Week packed an emotional punch in the Browns` locker room. It is now reduced to a myth that we in the media trumpet with such fervor that we believe it.
Except for the fact that they play each other twice a year, these teams hardly know each other today. There has been so much turnover in Cleveland that most players don`t even know if there`s an “h” on the end of Pittsburgh.
Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, most people in the organization are only passing through. It`s a job, a work station, a few paychecks – then on to another city. They make enough money to maintain two homes. Their football city is a temporary residence. Their permanent home is somewhere else.
For years Joe Jurevicius and LeCharles Bentley played somewhere else, but their permanent home was Cleveland and they longed to return here. They got their wish, although it hasn`t worked out perfectly for Bentley due to his knee injury. Jurevicius, Bentley and Steve Sanders, an East High grad who is on the practice squad, are among the few – the proud – who can claim to be neurotic enough to harbor genetic contempt for the Steelers. You can`t simply turn this switch on and off. You have to be born with it.
To most players, however, this game has added value only because it`s a division game against the team blocking their path to a division championship, nothing more. It has no historical relevance. The Steelers are a football team, not a time-honored neurosis – which is our baggage, not theirs.
Oh, there was that little pre-game fight between William Green and Joey Porter a few years ago, but I don`t think it was based on any rivalry, just a pair of unstable personalities colliding. More recently, the Steelers called Kellen Winslow a cheap-shot artist, and the Browns feel the same way about Hines Ward. At least that`s a good beginning.
To appreciate the wonderfully volatile relationship between these teams, it helps to go back to the 1960s at the old Stadium, when fistfights would break out in the upper deck in right and left fields. The police would move in if the fistfights escalated into brawls. There were isolated incidents of slashed tires on cars that had the wrong license plates.
Over three decades, “Mean” Joe Greene`s image has been sanitized – but don`t be conned. The Pittsburgh defensive line of the 70s featured some bad and crazy guys. They were known as the “Steel Curtain,” but “Menace to Society” would have applied just as easily.
We share such warm and fuzzy memories from that era, like Steelers` middle linebacker Jack Lambert almost triggering a riot when he viciously hit Brian Sipe out of bounds. I forget if that was before or after Joe “Turkey” Jones picked up Steelers` quarterback Terry Bradshaw and deposited him upside down on his head on the muddy turf of Cleveland Stadium.
Those really were the good old days. Fears that Bradshaw`s neck was broken were unfounded and he regained consciousness after just a few days.
Back then, Doug Dieken said, “You buckled your helmet AFTER the play.”
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle and a sportscaster for Channel 8. Contact him at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.