Steelers vs. Browns rivalry: Top 10 greatest moments, from Chuck Noll vs. Bill Belichick to playoff clash
The once dormant rivalry has renewed itself in 2019
Mike Tomlin did everything but say that the Steelers-Browns rivalry is back. During his weekly press conference, Tomlin said Sunday's game against Cleveland has a different feel, similar to the one his team has recently had in matchups against fellow AFC North foes Baltimore and Cincinnati.
At 6-5, the Steelers would be the AFC's sixth and final playoff team if the postseason started today. The Browns, after a 2-6 start, are now 5-6 and are also in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race. Sunday's game will mark the first Steelers-Browns game in nearly 20 years where something significant is on the line for both teams.
"We're excited about this game," Pittsburgh's longtime head coach said of his team's second matchup against the Browns in three weeks. "We love being in hot-button games. We love being in hotly contested AFC North games. To be quite honest with you, we're not a group that runs from these types of games; we're the type of group to run to these types of games.
"We've had some battles with the Ravens over the years; that's kind of been the signature matchup in the North. We've had some battles with Cincinnati over the years, which grew to be kind of a signature matchup in the North and maybe, the same thing is happening with this. We don't know, nor do we care, we just want to be a part of it, whatever it is, because it is a competitor's game and a competitor's league."
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Before Sunday's game, here's a look back at the top 10 most memorable moments between the two longtime rivals.
10. Steelers, Browns combine to score 154 points in two games in 1979
A year after needing a trick play to defeat the Browns in overtime, 15-9, the Steelers didn't have any issues scoring points against the Browns in their two meetings with Cleveland the following season. The Browns' offense, led by Brian Sipe, Mike Pruitt, Ozzie Newsome and Dave Logan, also didn't have any issues scoring points against Pittsburgh's aging but still dominant defense, led by Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, and Mel Blount and perennial Pro Bowlers L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, Donnie Shell and Mike Wagner.
Pittsburgh's ground attack led the way to a 51-35 victory in their first matchup with the Browns that season. Franco Harris had 153 yards and two touchdowns, while Sidney Thornton and Rocky Bleier combined to rush for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Their efforts were enough to overcome Sipe's five touchdown performance. Three Sipe interceptions were the difference, Wagner collecting two picks and Shell coming up with another pick of Cleveland's quarterback.
In the second matchup, the Steelers overcame a 20-6 deficit to defeat the visiting Browns in overtime, 33-30. Two fourth quarter touchdown runs by Harris, and two field goals by rookie Matt Bahr, gave the Steelers a season sweep over Cleveland while helping them secure the AFC Central division title en route to the franchise's fourth Super Bowl victory in six years. The Browns, however, foreshadowed the winds of change that would take place within the rivalry during the 1980s.
9. Steelers wallop Browns in Cleveland's return to NFL
After three years without football, Cleveland was fired up when the Browns hosted the Steelers on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 1 of the 1999 season. The expansion Browns, however, could not keep pace with the Steelers, who were clearly intent on spoiling the party. In a game reminiscent of Cleveland's 51-0 win over Pittsburgh a decade earlier, the Steelers had 33 first downs to the Browns' two first downs while holding Cleveland to a paltry 40 yards of total offense. The Steelers won, 43-0, with Hines Ward's first career touchdown providing the finishing touch.
The Browns would get their revenge nine weeks later, with Tim Couch rallying Cleveland to a come-from-behind victory in Pittsburgh. The Browns and Steelers would split their first four games in Cleveland's return to the NFL, as Pittsburgh struggled through three consecutive non-playoff seasons during that span.
8. 1986 Browns win franchise's first game at Three Rivers Stadium
It's fitting that the '86 Browns, arguably the franchise's best team in the post-Jim Brown era, was the one that won the franchise's first game at Three Rivers Stadium. The Browns lost their first 16 games at Three Rivers, the Steelers' home from 1970-2000. But on Oct. 5, 1986, Marty Schottenheimer's team became the first Browns squad to win at Three Rivers after beating the Steelers in a thriller. After falling behind 14-10, Gerald McNeil's 100-yard kickoff return gave Cleveland a 17-14 halftime lead. The Browns fell behind again before Earnest Byner's four-yard touchdown run gave Cleveland a 27-24 win. Seven weeks later, quarterback Bernie Kosar led the Browns to a season sweep of Pittsburgh.
While Pittsburgh struggled through a 6-10 season, the Browns raced to the AFC title game before falling in epic fashion to John Elway and the Broncos.
7. One-point win over Steelers propels 1980 Browns to AFC title game
The Steelers were the main reason why the Browns failed to qualify for the playoffs 1978 and '79. The '78 Browns finished 8-8, including two losses to the eventual champion Steelers. The '79 Browns went 9-7 but fell just short of the playoffs after being swept by Pittsburgh for a third straight year. In 1980, Cleveland staggered out to a 4-3 start before hosting the also-struggling Steelers in Week 8.
The Steelers seemed destined to win their eighth straight game over Cleveland after taking a 20-7 lead. The Browns, who would eventually be referred to that season as the Cardiac Kids, would score 20 of the game's final 26 points while pulling off a dramatic one-point win. Two touchdowns by running back Greg Pruitt got the Browns to within six points of Pittsburgh, while Sipe's 18-yard touchdown pass to Newsome capped off Cleveland's improbable comeback.
The win would serve as a turning point for the Browns, who would win 11 regular season games before losing an epic game to the eventual champion Raiders in the AFC Championship Game. The defending two-time champion Steelers would finish 9-7 and would miss the playoffs for the first time since 1971.
6. 1989 Browns hand Steelers 51-0 loss
The Browns' 51-0 win over Pittsburgh serves as the greatest margin of victory by either team in the seven-decade history of the rivalry. Clay Matthews' three-yard fumble return for a score jumpstarted the onslaught, while David Grayson's 28-yard fumble return for a touchdown moments later helped the Browns take a 30-0 halftime lead. Grayson's 14-yard interception return for a score in the second half helped put the finishing touchdowns on the Browns' blowout victory.
Remarkably, the Steelers, who would fall to 0-2 after a 41-10 drubbing at the hands of the Bengals the following week, would make the playoffs that season before shocking division rival Houston in the wild card round. Pittsburgh would then lose by a point in the AFC divisional round to the eventual AFC champion Broncos, who would then defeat the Browns in the AFC title game for a third time in a four-year span.
5. Eric Metcalf leads '93 Browns to thrilling win over Steelers
Belichick's Browns split their first six games against the Steelers, with their 28-23 win over Pittsburgh in Week 8 of the 1993 season serving as Belichick's most memorable win over the Steelers during his time in Cleveland. The Browns, who raced out to a 4-2 start to the season, received two punt returns for scores by special teams ace Eric Metcalf, whose 75-yard punt return late in the game lifted the Browns to a 5-2 start to the season.
The Browns, however, would not sustain their early season success, winning just two more games while missing the playoffs for a third time under Belichick. Conversely, the Steelers, with Bill Cowher in his second season as Pittsburgh's head coach, would rebound from their Week 8 loss to make the playoffs for a second straight year.
4. Turkey Jones slams Terry Bradshaw on his head
Joe "Turkey" Jones' violent hit of Pittsburgh's Hall of Fame quarterback summed up the violent nature of the Steelers-Browns games during the first 30 years of the rivalry. While the Browns dominated the rivalry during the 1950s and '60s, the Steelers had turned the tide in the '70s while becoming the NFL's dominant franchise. The Browns didn't spend much time kissing the Steelers' rings, however, as the games between two teams were as fiery as ever during this period.
After winning their second consecutive Super Bowl, the Steelers would lose Bradshaw for the next six games after being spiked into the ground by Jones. Pittsburgh's 18-16 loss in Cleveland -- dropping them to 1-4 on the season -- would spearhead a nine game-winning streak that saw the Steelers' defense go on one of most incredible runs in NFL history, allowing just 28 points in a nine-game span that included five shutouts.
3. Chuck Noll beats Bill Belichick in final game as Steelers coach
January 27 is an monumental day in NFL history. It's the day that, in 1969, the the Steelers hired Chuck Noll to help end the franchise's 36-year championship draught. On that day 31 years later, the Patriots hired Bill Belichick to help deliver a championship to a New England franchise that had yet to win one.
On December 22, 1991, Noll, the first coach to lead his team to four Super Bowl victories, coached the final game of his brilliant 23-year career against the Browns and Bill Belichick, who was completing his first season as an NFL head coach. Fittingly, the final Noll-Belichick matchup was a defensive battle, with Richard Shelton's 57-yard interception return for a score being the difference in Pittsburgh's 17-10 victory.
Noll would enter the Hall of Fame in 1993, while Belichick, the first coach to win six Super Bowl titles, will be in Canton whenever his career comes to a close.
2. 1994 Steelers beat Browns in first-ever playoff matchup
Bill Belichick's best season in Cleveland included 11 regular season wins and a playoff win over his mentor, Bill Parcells, who at the time was finishing his season season in New England. The Browns' 20-13 win over the Patriots remains Cleveland's most recent playoff victory.
The success of the '94 Browns was tempered by their inability to beat the Steelers, who beat the Browns twice in the regular season before defeating them in their first-ever playoff showdown. After defeating the Browns in two defensive battles during the regular season, the Steelers -- led by their "Blitzburgh defense that included future Hall of Famers Rod Woodson and Kevin Greene along with perennial All-Pro Greg Lloyd -- held the Browns' offense to just 10 first downs and 186 total yards in a 24-9 playoff win over Cleveland.
Conversely, the Steelers' offense had no issues moving the ball against the Browns, amassing 424 total yards that included 238 yards on the ground. Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O'Donnell threw two touchdown passes that included this strike to Yancey Thigpen to put the game on ice.
While the Steelers would lose the following week to the Chargers before rebounding to win the AFC title in 1995, the Browns would play just one more season in Cleveland before becoming the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. Belichick was fired after the '95 season before beginning his first stint in Foxboro.
1. Tommy Gun leads Steelers to improbable comeback win over the Browns
Like 1994, the 2002 Steelers won both of their games against the Browns leading up to their playoff showdown. In Pittsburgh's first win over the Browns, the Steelers trailed late before quarterback Tommy Maddox -- the XFL's MVP the previous year -- came off the bench to lead Pittsburgh to a come-from-behind victory. Maddox would do it again in that year's wild card round, throwing for 367 yards and three touchdowns while helping the Steelers turn a 24-7 deficit into a 36-33 victory.
The Browns received a stellar performance from backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns. Despite Holcomb's heroics, the Browns still fell behind the play of Maddox and receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, who combined to catch 17 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow receiver Antwaan Randle El also had a significant play in the game, as his 66-yard punt return for a score got the Steelers on the board.
Cleveland's '02 playoff loss stands as the Browns' most recent playoff game, as the current day Browns try to end the franchise's playoff drought with a strong finish to the 2019 season.
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