Thanks to COVID, Steelers-Browns playoff game feels subdued

By Joe Smeltzer

It’s always been a rivalry, I suppose.

Not in the same way that Athens and Sparta were rivals, or the Montagues and the Capulets were rivals.

No, Steelers-Browns games over the past 30 years have usually borne a more striking resemblance to what a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Dolly Parton would look like, or a three-point contest between Stephen Curry and William Shattner.

The Steelers have been a scented candle, while the Browns have been a stink bomb.

Now, in the rarest of times, both teams smell good.

The Clevelanders are in the playoffs for the first time since before the capture of Saddam Hussain, and the Steelers are still the Steelers. Wouldn’t you know it, the rivals drew each other in the first round. This should be a good thing for both cities.

Obviously, Cleveland is excited to be relevant again and psyched to be playing the team that’s been spanking their Brownies for so long. Steelers fans should be happy to have Cleveland at the table.  

Isn’t it more fun when your enemy is worthy, and not a punching bag?

The Steelers and Browns have appeared in the same postseason just four times, and have only played two playoff games against each other.

For context, Pittsburgh and Baltimore met in the playoffs three times in just a six-year window.

Sunday should be a special day. Both teams are winners. Both fan bases have plenty to say to each other, and wouldn’t have to travel too far to say it. It’s a night game, so there’d be plenty of time to indulge before kickoff.

It’s a special, once in a blue moon occurrence, so of course, COVID-19 has to water it down.

This game deserves a full stadium. It deserves fans screaming at each other— without violence, of course— in the parking lot and in the stadium. Even if this becomes the best game ever, it loses something considerable because of the restrictions.

We’ve known for a while that full stadiums, tailgates and all that jazz wouldn’t be possible this season, but at least we could have hoped for a great game worthy of a rivalry reborn.

Well, that’s probably not going to happen either. Sure, anything is possible in the National Football League, but since the Browns don’t have their head coach or All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio, and have practiced only 3 times??? in the past two weeks, I have a hard time seeing anything other than a relatively easy, ho-hum Steeler win.

Sure, that helps our blood pressure as Pittsburgh fans. But what if the last Steelers-Browns playoff matchup turned out that way?

What if, instead of the Steelers coming back from three scores down in the second half on the arm of Tommy Maddox to pull out an epic 36-33 win, Pittsburgh just controlled the game for 60 minutes and won by two scores?

How fun would that have been? Would we still be talking about it almost 20 years later?

I’ll still enjoy watching Sunday night, and I’m not telling anybody they shouldn’t. The NFL playoffs are always pretty freaking cool, so it’d be wise to try and make the most of it. But who knows when Pittsburgh and Cleveland will meet in the postseason again?

A Steelers-Browns playoff game deserves better. Who knows when we’ll see it again? If this is the only time Pittsburgh and Cleveland meet in the postseason for the next 20 years, man, would that be a bummer.

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