clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Top-Five: Browns-Steelers Match-ups Since 1999

The Browns and the Steelers get ready to renew their rivalry this week. What were the five most memorable Cleveland-Pittsburgh games since 1999?

Well, it has come to this: Trying to send good fortune the Browns' way in a column on a website.

Hey, it worked two weeks ago before the Browns played the Bengals. And with Colt McCoy likely to be the starter this week against the Steelers and Ben Rothlisberger, we need all the karma we can get.

A few more scores and some more defensive stops would work as well, although, truth be told, the D has been okay through the first five games. By all rights the Browns could be 3-2 right now, but...

Anyhow, to try to send some good karma the Browns' way this week, I will look at the five best games the "new" Browns have played against Pittsburgh since 1999. The fact that one of them has to be a loss is no coincidence, as the Browns have won precisely four games against the Steelers in 11 years and 23 games, counting the 2002 playoffs.

A 4-19 record since coming back to the NFL against what used to be our arch-rival? Yeah, we need a big old helping of karma, and fast, before Colt McCoy has to face a stampeding defense in his first "official" action.

So, without further ado...

**********************************************

# 5 -- December 10. 2009, at Cleveland...Browns 13-Steelers 6

We all remember this game last year, a game that launched the Browns on their season-ending four-game winning streak and gave a little bit of hope in advance for the 2010 season.

Pittsburgh came to Cleveland reeling from a four-game slide and had dropped to 6-6 on the season, while the Browns were stumbling along at 1-11, their only victory to that point having come in the fifth game against Buffalo.

The Steelers were looking to end their skid and get back on the plus-side of the ledger against the team that had not beaten them since 2003, but on this day, the Browns came to play.

Phil Dawson hit two 29-yard field goals, one in each of the first two quarters, before Chris Jennings got loose for a ten-yard TD run in the second and the Browns had a stunning 13-0 lead.

It would be all the scoring for Cleveland on this day, but the Browns' defense made it stand up.

Jeff Reed kicked a field goal of his own before the intermission and added another in the third quarter to draw the Steelers to within a touchdown, but they never got any closer and suffered a crushing defeat. A three-game winning streak to end the season left Pittsburgh on the outside looking in, with the defeat at the hands of Cleveland, for all intents and purposes, having doomed their playoff hopes.

Meanwhile the Browns ran the table to finish 5-11.

A record that looks a little hard to achieve in 2010, but we can always hope for better things.

The Browns won the game with 171 yards on the ground to keep the ball away from Rothlisberger on the windy day on the lakefront, and the Browns had the edge in total yardage, 255-218. The glow from that game -- the last time the two teams have played -- would be nice to recapture this coming Sunday in Pittsburgh.

# 4 -- September 17, 2000, at Cleveland...Browns 23-Steelers 20

This was only the third meeting between the two teams since the Browns' return the season before, and -- amazingly -- the victory in this early-season battle gave Cleveland a 2-1 edge over Pittsburgh in their first three meetings.

It was to be a short-lived advantage, but any advantage for the "new" Browns was to be cherished.

The Browns came in at 1-1, having lost to Jacksonville and then defeated Cincinnati, while the Steelers were playing only their second game of the season, as in those days, byes started sooner than they have in recent years. Pittsburgh was 0-1 and looking for their first win of the season, but the Browns played poor hosts.

Cleveland jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on two Tim Couch touchdown passes, and then the Steelers woke up in the second quarter and drew within four at halftime at 14-10 on the strength of a TD run from Richard Huntley and a Kris Brown field goal.

In the third quarter Brown brought Pittsburgh within one point with another field goal, but then, after Phil Dawson pushed the lead back to four with a 23-yarder, Jerome Bettis gave the Steelers their first lead at 20-17 on a ten-yard run, and the Browns trailed entering the fourth quarter.

The Browns held Pittsburgh scoreless in the final stanza, and two more Dawson field goals, one from 28 yards and the other a 19-yard chip shot, gave the Browns the winning margin of 23-20.

Cleveland stumbled from there to the end of the season, winning just one more time all year, while Pittsburgh rebounded to go 9-7, finishing two games out of a playoff spot.

Tim Couch accounted for 316 yards through the air of the Browns' total of 377 yards, while Pittsburgh's Bettis rushed for 133 yards. But Cleveland controlled the Steelers' passing attack, and for the first time in their "new" history the Browns were above .500 at 2-1.

Of course it did not last, but for that one Sunday in September, the Browns gave hope to a city trying to embrace football again after a three-year absence.

# 3 -- November 14, 1999, at Pittsburgh...Browns 16-Steelers 15

This one could, by all rights, be number one on this list. Certainly it was probably the most startling victory the Browns have had over Pittsburgh since The Return.

Cleveland had opened their expansion history in September in Cleveland and had been embarrassed by the Steelers 43-0. From there to November 14 things had not been much brighter, although two weeks earlier the Browns had earned their first victory, in New Orleans, on a Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson "Hail Mary" pass.

Even so, the Steelers welcomed the 1-8 Browns to Pittsburgh with a 5-3 mark and chomping at the bit to move three games above .500.

Cleveland struck first on a 35-yard Couch to Johnson strike. Pittsburgh got a field goal from Kris Brown and trailed 7-3 after one.

It stayed 7-3 Browns at halftime after a scoreless second quarter, as the Pittsburgh fans grumbled at their team allowing the hated Clevelanders to be "in the game" even this far along.

The Steelers woke up in the third quarter and took the lead and threatened to satisfy their fans after all. First another field goal from Brown cut the deficit to 7-6, and then a Richard Huntley TD run made it 12-7 Pittsburgh. The Steelers failed on a two-point conversion try, but as the game moved into the fourth quarter, yet another field goal and Pittsburgh led by eight at 15-7 -- a one-possession game only for an optimist.

Luckily the Browns had two good possessions left in them.

Marc Edwards took a five-yard pass from Couch into the end-zone and the Browns were down by two. Pittsburgh thwarted the two-point try to tie the game, but the Browns got the ball back, and when Phil Dawson drilled a field-goal from 39 yards out, the Browns had the lead back, and Cleveland held on to win a thriller, 16-15, to claim their second -- and last -- victory of 1999, finishing at 2-14 by losing their last six games.

And the Steelers? The loss to the Browns sent them on a six-game nosedive, and when they finally won again it was much too late to make a difference. Pittsburgh finished 6-10 in the Browns' first year back, and Cleveland, for their part, had the satisfaction of having split the season-series with their ancient rival, and of having won in Pittsburgh, to boot.

Neither team managed 300 yards of offense on that November day, and neither quarterback made it to 200 yards. But the Browns were "back"...or so it seemed for a while.

# 2 -- October 5, 2003, at Pittsburgh...Browns 33-Steelers 13

Another game that could very well be "the best" of the top five for this week. It certainly was the most decisive of my little group, and left Cleveland feeling a whole lot better than my top choice would end up doing.

The 1-3 Browns came into Pittsburgh to face the 2-2 Steelers with the memory of their playoff battle from the season before still fresh in every mind, and the Browns gave Pittsburgh a big dose of payback.

Little did anyone know at the time that this would be the Browns last victory over the Steelers until 2009.

Andre' Davis scored first for Cleveland on a short Tim Couch pass, and Phil Dawson made it 10-0 with a chip shot before the end of the first quarter.

After Jeff Reed put the first points of the second quarter on the board for the Steelers, the Browns struck again on a nine-yard pass from Couch to KJ. The extra-point failed, leaving the margin at 16-3, Browns, before Pittsburgh got a Jerome Bettis touchdown run to cut the lead to six. Back came Cleveland on a Couch scramble from nine yards out and the Browns led at halftime, 23-10.

Daylon McCutcheon put what would be the icing on the cake in the third quarter with a 75-yard interception return to expand the lead to 20, and an exchange of field goals made the final margin Cleveland 33-Pittsburgh 13 in a rousing "revenge game" for the Browns.

Cleveland doubled up Pittsburgh in first downs with 22 against 11 for the Steelers, and the Browns put up 115 more yards of offense. William Green, while not scoring, kept Pittsburgh off the field with 115 yards on the ground, and the Browns bottled up the Steelers running game all day, holding the home team to 60 yards rushing.

The Browns faded from that point on, losing the rematch in Cleveland and finishing 5-11, a game behind the 6-10 Steelers, as neither team threatened to make a return trip to the playoffs.

But the thrashing washed away any feeling that the Browns had been "lucky" to beat Pittsburgh in earlier seasons. And as the last victory for Cleveland in the series until 2009, it was one to be remembered and to be savored.

# 1 -- January 5, 2003, at Pittsburgh (AFC Wild Card Round)...Steelers 36-Browns 33

Oh this game was a classic! I remember having to work that day and seeing people coming into my business who didn't have to work and wanting to shake them and say "Why on Earth are you not at home watching this game?"

I suppose that was the day when I realized that when the "original" Browns had left, they really had taken lifelong fans out of the game forever. It was a sobering realization.

The Browns had made the playoffs for the first time since their return to the NFL with a 9-7 record, winning a thrilling season's finale at home against Atlanta to get in, while the Steelers had won the AFC North with a 10-5-1 record. Pittsburgh was heavily favored at home, but oh for a while, for a while...

William Green gave the Browns the lead with a one-yard run, the only score of the first quarter. In the second period Dennis Northcutt gave the Browns a 14-0 lead with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Kelly Holcomb as euphoria reigned in Cleveland.

Antwaan Randle El doused the euphoria with a 66-yard punt return to cut the margin to 14-7, but a Phil Dawson field goal before the intermission put Cleveland ahead by ten at halftime.

Then in the third quarter the Browns galvanized their fans by stretching the lead to an incredible 24-7 on another Northcutt TD from Holcomb, this one from 15 yards out. Could it be? Were the Browns going to get the ultimate victory in a playoff game against their most hated rival? Would they accomplish something equivalent to the Indians taking out the New York Yankees in October?

Oh but they would have with just some defense down the stretch, if they had had just one good defensive series against the immortal Tommy Maddox!

Plaxico Burress closed the gap to ten with a touchdown from Maddox before the end of the third, but even so, the Browns led 24-14 with only fifteen minutes to go.

Then in the wild fourth quarter, Phil Dawson extended the lead with a field goal before Maddox struck again on a pass to Jerame Tuman to cut the lead to six.

The Browns would not crumble, as Andre' Davis took a Holcomb pass in from 22 yards and the Browns led 33-21 with only half a quarter left to go. The Browns tried for two and failed, but even so, Pittsburgh needed two TDs to win...a touchdown and a field goal would not do it for the Steelers.

Alas...

Hines Ward caught a five-yarder from Maddox and the lead was 33-28. Then the Steelers got the ball back and cooly drove down field and scored again, this time on a Chris Fuanatu-Ma'afala run. The two-point try for the Steelers was successful and Pittsburgh had the lead at 36-33.

Back came the Browns, but the magic died when Kelly Holcomb was intercepted by Mike Logan.

And the 2002 season ended.

But truly, that game was great. It was heartbreaking, a little magical, a lot frustrating, and it made me really proud of the "new" Browns for the first time.

Now I need to be proud of them again. A win this week would accomplish that, against so many odds in this season which threatens to spiral out of control...again.

************************************************

I feel the need to say this. I hope that, even if you disagree, you will try to see my point and follow my own logic.

The Steelers are no longer the Browns' true rivals. For one thing, the series since 1999 has been so one-sided that the word "rivalry" seems a little hollow. But more importantly, I just have to consider the Browns' biggest rival to be the Ravens. I do not need -- I don't think -- to go into the reasons why.

But one thing I will always remember is what happened one day in Pittsburgh in the late 1990s, when there were no Cleveland Browns...a day when the Steelers held a "Day" for Browns' fans in sympathy for what had happened to us courtesy of Art Modell.

Do I love to beat the Steelers? Youbetcha I do, it has always felt special, and always will.

But when it comes to "hating" the Steelers...I am sorry if I cannot feel hatred for a city so similar to Cleveland, and for a city that showed Clevelanders a kindness when our hearts were breaking once upon a time.

Go Browns!!

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.