In the past 12 seasons, fans garbed in black n' gold have waved their towels with fervor at both Heinz Field and Cleveland "Frowns" Stadium, unleashing a mock bark to match the Steelers' real bite against an opponent long removed from the glory days of a great rivalry.
Two cities separated by a moderate bus ride have had a long-standing animosity toward each other, making this era of Steelers vs. Browns history decidedly enjoyable for exactly one side of the battle lines.
On one hand, there is an odd and elitist satisfaction that comes with the decimation of a classic rival. The fans who are old enough to recall the 1989 opener at Three Rivers Stadium certainly have no sympathy for the annual (seemingly obligatory) blowout that serves as a reminder to mask-wearing "Pound Pooches" (or is it pounded?) that their football team is nowhere near any real contention.
Contrarily, this one-sided nature of the results has honestly driven a stake into the heart of the games, sapping the emotion from what would have formerly ranked among the five greatest rivalries in football.
Fans near Lake Erie will talk about the exciting potential of their young team in 2011 and beyond. They may have an excellent point. Nevertheless, with every moment of new optimism for the Browns comes another bad season and untimely beat down to batter their hopes once more.
Cleveland fans want and deserve to be taken seriously. In no way are these circumstances a direct result of any of their actions individually. Yet, for the ire that my words would surely evoke from Browns enthusiasts, such hatred cannot temper the reality of a series now marked by Pittsburgh dominance.
Vacant from the mind of young Steelers faithful is the sheer exuberance of defeating a classic foe in a pivotal match when beating the Browns meant more than simply winning the games that one is "supposed to." It's too bad they weren't around for those classic days of the rivalry. Many will argue that the battles are still important, and they are. Division games are a top priority for any team with honest goals for a successful season.
Yet, long gone is the sheer passion and sense of validity that comes with beating a hated rival. Whatever aggression remains between the clubs stems from the days prior to the move by the original franchise, a group of traditionalists who refuse to give up on the type of loathing of love that emanated from classic Browns vs. Steelers.
Remember the ire felt after that 51-0 beating of the Steelers at old Three Rivers?
Also, do you recall the vindicating emotion of the 17-7 win later that same season at Municipal Stadium?
The youngsters need their tour guides—albeit parents, a close adult friend, or an uncle—to explain why one of football's greatest rivalries has devolved into the equivalent of John Cena vs. Golddust. Or, in other terms, the Steelers vs. the "Black and Gold-dusted."
Tell them about the greatest games of four decades, from the Browns dynasty to the Steelers of the 1970's, from Sipe to Testeverde and Bradshaw to O'Donnell.
Inform them of the move announced by Art Modell. For those who were there, show them your orange arm band that you wore in support of Cleveland (Ugh! Correction: support of the rivalry!) during a Monday Night Football game in 1995.
Be honest with them. Tell them that for all of their pretty purple, the ravenous Ravens were once the Cleveland Browns, and that franchise was once marked with pride. Then, swallow that lump in your throat into the sickening pit in your stomach after even being able to admit that.
Talk about the promises of a return to football for the city of Cleveland and the reality of the return of a team that only mimics the old rivals.
Show the youngest of Steelers loyalty (or, as we call it in Pittsburgh, royalty) this slideshow, a countdown of the top ten debacles between the clubs since their return in 1999. You can safely lean down and let them know, "This is not what a rivalry is supposed to be. But, beating that city just still feels so good, so we'll take it!"
Finally, make sure they know that whatever satisfaction they feel from this slideshow is equally matched with headaches, frustrations, and dog masks soaked by saline in Cleveland.