Friday, December 08, 2006

Browns Go Down In SteelTown

Everybody remembers the last time that the Browns visited TerribleTowelTown.
It was that Sunday-nighter last year when the Steelers had matters well in hand. They were up, 34-14, with something like less than 2:00 to play when then-Browns QB Trent Dilfer threw a lazy pass into the left flat which Troy Polamalu -- since he had "jumped the route," as they say -- was prepared to pick off and "take to the house" (as they say) for a 40-something-yard INT TD for a 41-14 final score, et cetera ...

Only thing is, Polamalu allowed the ball to doink off his mitts and into the waiting arms of Braylon Edwards, who turned it into something like a 35-yard gain deep into Steeler territory, setting up a window-dressing TD with 21 seconds to play -- a result which did not negatively impact the 8-point spread (if you're into that sorta thing) or the over/under since a TD for either side was still gonna put the total points at 55 (if the O/U concerns you).
It was just a very odd moment in a 34-21 ballgame which was supposed to end up 41-14 -- but, even though Polamalu was unable to latch onto the ball, the other sidelight of note from that game was that Hines Ward DID latch onto eight passes, putting him at 543 for his career and breaking John Stallworth's Steeler record of 537 career receptions.

Oddly enough, the Hines Ward: Steelers Career Reception Record-Breaker Game was also the game in which Matt Kranchick (wearing Swannie's #88 while Randle El wore Stallworth's #82) made his only reception of the '05 season.
A 6-yard dump-off from Tommy Maddox.
It's always so bittersweet, is it not?

This SHOULD be more of a rivalry (shouldn't it?), this Pittsburgh-Cleveland affair. Yet, since the New Upstart Browns came into the league in 1999 to replace the Modell Browns Which Moved to Baltimore after the '95 sesaon (just as the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore after the '53 season), Pittsburgh is 14-3 against its former blue-collar-town rival.
And, with tonight's 27-7 win over Cleveland in turbo-frigid Heinz, the Steelers are finally even-Steven all-time against the Brownies ... 55 wins, 55 losses since the teams renewed their twice-a-season rivalry which began in 1950 (when the Browns came into the NFL from the ol' All-America Football Conference ... a series interrupted only by the absence of an NFL team in Cleveland during the '96, '97, '98 seasons).
Naturally, it was the Steelers who welcomed the Browns back ... with that 43-0 smasher-upper in Cleveland in '99 (Tomczak really got the job done that night).

It's always interesting to ponder (that is, if you're into "pondering," "quiet reflection" or "introspection") the NFL-AFL merger and how Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore moved to the AFC with all the AFL teams.
The established NFL warhorses such as George Halas and Wellington Mara and Tex Schramm probably had it in their minds that the Super Bowl-champion was going to be on a Bears-Giants-Packers(-sometimes Cowboys) rotating basis, so they wished the Steelers-Browns-Colts all the best with, "Ya can have yer Paul Brown and his oldfangled Browns and his newfangled Bengals! Ya can have Lamar Hunt, Al Davis and Don Shula and Weeb Ewbank! The Jets were a fluke!"
And, suddenly, Lombardi was dead.

At the time of the merger, the only teams which wore black were the Steelers (helmets and jerseys) and the Raiders (black tops) -- although two infant teams, the Falcons and the Bengals, had black shirts.
Nowadays, they're all puttin' black into the mix. Sometimes the Jags are head-to-toe in black ... the Ravens and Falcons have gone all-black on occasion ... the Saints wear the black pants with the black shirts frequently ...
This is probably due in large part to the fact that, in Gangstuh, USA, the Crips don't buy Chiefs merchandise (KC, though, mainstains somewhat of a foothold with the Latino gang-bangers who wear the black Royals cap w/ the black "K" and the black "C").

Then again, back in the days when Chuck Noll was playin' for the Browns ('53 thru '58), the Steelers were wearing yellow helmets -- which means that any time that Noll came on a blitz and maybe knocked the bejabbers outta QB Jim Finks or QB Ted Marchibroda or QB Earl Morrall or QB Len Dawson or QB Bobby Layne (pick a card, any card), Noll maybe showed some compassion and DIDN'T scream at 'em, "Take yer girlie yellow helmet back to Shitsburgh, you sorry-assed, mothertrucker!"
Which is why the Steelers, the Pirates, the Penguins and the Pitt Panthers no longer wear yellow bonnets.

Although these past eight seasons of Brown re-entry haven't been kind (y'see, despite those 60th anniversary patches on their left shoulders, since they came back, no Browns player has gone to the Pro Bowl), the very first nine years of the rivalry, the Browns brutalized the Steelers (a 16-2 record, '50 thru '58).
During the Steelers' dominant 6-year stretch ('74 thru '79), Noll was 11-1 -- and that loss was the game in '76 when Joe "Turkey" Jones pile-drived Bradshaw.
And, all the 1-4 Steelers did from there was the following (it's more fun when we play it, score by score):
23-6 vs. Cincy
27-0 @ NY Giants
23-0 vs. San Diego
45-0 @ KC
14-3 vs. Miami
32-16 vs. Houston
7-3 @ Cincy (quality snowfall)
42-0 vs. 0-12 Tampa Bay
21-0 @ Houston
28 points during a 9-0 streak is frickin' insane, okay?
Seriously ... it is.

Another interesting sidenote is that when the Brownies got good in the mid-'80s under Shittyheimer, Noll got roughed up pretty good ... 0-6 in '86, '87, '88.
Then, when Shittyheimer (and his assistant coach Bill Cowher) moved on to KC from Cleveland, ex-Steeler D-coordinator Bud Carson brought his Browns team into Three Rivers for the '89 season-opener -- and the Browns walked away with a 51-0 victory.

The next time they came to Three Rivers, the Brownies crawled away with a 35-0 loss.
Still, has anyone asked (running backs coach) Dick Hoak (in his 45th year as a Steeler, 35th as a coach) if he ever instructed rookie Walter Abercrombie -- during the 37-21 win over the Browns at Three Rivers in '82 -- that he had to pick up #53 if he blitzed?
#53 was Bill Cowher, more noted for his special-teams play "back in the day."

This is what we do -- reminisce -- when the Steelers-Browns game is on the NFL Network and thus unavailable to millions of Americans who do not have that network as part of their cable-TV matrix.
No one 'round here is losing sleep over it, mostly because, without this game on TV, we don't get to see Cowher's sloppy goat-tee and we don't get the smug-but-amateurish play-by-play of Bryant Goofball.
That's good for this sector of the U.S.

Instead, a Thurs. nite with the newest episode of "The Office" works just fine ... ditto for the "Scrubs" debut.
Not that we abandoned our SteelTown heroes and their steel-fisted fury which drove 75-year-old Marilyn Devine to pull a wacky bank heist.
On a night this cold, though, Mare needs to forget the unloaded .9mm and keep her black-n'-gold knit Steelers cap (w/ eyeholes cut out) on her head.
It's beyond brisk, Ma.
Bundle up.

'Round the Haystack Hideaway, we kept warm with the heat generated by a reassuring voice.
That's right ... Dick Enberg.
Sonofagun was doin' the game on Westwood One's radio presentation (although any time Sam Wyche is your sidekick in the booth, the production value suffers somewhat).

Hearin' Enberg on the radio really takes ya back, doesn't it? Kinda funny too because for those of us who still enjoy popping in the "Heaven Can Wait" DVD (Paramount Pictures, 1978), we sometimes forget that when QB Joe Pendleton was occupying Leo Farnsworth's body, he'd click on on the TV at the mansion and the face on the screen giving him his Rams updates was that of Bryant Goofball.
Then, after the Rams beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl (that's Hollywood for ya), it was Dick Enberg who stepped forward among the jubilant Rams and asked Joe, "What I mean is, at this moment, how does it feel to be Tom Jarrett?"
And, if ya don't know who Tom Jarrett is, heaven help you.

As Max Corkle told Joe/Leo, "We've already got a starting quarterback. Got a coupla pretty good backups, too."
Joe: "You call Hodges, good, huh?"

"Just get me the ball one time. If I don't hit Evans, I'll quit."

As per Dick Enberg, if it's true that America is about hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, then Dick Enberg's voice is the one inside our heads, calling the play-by-play as we drive our Impala down the highway of life, one hand on the wheel and the other on one of the aforementioned hot dogs (the apple pie is on the passenger seat, of course).

If you were not fortunate enough to grow up in the Southland, heaven help you. But, if you were, there were countless weeknights when the partially-completed math homework was folded and crammed into the textbook and, as the hour approached somewhere-'round-10, the transistor radio (maybe it was a Panasonic or maybe even a Realistic from Radio Shack) was tuned to KMPC to hear the final few innings of the Halos game from The Big A.
That is .. if the Dodgers were on an East Coast trip and Vin Scully had already called the Phillies roughing up Dodger starter Doug Rau.

That was the ultimate way to doze off ... safe and sound and knowing that Vin or Dick Enberg would protect you.

"Here's Thad Bosley leading off the fifth against Paul Splittorff ..."

Unless there's a radiocast we're forgettin' about, last night was the first time many of us had a chance to reconnect with Enberg on the radio. Before they hit the big-time with fat TV contracts at NBC and CBS, Enberg and Scully were THE voices of baseball on the radio.
Before baseball on the radio died in 1979 or 1980 or somewhere thereabouts.
Now, it's any ol' dickhead (like, ummm ... let's say Bryant Goofball) who's piling up mistake upon miscue in the play-by-play world of TV.

A Haystack fave of one of Enberg's best off-the-cuff TV moments occurred probably 20-22 years ago when, following a scrum for a fumble, 49ers linebacker Jack Reynolds emerged from a pileup, holding the football aloft and prompting Enberg to excitedly blurt into the mike: "And Hacksaw comes up with the rutabaga!"
Whether Enberg's choice of words had anything to do with his Swedish ancestry -- using what the Swedes call a turnip ("rotobagge") -- that's anybody's guess, but it was a memorable moment nevertheless.
Haystacks and Hacksaws and unclaimed rutabagas, oh my!

So, even if some of us weren't able to witness Fast Willie toting the rutabaga and churning out that Steeler-record 223 yards, at least we had Enberg to talk us through it.
And, now that ya mention it ... we WERE there for Fast Willie's 213 yards vs. the Saints, although it was a drag how he was tripped up from behind after his sprints of 72 and 76 yards.

Parker's long jaunts did set up his own TDs which snapped that 24-24 tie, but when he was within easy striking distance of Frenchy Fuqua's 218 yards against Philly in 1970 when the Steelers had the ball and Willie had 208 as the time remaining tapered down to 6:00, then 5:00.
Alas, Fast Willie carried three times for gains of 2, 1 and 2, so Frenchy's record remained safe.

Until last night.
Sure is odd how Bunting and his UNC staff never saw the potential of Fast Willie back in '01/'02.

Oh well, now that the Thurs. nite frigidity is over, it's up to other teams to spend Sunday pulling their weight.
That means Bills over Jets, Raiders over Bengals, Colts over Jags, Ravens over Chiefs, Chargers over Broncos.
If all of these teams cooperate, the carnage will be: Jets 7-6, Bengals 7-6, Jags 7-6, Chiefs 7-6, Broncos 7-6, STEELERS 6-7, Bills 6-7 (possibly the Dolphins and Titans joining the 6-7 mix).
Nine teams competing for two playoff berths.
It's what made America great. Even though a playoff format HAS NEVER WORKED IN AMERICA.

Remember, the Steelers are NOT spoilers -- they're contenders, dammit! (although the severe laceration, internal injuries and trauma suffered against Oakland still sting and, yes, the scab is still there, so, for heaven's sake, don't pick at it) ...

No comments: