It’s sad, really, that it’s come to this.
Though the Cleveland Browns have endured some horrendous seasons since returning to the NFL in 1999, their fans have anticipated games against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the excitement that a Browns victory over their hated rivals would at least salvage the season, even if only a little bit.
In preseasons past, the Browns were expected to be also-rans, if not basement-dwellers. But in those years, a win over Pittsburgh would have given Browns fans immense personal satisfaction along with the hope that their team was on their way back to the top of the AFC North.
But this was supposed to be the year. After an out-of-nowhere 10-6 finish a year ago, 2008 was supposed to be the year that the Browns regained supremacy, stomping the Steelers on their way to the division title and a playoff appearance. NFL “experts” everywhere heralded them as the “sexy” pick to make noise in the AFC.
Instead, the Browns were crushed by the weight of expectation, while the Steelers won yet another division crown.
Meanwhile, in the teams' first meeting the Steelers made it 10 in a row over the Browns and 17-of-19 since ’99.
With the epic disappointment that this season has brought, Browns fans now have to ask themselves a very difficult question: Would a victory over the Steelers this Sunday mean anything?
It’s hard to imagine anything—even a crushing win by the Steelers—making Browns fans feel any worse about this season. The season officially became a disaster several weeks ago, if not sooner, probably around the time the Browns suffered their second consecutive come-from-ahead loss.
Since then, injuries, poor play, bad coaching, and overall ineptitude have piled on the Browns, making it more painful for their fans to watch with each passing week. Needless to say, it can’t get much worse for the Browns and their fans.
Oh, and did I mention that the Browns haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in five games?
Then again, it’s equally as difficult to imagine a Browns win over the Steelers doing much good either. A win would make the Browns 5-11, and would probably end up hurting them in the long run more than anything else, as it would lower their position in next April’s NFL draft.
Additionally, Browns fans won’t be able to expect any “springboard effect” heading into next season. Head coach Romeo Crennel will be coaching his last game, a journeyman will be starting at QB, and there is the possibility for many more changes to the roster and front office. There certainly won’t be any indication that the Browns are an imminent threat to the Steelers’ domination of the division.
Of course, this is to say nothing of the fact that the Steelers will basically be playing backups. Their starters will see limited time before being pulled in order to rest for their upcoming playoff run.
Call me crazy, but a Browns victory over a bunch of benchwarmers doesn’t really seem like much of an accomplishment to me.
Hey, I hate the Steelers as much as the next guy—maybe even more so since I live in the heart of Steeler Nation. But isn’t part of the fun of being a fan having bragging rights over your rival?
The next time a friend or co-worker talks trash to me about the Browns, I don’t see myself saying, “Yeah, well, we beat you in 2008…you know, in that game that didn’t mean anything."
I don’t know about you, but that’s not going to be much of a rebuttal for the people I know.
In fact, the harshest reality of all is the realization that the Steelers and their fans don’t even consider the Browns their biggest rival anymore. That distinction now belongs to the Baltimore Ravens. After all, at least the Ratbirds have beaten the Yinzers in the last five years.
I will be cheering for the Browns on Sunday just as hard as ever, maybe even harder because of my hatred for the Steelers. After all, it’s another game on the schedule and I want them to win every single time they play.
A win over Pittsburgh might be a nice belated gift from Santa, but the positive feelings will be short-lived. While the Steelers play in January, the Browns and their fans will be watching on TV, wondering what they could get in the draft if only they had a higher pick.
Beating the Steelers won’t erase the abysmal season the Browns have had. It won’t make Brady Quinn’s throwing hand heal any faster, it won’t take the sting out of last-second losses and 20 quarters of TD-less play (and counting), and it won’t entice a big-name head coach to come to Cleveland. And it surely won’t give Browns fans anything to brag about.
In all actuality, if the Browns aren’t able to string together a few victories over their loathed nemesis in the next few years, a win over the Steelers this Sunday might only serve as remembrance to what a dreadful season the Browns had in 2008.