BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Browns coach Mike Pettine used a visual aid to make a point to his players this week about the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During a meeting, he put up a slide that said: "Rivalry?"
The Browns have been Pittsburgh's patsies for a long time.
"It's sad," linebacker Jabaal Sheard said.
By showing his young players the lopsided history against the Steelers over the past 15 years, Pettine is hoping the Browns can revive one of the NFL's saltiest rivalries. The Browns have lost three straight, seven of eight and 19 of 21 against Pittsburgh, which is 26-5 versus Cleveland since 1999 and 13-1 against their loathed neighbors from northeast Ohio at Heinz Field.
"From the Steelers standpoint, it's not much of a rivalry," said Pettine, who will make his coaching debut in a city he knows well. "It's brutal when you truly look at it, but that's something that's a big part of our prep is understanding that that has nothing to do with us. That has nothing to do with this game. That has nothing to do with us moving forward."
The Browns are opening a season on the road for just the second time since 1999. In addition to it being the first game, which is always special, it's also against Pittsburgh and it's also an AFC North game.
Pettine understands any game against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati has greater significance.
"When people talk about, 'Hey, a division game's worth one and a half or it's worth two' — I truly believe that," he said. "For us to accomplish what we want to accomplish, it goes through the division, and I think most people would agree — maybe Baltimore and Cincinnati would disagree — the road through the AFC North really does travel through Pittsburgh. It's an important game on a lot of fronts."
For Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, "Steelers Week" has always been something special. Growing up in Cleveland, he developed a strong distaste for anything black and gold at a young age. He knows what the Pittsburgh game means to Browns fans because it wasn't long ago that he was one of them.
"I have to take the personality out of it," he said. "This is my job. I want to go out and execute well, but I know what Steelers week means to Clevelanders. We hate them. They hate us. That's the way it'll always be regardless of record or whatever it is."
Pettine actually has a soft spot for the Steel City. He coached at Pittsburgh, got married there, had one of his children born there and has family living in Pittsburgh. He's been there as an opposing coach and knows what it's like when 50,000-plus fans begin screaming and swinging those "Terrible Towels."
"I've been a part of some wins there, and there's nothing like going there and competing. Pittsburgh's a great football town. I see the passion, the loyalty," Pettine said. "To me, it reminds me a lot of our fan base. It's a crowd when they get behind the team and they're rocking and rolling, It makes it very difficult on a visitor."
It's been especially tough on the Browns, who haven't won in Pittsburgh since 2003, when quarterback Tim Couch led them to a 33-13 victory. They've lost 10 in a row there since and Sheard, for one, would like to see the trend reversed and the rivalry revived.
"It's time for it to change," he said. "I've been a part of programs where we've been down and changed the program. We've been that guy that's the bully. I think it's time for us to take that role of the bully."
The Browns last opened the season against the Steelers in 2007, when Pittsburgh pummeled Cleveland 34-7. In 1999, the Steelers welcomed the Browns back to the NFL with a 43-0 bashing.
There have been blowouts and several tight games in between, but none of them matter once kickoff arrives Sunday.
Like Hoyer, Browns safety Donte Whitner was raised in Cleveland and is aware the rivalry needs a jolt.
"It can't be a rivalry until both sides throw punches and win football games," he said. "It's not a rivalry until we beat them."
NOTES: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would not say if rookie QB Johnny Manziel will play Sunday. Shanahan said he's unaware of criticism about Manziel. "I've loved coaching Johnny so far, he's a professional," he said. "I don't really know all the stuff that people are ripping him about, I don't have time to read it all, but Johnny's been great. I'm excited to see him play, think you guys will be too." ... The Browns have the league's lowest average ticket price: $54.20. New England is the most expensive at $122.00.
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