Steelers vs. Browns: Top 10 Worst Blowouts of an Old Rivalry Gone Lopsided
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.
No. 10: Big Ben Arrives in the AFC North (Heinz Field, 2004)
Ben Roethlisberger has a number of great intangibles: escape ability, scrambling, throwing on the move.
During his second start at Heinz Field, the rookie showcased these rare attributes during a play that displayed all of his potential.
Ahead 17-10, the Steelers had a chance to take a double-digit lead late in the first half. As Ben dropped back to pass, he ran out of time in the pocket and immediately began his scramble toward the right sideline.
In prior games, Tommy Maddox would have already been sacked three yards in the backfield, setting up a long down-and-distance.
Instead, the young gunslinger's maneuverability allowed his receivers to adjust, an underrated benefit of having a mobile quarterback that is overlooked by many fans. It allows for many big plays that would be otherwise lost.
Approaching the right sideline, Ben heaved a 30-yard pass down the right sideline to a wide open Plaxico Burress, who finished the remainder of his route to the end zone unimpeded.
The Steelers would eventually open a 34-13 lead en route to a 34-23 win, largely aided by Roethlisberger's efficient 16 completions on 21 pass attempts and Duce Staley's 117 rushing yards.
No. 9: Gaffing Garcia and Bruising Bettis (Cleveland Browns Stadium, 2004)
Five weeks after Ben Roethlisberger electrified Heinz Field with his sensational penchant for successful spontaneity, the quarterback beat the Browns in a different way: Watching.
The Steelers ran the ball 47 times for over 180 yards, dominating time of possession and putting the "own" in Browns. Their ownership of the football came courtesy of a Pittsburgh icon. Jerome Bettis carried the ball 29 times for 103 yards and two scores. With a long run of seven yards, the statistics tell the story: bruising force and consistent yardage gains.
First down, first down, first down, touchdown.
Ahead 17-3 late in the contest, the defense clamped down on Jeff Garcia, forcing the quarterback to fumble. The turnover was returned by Russell Stuvaints for a touchdown.
Pittsburgh won 24-10, sweeping the season series and ending Cleveland's hopes of a turnaround with its new quarterback.
No. 8: Gouged by Gadgetry (Heinz Field, 2005)
The 6-2 Steelers hosted the Cleveland Browns, pitting a perennial Super Bowl favorite against its struggling division rival.
The 3-5 Browns' greatest hope came with the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, replaced due to injury by Charlie Batch.
Then, to the chagrin of 65,000 faithful fans at Heinz Field, Batch left the game.
Enter: Tommy Maddox.
Earlier in the season, Maddox' worst start for the franchise saw him fumble away the football during overtime (while in field goal range) and throw the game-winning interception return to Jaguar's cornerback Rashean Mathis.
With fans on pins and needles, the finest quarterback of the evening made the game's biggest play.
Antwan Randle El received a reverse end around and delivered a perfectly thrown pass to Hines Ward for a touchdown.
The gadget play left the Browns exasperated, putting the Steelers ahead 24-7 in a game they would later win 34-21.
No. 7: Postponed Pasting (Heinz Field, 2001)
After the horrific events of September 11, 2001, football was appropriately suspended as Americans grieved and sought comfort during a time of tragedy.
Far less importantly, the Pittsburgh Steelers were originally slated to christen Heinz Field's first regular season with a contest against the Cleveland Browns. As a result of the cancellation and rescheduling of the league's Week 2 contests, the game was played during the season's final week.
If saving the best for last is considered good practice, perhaps postponing the worst for first is also recommended.
In a season of rebirth for a proud franchise, the Steelers entered the contest with a 12-3 record. They had locked up the top seed in the AFC, rendering the Week 17 Browns game meaningless with respect to their playoff standing.
Largely buoyed by backups by the second quarter, the Steelers second string came into the game trailing 7-0.
The most loyal fans stayed for the whole game, an afternoon dominated by inclement weather, a muddy field, and a statistically meaningless outcome.
Instead of attempting to heroically make up the gap, this was a chance to give future players some authentic NFL experience. The backups practiced the Steelers way—running the ball and mixing in the pass. Tommy Maddox, getting his first significant snaps of the season, threw a few balls, and a lot of fine young players got a great deal of experience practicing the playbook and clock management.
Typically, these opportunities to expose the roster's youth to starting in the NFL serve as a consolation for losing whatever meaningless game is being played. Exiting these contests healthy is considered a success.
Unless that game is against the Browns.
In a 28-7 pasting, Pittsburgh scored 28 unanswered points, establishing full momentum as they headed into the postseason.
No. 6: Streak of Dominance (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000)
The turn of the century was also a turn of fortunes for a Steelers franchise that had lost its original swagger from the early "Cowher Power" years. Two consecutive losing seasons left many lingering questions about the team's future:
Who would be the quarterback?
Was it time to find a new head coach?
What happened to a roster that seemed to always find the proper replacements just a few seasons earlier?
Why, oh why, were the Steelers losing to the Cleveland Browns?
After a 43-0 pasting was exacted on the franchise upon their return to the league, the Steelers lost consecutive games in heartbreaking fashion.
In 1999, the Browns came to Three Rivers and rallied from a late 15-7 deficit to win 16-15.
Then, in 2000, Pittsburgh lost 23-20 at Cleveland Browns Stadium, unable to line up for a moderate length field goal in the closing seconds.
In this contest, the Steelers would get back to their brutalizing ways against their foe, a tendency that has continued even until the current.
Amidst a record-breaking stretch of weeks, the defense surrendered 18 total points across five games. Included in this vaunted month were consecutive shutouts of the NFL's Ohio contingent.
Only Pittsburgh's woefully inefficient offense (1 TD, 5 FG's) could prevent this contest from ranking higher. Kent Graham started a large portion of the game, completing 3-of-12 passes.
(Who says Ben holds the ball too long?)
Surrendering only five first downs and barely 100 offensive yards, the new age Steel Curtain played its fiercest game of the season, bludgeoning a Browns squad that had gotten over on them in their two previous meetings.
The Steelers won the game 22-0.
Intermission: The Browns Get a Few Dog Bites Back
Yet, in spite of their 2-20 record against the Steelers since October of 2000, the Browns' frowns have been upside down a few times against the Men of Steel.
In 1999, the Steelers led at Three Rivers Stadium 15-7 before an ill-advised interception by Kordell Stewart narrowed the gap to two points. Cleveland would kick a field goal in the final seconds to stun the Pittsburgh crowd.
A raucous crowd, garbed in dog leashes and milk bones, said "chew on this!" to Steelers fans in early 2000, as the special teams failed to get off a late field goal attempt in a 23-20 Pittsburgh loss at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Many fans have mentioned the game as a low point for Pittsburgh during a three-year playoff drought.
In 2003, the "Still Curtain" watched Tim Couch become the second coming of Joe Montana, completing 20-of-25 pass attempts in a 33-13 blowout of Pittsburgh on national television.
Lastly, the defending champion Steelers' playoff aspirations ended in 2009 up by the shore of Lake Erie. After a campaign of unpredictable struggles, Pittsburgh saved its most stunning loss for last, a 13-6 defeat to the Browns and quarterback Brady Quinn.
No. 5: Bye-Bye Browns, Hello Bye (Cleveland Browns Stadium, 2010)
The Steelers clinched a bye week and the second seed of the AFC Playoffs with a win over Cleveland in the 2010 regular-season finale.
The game began with a touchdown bomb from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace, and the Men of Steel never took their lead foot off of the accelerator.
Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy was physically harassed for the entirety of the game, his 20-for-41 passing day and three interceptions standing in stark contrast to Ben Roethlisberger's 15-for-22 and two touchdowns.
Like a flashback to the beatings of old times, Antwan Randle El threw a touchdown pass to Hines Ward to begin the second half. By that point, the game was 38-3.
The final score of 41-9 masks a much more dominant performance tempered only by the obvious decision to replace starters late in the game.
If no other factor demonstrates the one-sided nature of the recent history between the squads, this game's ranking of fifth on this list is the perfect illustration.
No. 4: Season's Beatings (Cleveland Browns Stadium, 2007)
Instead of a "Season's Greetings," the Steelers provided seasoned beatings to the Browns in the 2007 opener, Mike Tomlin's first game as head coach.
While the campaign would ultimately develop into one of the few seasons highlighted by a classic Browns-Steelers affair (in Pittsburgh, Nov. 7) and a tight division race between the two clubs, no one could have predicted these outcomes from the events of September 9th.
After a 40-yard touchdown strike from Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes, the Steelers ended the first quarter with a 17-0 lead.
The game would end 34-7, highlighted by a 5:1 turnover ratio favoring Pittsburgh.
Clearly, the Browns lack of discipline combined with Pittsburgh's determination to start the Mike Tomlin Era off on the right foot resulted in a lopsided score on the NFL's opening day.
The following statistic should put Cleveland's disorientation into perspective: During a punt after the Browns' first possession, yellow penalty flags littered the field.
The Browns had taken four penalties on one play: Two holding calls, an illegal formation and an illegal man downfield.
Best of all, these infractions were declined as a result of the play—a 15-yard net by punter Paul Ernster after mishandling the snap.
No. 3: Final Practice (Heinz Field, 2008)
As the Steelers geared up for their journey toward a sixth Lombardi Trophy, the regular season came to an end as Cleveland traveled to Heinz Field.
After a loss to the Tennessee Titans in a game that decided the conference's top seed, Pittsburgh wanted to beat the Browns to ensure its entry into the playoffs with momentum. Despite having a bye week locked, the Steelers played their starters for much of the game.
In retrospect, it was an odd decision. A hard hit on Ben Roethlisberger gave the star quarterback a mild concussion. Fans waved their towels and cheered for their fallen leader as he gave a "thumbs up" sign to the concerned crowd. Despite their cheers, the signal did not fully appease a nervous crowd who watched as their most important player left the field on a stretcher.
Despite this shift in momentum and the natural focus that players would have toward a fallen comrade, the Browns never had a chance.
The Steelers won 31-0.
They had a 20-8 edge in first downs.
Pittsburgh had 369 total yards. The Browns? 126.
Cleveland had 18 net yards passing, completing only 6-of-18 passing attempts.
It was an altogether abysmal ending to a terrible season in Cleveland, officially ending the tenure of head coach Romeo Crennel.
No. 2: James Harrison Meets a Fan (Cleveland Browns Stadium, 2005)
By now, you know the drill.
Steelers beat the Browns 41-0 in a contest that was not even close, gaining momentum toward another playoff run.
In fact, even when the Steelers attempted to run out the clock, the gaps opened by the offensive line left running backs no other recourse than to carry the football into the end zone. Fast Willie Parker scored on a long touchdown run in the fourth quarter, with the obvious intention by Pittsburgh to run out the clock, creating a mix of exasperation (fans in dog masks) and exaltation (fans waving towels).
Despite every effort by Pittsburgh to keep the score reasonable, Cleveland simply wouldn't fight back.
Yet, for one fan who had met his limit in both losses to Pittsburgh and alcohol consumption, a chance encounter with James Harrison made this Christmas Eve memorable.
No. 1: Welcome Back! (Cleveland Browns Stadium, 1999)
Upon their return to football in 1999, Drew Carey kicked off the nationally televised Sunday Night broadcast with a speech that served as a bitter irony against the events about to unfold.
In reality, after three years without football, the loyal fans of Northeast Ohio deserved a great game. Cleveland is a great community for this wonderful sport, and its rivalry with the Steelers will hopefully return someday to its former pristine self.
This first act in the return of the Browns shot off more like a water gun than a cannon.
Hmm...water guns can pack some serious pressure these days. Perhaps that's overstating it.
Total offensive plays: Steelers 89, Browns 25
First downs: Steelers 33, Browns 2
Total yards: Steelers 464, Browns 40
Turnovers: Steelers 0, Browns 4
Final score: Steelers 43, Browns 0