Suck it up Steelers fans: you can root for Cleveland (this time)

Has it really come down to this for Steelers Nation? Do the Steelers faithful really have to root for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday?

Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, they do. But it could be worse: let me explain.

For those that are unaware, the Steelers 2018 season hangs in the balance of one specific game (barring another unlikely outcome that will be addressed elsewhere). That is, Pittsburgh fans need to keep their eye not only on Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Bengals, but they’ll also want to keep checking the score of the Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens game that is being played at the same time.

The reason: if the Steelers take care of the Bengals, then the Browns also have to beat the Ravens in order for the Black and Gold to win the AFC North. In short, so long as the Steelers defeat the Bengals, if the Browns also win, the Steelers are in.

If the Browns lose, there’s always a chance that the Colts and Titans somehow end in a tie, allowing the Steelers to go through on a strange tiebreaker. However, the season has basically boiled down to relying on Cleveland for the Steelers to make the playoffs.

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That’s one reason that Steelers fans may have to set aside their negative feelings toward their old rival for one Sunday, but there are other reasons to help make the awkward situation more palatable. Obviously, still having a run at a Super Bowl this season would cure all harsh feelings toward the Browns.

A less obvious observation, however, is that the Baltimore Ravens are a product of former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell moving his organization from Cleveland to Baltimore. When Modell moved the Browns, he left Cleveland without a football team and maybe more importantly, destroyed a rivalry that was once one of the best in football.

Born from those ashes were a new Cleveland football team rechristened with the old history and namesake of the previous one. Yet, the new Browns never gained any footing, at least not consistently, since being reintroduced in 1999. Ask a fan of either Cleveland or Pittsburgh what those games used to be like, and it would sound a lot like how people describe the Steelers and Ravens games of present day.

Those present-day Ravens were also born from the same ashes and perhaps that’s why Steelers fans immediately took to disliking the black and purple imposters from the Chesapeake Bay area. Sure, they have been successful in their own right in both winning championships and defeating the Steelers to make any diehard Pittsburgh fan loathe them, but the Ravens, first and foremost, took away a twice annual clash that had everyone within a two-hour drive between the cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland clamoring for more.

The Ravens stole that from both sides and on Sunday, there could very well be a redemption for both sides as well. For those who know me well enough from my chats here and on the SCU podcast, you know half of my family (including my wife) is split toward the Browns side and the other half, the Steelers side. It really hasn’t been fun to say much of anything about the Steelers dominance over the Browns over the years. In fact, it’s borderline mean. In order for the debates and pranks back and forth between rivals to be fair, one side needs to win sometimes.

And that hasn’t really happened much since the Ravens stole the franchise away from Cleveland. Yet, here and there our two sides of Browns and Steelers fans, who still don’t see eye-to-eye as the Cleveland fans still cling to the old days, do meet in the middle for one common reason: to see the Ravens lose.

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When the Steelers play the Ravens, the Browns fans I know, still to this day, dislike that Baltimore Modell move so much that they’d rather suck it up and see Pittsburgh whoop them. Likewise, I know many Pittsburgh fans who do the same, choosing the lesser of two evils as it may seem, in order to see the Ravens fall flat on their face.

It’s Steelers Nation’s time to “suck it up” on Sunday and set aside differences for the same goal: a Browns victory. Cleveland and Pittsburgh share a common enemy in Baltimore, and it just so happens that a win by the Browns would greatly benefit the Steelers as well.

It’s as strange a situation as there may be, or may ever be, in the ever-changing and ever-surprising National Football League. Yet for as much as Browns fans are enjoying forcing a division foe and former heated rival to root for their side on Sunday, Steelers fans can maybe find some equal enjoyment should the resurgent Browns franchise do the unthinkable and dethrone the Ravens in their own home stadium: perhaps karma for Modell stealing their team away many years ago.

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