Flashback Friday: Steelers lose a rival with Browns moving to Baltimore

Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns. Mandatory Credit: Simon Bruty /Allsport
Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns. Mandatory Credit: Simon Bruty /Allsport /

The Steelers play the Cleveland Browns this weekend. But if you wish to be technical, this article is about the Baltimore Ravens.

You see, there have been two NFL teams known as the Cleveland Browns. The current Browns were added as an expansion team in 1999, but the original Browns were a fierce rival to the Steelers until owner Art Modell moved them to Baltimore after the 1995 season, where they exist today as the Ravens.

Steelers fans and Ravens fans today look at each other with a mixture of disgust and respect, and it seems that’s how it was between Pittsburgh fans and Browns fans in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s.

All this changed when Modell announced plans to move the team, a decision brought on, he claimed, by financial woes. From the New York Times:

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"Modell said at a news conference that he was leaving Cleveland for Baltimore “with a heavy heart, a profound sense of remorse and almost overwhelming despondency” because he had lost $21 million over the last two years and the franchise was in debt. Still, he thought Cleveland deserved an N.F.L. team.I would lead the drive for a team in Cleveland if the city, county and state make it attractive for a team to be there,” said Modell."

Modell’s apologies rang hollow in Northeast Ohio. He did not attend the Browns’ final home games after announcing the move after reported bomb threats.

The Steelers, their part, were just as sad to lose a rival as Browns fans were to lose their team. Team president Dan Rooney was quoted by the Associated Press:

"“I’m sick about (the move),” Steelers president Dan Rooney said. “This is the best rivalry in sports. To go up there to play in Cleveland on that grass field on a gray day – I don’t want to get dramatic, but it really is something. It’s the essence of football,”"

Pittsburgh fans wore orange armbands to a November 1995 game against the Browns as a show of solidarity.

Cleveland eventually got an NFL team again, with the new Browns playing their first game in 1999. However, the spark of the rivalry has been dimmed by the Browns’ consistent ineptitude and the Steelers’ dominance in the rivalry. Things have been so bad in Cleveland that until last Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger was FirstEnergy Stadium’s all-time leader in wins by a quarterback.

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This Sunday should be unusually titanic, as Pittsburgh is undefeated and the Browns enter 4-1. Perhaps we’ll see some action to breathe new life into an old rivalry.