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11-19-2006, 07:23 AM
Browns, Steelers renew rivalry

By The Associated Press
Sunday, November 19, 2006


CLEVELAND - It was on the back, back burner all week, overshadowed by The Game of the New Millennium taking place two hours away. You'd have never known it, but there's another big football rivalry in Ohio this weekend.
Well, it used to be one.

For the 109th time, the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet Sunday as one of the NFL's fiercest rivalries, tilted heavily toward Western Pennsylvania in recent years, is renewed ? and maybe reborn.

Pittsburgh has dominated of late, winning 11 of the last 12 meetings and wrecking a holiday weekend in Cleveland last season with a 41-0 victory on Christmas Eve. The Steelers (3-6) also hold a 12-3 advantage over the Browns (3-6) since Cleveland's expansion rebirth in 1999.

"It's a rival game," Browns linebacker and special teamer Mason Unck said. "But let's be honest ? it hasn't been that big of a rival because they've been beating us. I was talking to some players and we were saying, 'We got to make it a rivalry again.'"

For that to happen, the Browns have to start winning.

Coming off a surprising 17-13 road win in Atlanta, they're as confident as they've been in some time. Cleveland's offense, which sputtered under former coordinator Maurice Carthon, is showing signs of life with assistant head coach Jeff Davidson calling the plays.

Last week, quarterback Charlie Frye posted the second highest QB rating (109.1) of his career, and for the first time this season he didn't throw an interception.

On defense, the Browns frustrated Atlanta's Michael Vick into one of his poorest games as a pro, a 16-for-40 debacle that included two interceptions and a late, self-inflicted fumble that sealed the Falcons' fate.

It wasn't pretty, but it was a win, and one Cleveland needed badly. Afterward, there was little celebrating. The Browns knew what was next, and they wanted to set their sights on the Steelers as soon as possible.

"The guys started talking about 41-0 right after last Sunday's game," safety Brian Russell said. "We got over that win real quick, quicker than most because we knew the next days were prep time for Pittsburgh."

The Steelers' shellacking late last season remains a painful memory for the Browns and their fans, who were outnumbered by thousands of Terrible Towel-waving Pittsburghers in the closing minutes.

Following Sunday's game, Cleveland wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was injured and didn't play in that game, tried to stoke the dormant rivalry by saying the Browns were coming after the Steelers.

Pittsburgh's response was predictable.

"He's a young boy," linebacker Larry Foote said. "He only played against us one time, so his word don't really stand that much. He ain't even been in this rivalry that long. I lost to Cleveland one time in five years, so us coming down there ain't really scaring me."

Browns Stadium doesn't really frighten anyone anymore. In fact, once the Sunday residence of some of the league's rowdiest fans, it has become very visitor-friendly. The Browns, who haven't won consecutive games ? home or away ? since 2003, have gone just 19-41 on their home turf in the past seven-plus seasons.

While that's a huge negative for the Browns to overcome, it's welcomed relief for the Steelers, who are 0-4 on the road this season. Pittsburgh's last regular-season road victory was at Cleveland last year.

Although the Steelers have won five straight games in Cleveland, Porter doesn't expect it to be as easy this time.

"It's Cleveland," he said. "It's going to be a rivalry regardless if we win how many straight, whatever the situation is, we have to get up when we play Cleveland just because we're so close to each other."

Geographically, and in the standings.

Before the season began, it would have been hard to imagine the defending Super Bowl champions tied with the Browns after nine weeks. But that's where they're at, and the Steelers know if they have any inclination of getting back to the playoffs, they have to string some wins together quickly.

"We're still fighting because we think we're still in it," Porter said. "We're going to go out there and play Sunday like we're still in the chase."

The Browns have better talent than last season, and maybe as importantly, a better understanding of the Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry. With a few exceptions, players have been slow to embrace what the game means to fans in both cities. But that seems to be changing.

"I didn't know it was that big of a deal," admitted Edwards, who went to Michigan. "Now I truly understand what it is to these states, these twin cities going against each other. They are both industrial cities, both small markets. It's a huge rivalry. In the NFL, it's Ohio State-Michigan."

Only on Sunday.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_480232.html