|First meeting||October 7, 1950|
Browns 30, Steelers 17
|Latest meeting||January 10, 2021|
Browns 48, Steelers 37
|Next meeting||2021 season|
|All-time series||Steelers, 77–61–1|
|Regular season series||Steelers, 75–60–1|
|Postseason results||Steelers, 2–1
|Largest victory||Browns, 51–0 (1989)|
|Longest win streak||Browns, 8 (1950–53) |
Steelers, 12 (2003–09)
|Current win streak||Browns, 2|
|NFL Championships (10)
The Browns–Steelers rivalry is a National Football League (NFL) rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. With 138 meetings it is the oldest rivalry and the most storied in the American Football Conference. The two divisional foes have a natural rivalry due to the commonalities between the cities, proximity, etc. It is sometimes called the Turnpike Rivalry or Turnpike War because the majority of the driving route between the two cities are via the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes.
The two teams have been part of the same division or conference since the Browns joined the NFL in 1950; they played in the NFL's Eastern Conference from 1950 to 1969 (known as the American Conference from 1950 to 1952), the AFC Central from 1970 to 2001, and the AFC North beginning in 2002. As such, they usually play twice every regular season.
The Steelers lead the overall series, 77–61–1. The teams met three times in the playoffs, with the Steelers holding a 2–1 advantage.
Similarities between the cities
The rivalry was primarily fueled by the close proximity between the two cities, as Cleveland and Pittsburgh are roughly 135 miles apart. Many fans make the two-hour drive by car to away games. The city of Youngstown, Ohio is roughly located halfway between the two cities and is within the 75-mile blackout radius for both teams. The Youngstown television market has dual rights to both teams. Both teams have such strong fan bases that neither typically has blackout issues since the current rules were implemented in 1973, although the final two games of the 1995 season were blacked out in Cleveland (the last two prior to the original Browns' move to Baltimore). WKBN-TV broadcasts both teams; when they play at the same time the station chooses one game, and gets many calls from disappointed fans of the other team. The Youngstown area fan base remains roughly split 50/50 between the Steelers and Browns.
In recent times, Pittsburgh-area businesses have entered the Cleveland market by buying out local Cleveland-area competitors such as Giant Eagle, Dollar Bank, Howard Hanna Realty, and PNC Financial Services acquisition of National City Corp. Among other reasons, some Clevelanders didn't like the idea of a Pittsburgh-based bank buying National City because of the rivalry between the Browns and Steelers. PNC and Giant Eagle are official team sponsors for both teams. In addition, natural expansion has occurred with companies with Western Pennsylvania roots with Vocelli Pizza and Altoona-based Sheetz making successful expansions into the Cleveland market.
Conversely, Eaton Corporation was founded in Cleveland and has long had significant operations in Pittsburgh. Forest City Enterprises owns billions of dollars of Pittsburgh-area real estate. The Cleveland branch of the Federal Reserve includes Pittsburgh in its territory. Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams has locations throughout Pittsburgh and nationally is one of the top competitors to Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries. Two former Cleveland-based businesses, Picway Shoes and Revco, had locations throughout Pittsburgh before being bought out by Payless ShoeSource in 1994 and CVS/pharmacy in 1998, respectively. National City Bank itself had expanded into Pittsburgh in 1995 through its acquisition of Integra Bank and actually caused antitrust problems when PNC bought National City in 2008, being forced to divest 61 National City branches in Western Pennsylvania. Although First Niagara Bank ultimately bought 57 of the branches, Cleveland-based KeyBank was one of the banks that was considering buying the branches and expanding into Pittsburgh; KeyBank would later acquire First Niagara outright.
Republic Steel, which was based in Cleveland, was the company that suggested to the Steelers that the team use the Steelmark logo on its helmets in 1962. The logo later became the Steelers primary trademark, and is arguably better known with the logo than the steel industry itself.
Coaches and players
The teams have also had various prominent players and coaches with roots in the other team. For instance, former Steelers head coach Chuck Noll is from Cleveland and played linebacker for the Browns. His successor as head coach, Bill Cowher, also played linebacker and special teams for the Browns, and was an assistant coach for the Browns from 1985 to 1988. Cowher was born and raised in Crafton, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Former Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer is a native of Pittsburgh area suburb Canonsburg, along with his brother Kurt Schottenheimer, who was the Browns special teams coach from 1987 to 1988. Another Browns head coach, Bud Carson also had as his hometown a northern suburb of Pittsburgh and was a longtime Steelers coordinator under Chuck Noll.
Steelers Hall of Famer Jack Lambert is a native Ohioan and attended Kent State University, as did Akron, Ohio native James Harrison. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hails from Findlay, Ohio. Former punter Chris Gardocki played for three years for the Steelers, including the Super Bowl XL championship team, after playing five seasons with the Browns from 1999 to 2003. Former Steelers Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians held the same position with the Browns from 2001 to 2003.
History of the rivalry
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1950s and 1960s: Browns Dominance
The Browns and Steelers first met in 1950, the Browns' first NFL season after dominating the All-America Football Conference. The Browns continued their dominance in the NFL as they appeared in six straight NFL Championship games from 1950 to 1955, winning the NFL title in 1950, 1954, and 1955. During that time the Steelers were among the NFL's worst teams.
The Browns won the first meeting on October 7, 1950, 30–17 as they forced six Steelers turnovers. Later that season in Cleveland, the Browns won in a blowout, 45–7. The Browns would win the first eight meetings before the Steelers would finally beat their rivals in 1954. The Steelers won 55–27 in a game in which Ray Matthews had 150 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The Browns continued their dominance throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, marked by several strong rushing performances by Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown. The Browns would hold a 31–9 series advantage through the first two decades of the rivalry.
1970s: Steelers Super Bowl run
After the NFL merged with the former American Football League (AFL) in 1970, the Browns and Steelers were placed in the Central division of the newly formed American Football Conference (AFC). The Browns and Steelers, along with the Baltimore Colts were placed in the AFC with the former members of the AFL to allow each conference to have the same number of teams. The NFL tried to move the Steelers to the new conference, but then-Steelers owner Art Rooney initially refused. However, Rooney reconsidered after then-Browns owner Art Modell volunteered the Browns to shift to the AFC, partly because the NFL had offered $3 million as an incentive to move but also because of the potential for an intrastate rivalry with the AFL's Cincinnati Bengals. The financial boost combined with the prospect of losing his most lucrative division rival quickly persuaded Rooney to join Modell in the AFC in order to continue their own rivalry, although the team did lose its in-state rivalry with the Philadelphia Eagles as a result.
In the 1970s the Steelers began to even the playing field with the Browns, led by head coach Chuck Noll, a Cleveland native and former Browns linebacker. By then, the rivalry between the two clubs was more hostile and personal, as evident in the 1976 matchup at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, when Joe "Turkey" Jones tackled Terry Bradshaw with a pile-driving sack. Bradshaw suffered a neck injury from the play, and the footage of the sack has since become immortalized in NFL Films as part of the rivalry.
The Steelers opened Three Rivers Stadium in 1970 and won their first sixteen meetings with the Browns at that venue. During the 1970s, the teams each won five of the ten meetings in Cleveland. The Steelers ended the 1970s winning seven straight meetings and capped the decade by winning Super Bowls XIII and XIV to go along with their Super Bowl wins earlier in the decade (IX and X).
1980s and 1990s
The teams exchanged victories throughout the 1980s. In the first meeting of the decade, the Browns, led by quarterback Brian Sipe, overcame a 12-point deficit to stun the Steelers 27–16. The Steelers would defeat the Browns later that year in another close game. The 1980 Browns, nicknamed the "Kardiac Kids", would make the playoffs that year for the first time since 1972 after Pittsburgh dominated the AFC Central with four Super Bowl wins in the late 1970s.
The Browns ended a 16-game losing streak at Three Rivers Stadium with a 27–24 victory in 1986. This was the first of four straight Browns wins in Pittsburgh from 1986 to 1989. In the 1989 season opener, the Browns defeated the Steelers 51–0 in Pittsburgh. This is the largest margin of victory in the rivalry and the worst loss in Steelers franchise history.
While the two exchanged victories in the '70s and '80s, by the 1990s the Steelers became the dominant team in the rivalry. Since the Browns' last series sweep in 1988, the Steelers achieved an overwhelming 39–11 mark against the Browns, enough that in 2007, the Steelers took over the lead in the all-time series (which they currently lead at 72–58) for the first time. This included six straight wins from 1993 to 1995 that featured a 29–9 win in the 1994 divisional playoff game, the first playoff meeting between the two rivals. During most of this time, Bill Cowher was head coach of the Steelers. Cowher, a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Crafton, also played linebacker for the Browns (though unlike Noll, Cowher mostly played special teams), and also served as an assistant in Cleveland under Marty Schottenheimer, himself another Pittsburgh area native.
After the 1995 season, the rivalry took a brief hiatus due to the Browns relocation to Baltimore. When the league was voting on the Browns relocation, Steelers owner Dan Rooney was one of only two owners to vote against the move. In tribute of Cleveland losing the Browns, Steelers fans wore orange arm bands to the final game at Three Rivers Stadium as a sign of mutual respect and sorrow for losing a great rivalry. While Browns fans still consider the Steelers as their main rival, most Steelers fans consider their rivalry with the Baltimore Ravens the spiritual successor to this rivalry due to Art Modell moving the franchise to Baltimore and renaming them "Ravens". The consistently poor Browns' teams since their expansion in 1999, along with the one-sidedness of the rivalry since then is also a factor in the rivalry having diminished in the views of football fans.
1999–2003: Browns rejoin the NFL
The name "Browns" returned to the NFL in 1999 attached to a new expansion team. They played their first game against the Steelers at the new Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Steelers dominated the game 43–0 in a game in which the new Browns could only gain two first downs. However, in the return fixture in Pittsburgh later that season, the new Browns would defeat the Steelers 16–15 on a last-second Phil Dawson field goal.
The Browns and Steelers would again split the series in 2000, with each team winning in their home stadium.
The two teams would meet in a 2002 wild card playoff game. Browns starting quarterback Tim Couch, however, was ruled out due to a broken leg he suffered in their regular season win over the Atlanta Falcons. As a result, backup QB Kelly Holcomb started. The Browns built a 24–7 lead in the third quarter, but the Steelers came back to win 36–33. In 2003, the Browns would win their first and game at Heinz Field, defeating the Steelers 33–13. This was the Browns’ only win at Heinz Field until the 2020 playoffs.
2004–present: The Ben Roethlisberger era
The Steelers drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger, a native of Findlay, Ohio, in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. Roethlisberger became the Steelers' starting quarterback in his rookie year and led the Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances, including wins in Super Bowls XL and XLIII. During Roethlisberger's tenure, the Steelers have amassed a 25–3–1 record against the Browns including a 15–1 mark at home. The Steelers made ten playoff appearances in Roethlisberger's career, including the three Super Bowl appearances, while the Browns have not made it to the playoffs and only posted one winning season during this stretch.
In Week 1 of 2007, the Steelers defeated the Browns 34–7 to take a 56–55 lead in the overall series. This was the first time the Steelers led the series and the Steelers have not given the lead up since. Later that season, the Steelers came back from down 21–6 to win 31–28. The two teams finished the season at 10–6, tied atop the AFC North. The Steelers won the head-to-head tiebreaker, while the Browns failed to earn a wild card spot after losing a tiebreaker to the Tennessee Titans.
On December 10, 2009, the Browns defeated the Steelers 13–6 on Thursday Night Football, ending a 12-game winning streak for the Steelers. This game is believed to be the coldest game in the history of the rivalry with a wind chill around −10 °F (−23 °C).
Roethlisberger continued his dominance of the Browns in the 2010s, going 12–1–1 against them in the decade. However, the majority of the games have been close and come down to the final minutes or one final play.
In Week 5 of the 2014 season, the 2–2 Browns routed the 3–2 Steelers in a 31–10 victory in Cleveland after suffering a narrow 30–27 loss to Pittsburgh in the season opener. The Steelers scored early with a field goal and kept the Browns scoreless in the first quarter. The Browns would dominate from the second quarter onward, however, and this win would propel the Browns to an eventual 6–3 record atop the AFC North. However, injuries and rookie QB Johnny Manziel's poor play would doom the Browns’ season, where they would finish with a 7–9 record while the Steelers won the division.
On September 9, 2018, the teams played to a 21–21 tie. This marked the first tie game in the history of the rivalry. The game saw the Steelers jump to a 21–7 lead, but the Browns mounted two successful drives to tie the game at 21–21 and send it to overtime. The Steelers committed 6 turnovers against a strong Browns defense, and Browns DE Myles Garrett was able to sack Roethlisberger three times in their first meeting together. Going into overtime, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell missed a game-winning field goal. On a subsequent drive after a Browns 3-and-out, Roethlisberger had his 5th turnover of the game, which was recovered by Browns linebacker Joe Schobert. A field goal try by the Browns in the last seconds of overtime was blocked by the Steelers, resulting in a tie. The tie would come back to hurt the Steelers as they would finish 9–6–1, a half game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North title (had the Steelers won this game, they would have finished 10–6, tied with the Ravens, and would have won the tiebreaker). The Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
On November 14, 2019, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield notched his first win over the Steelers with a 21–7 victory, the Browns’ first win in the series since 2014. However, in the final seconds of the game, a brawl broke out between the two teams. With eight seconds remaining in the game, Browns DE Myles Garrett tackled Steelers QB Mason Rudolph after the latter completed a screen pass to RB Trey Edmunds. Rudolph had choice words for Garrett and unsuccessfully tried to pull Garrett's helmet off. Garrett then ripped off Rudolph's helmet and used it to hit Rudolph in the head while being restrained by Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey and Steelers G David DeCastro. Pouncey then jumped into the brawl by punching and kicking Garrett in the head several times. Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi was also involved in the scuffle by pushing Rudolph to the ground. Garrett, Ogunjobi, and Pouncey were ejected from the game. Following the game, Garrett was suspended for 6 games while Pouncey and Ogunjobi received 2-game and 1-game suspensions, respectively. Garrett's suspension was the longest in NFL history for a single on-field transgression. On December 1, the teams met in Pittsburgh, in a game in which the winner would remain in the thick of the AFC wild card race and the loser would fall further behind. The Steelers, who had benched Rudolph in favor of third string Devlin Hodges, won 20–13 to improve to 7–5 while the Browns fell to 5–7, two games out of a playoff spot.
On January 3, 2021, the Browns entered Week 17 at home with a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Steelers. The Steelers rested a few of their starters, with Mason Rudolph playing as quarterback. Despite a late rally, the Steelers lost to the Browns 24–22. The win meant that the 11–5 Browns clinched the 6-seed and faced the Steelers in Pittsburgh for a rematch on Wild Card Weekend. Prior to the playoff game, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was quoted as calling the Browns the "same old Browns" and "nameless grey faces." Several Cleveland players took Smith-Schuster's comments personally. Despite losing the majority of their coaching staff to the Reserve/COVID-19 list, the Browns forced five Steelers turnovers, led 28–0 in the first quarter, and won 48–37 to advance to the divisional round. This was the Browns' first win at Heinz Field since 2003 and their first ever playoff win against the Steelers.
|Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Season-by-Season Results|
1950s (Browns, 16–4)
1960s (Browns, 15–5)
1970s (Steelers, 15–5)
1980s (Browns, 12–8)
1990s (Steelers, 10–5)
2000s (Steelers, 18–3)
2010s (Steelers, 16–3–1)
2020s (Browns, 2–1)
Summary of Results
- The greatest defeat in Steelers history occurred on September 10, 1989 in Pittsburgh when the Browns won 51–0. Ten years later, the Steelers defeated the Browns in their first game after rejoining the NFL in 1999, 43–0, still the revived Browns' worst loss as well as the Steelers' most lopsided win over the Browns.
- The game between the Steelers and the Browns is the most played rivalry in the AFC and fifth most played in the NFL.
- Academic Bowl (college football), rivalry between Case Western Reserve University from Cleveland and Carnegie Mellon University from Pittsburgh
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- Carrisimo, Justin; Smith, Stephen (2019-11-15). "Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett suspended by NFL after hitting Pittsburgh Steelers QB with helmet". www.cbsnews.com. CBS News. Retrieved 2019-11-16.
- Jeff.Hartman (2019-12-02). "AFC North Recap: Steelers make a statement in Week 13 win over the Browns". Behind the Steel Curtain. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
- "Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster sees the Browns as 'nameless gray faces'". Browns Wire. 2021-01-08. Retrieved 2021-01-11.
- Selbe, Nick. "Browns Ambush Steelers for First Playoff Win Since 1994". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2021-01-11.
- Peterson, Richard; Peterson, Stephen (2020). The Turnpike Rivalry: The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns. Kent State University Press. ISBN 9781606354131.