BEREA, Ohio — The forecast is for cold, bitter and vicious conditions. The weather’s supposed to be bad, too.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns renew their heated rivalry and hatred for each other on Sunday, there are bound to be a few extra shoves, a handful of late hits and maybe even some illegal cheap shots.
It’s always that way.
“I expect it to be nasty,” said Browns running back Willis McGahee. “It’s a rivalry game, a division game.”
And for the first time in a while, a meaningful one.
With both teams at 4-6 and still in the hunt for a playoff spot, there’s more on the line than in previous years. But even when there’s nothing to play for, and although the rivalry has been one-sided toward Pittsburgh for years, there’s enough animosity between the Steelers and Browns — and their fans — to make it a chippy game.
“You could use the word ‘hate,’” Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin said when asked for his feelings about the Steelers.
“A lot of people around here would use that word. At the same time, we just want to go out there and have a good game and make sure that we take care of what we’ve got to do and focus on our individual battles.
“This game’s going to be a crucial one and one that we need to win.”
The dislike between the Steelers and Browns goes back decades.
Earlier this week, Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski, a life-long Browns fan, referenced the infamous play in 1976 when Browns defensive lineman Joe “Turkey” Jones picked up Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw and slammed the Hall of Famer on his head. The fact that Jones’ notorious sack was the first thing Chudzinski mentioned when talking about one of the league’s saltiest rivalries, underscores the angst between the Rust Belt cities.
Last year’s season finale between the teams disintegrated into a barroom brawl.
Although nothing as sinister as planting a quarterback head first into the turf, there was extra-curricular activities that drew personal fouls and thickened the bad blood between the AFC North neighbors.
In the third quarter, Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor blindsided Steelers tackle Kelvin Beachum with a forearm smash. The flagrant foul, which didn’t draw a penalty flag and took place away from the running play, resulted in Taylor getting fined $7,875.
On Friday, Taylor said he was “just playing to the whistle” and insisted he won’t be looking for any more payback.
“There’s a couple of players tried to go after me or whatever, but it is what it is,” Taylor said. “I’m not going to let that sidetrack me. I’m still going to do what I have to do.”
Taylor didn’t go so far as saying he hated the Steelers, but he came close.
“I think hate is a strong word, but I really do dislike them,” he said. “This game means a lot. It’s another division game, so we have to do what we have to do.”
The Taylor-Beachum exchange wasn’t the only roughhousing last year.
On the undercard of that Dec. 30 matchup, Steelers guard Doug Legursky dived into the legs of Browns linebacker Craig Robertson, who got up swinging. Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison drilled Browns quarterback Thaddeus Lewis after a touchdown pass and Rubin and teammate Billy Winn were slapped with personal fouls following a scuffle with several Steelers following an extra-point attempt.
Rubin, aware that Sunday’s game is expected to be played in snow and temperature in the mid-20s, is ready to rumble.
“It’s the Steelers,” he said. “Everybody’s amped up. The fans are amped up. They’re playing dirty. We’re playing dirty. It’s just that type of game, and it’s going to be that type of weather, too. We’ve just got to bring our hard hat and come to work.”
It’s going to be gritty and grimy, but that’s how a Pittsburgh-Cleveland should be.
“That’s why it’s fun and that’s why the fans love it,” Browns tackle Joe Thomas said. “There’s always a little extra on the field, guys are always hitting a little bit after the whistle, it’s a physical hard-nosed game — and it sounds like it’s that way in the stands.”
The Steelers have dominated the rivalry since 1999, going 24-5 against the Browns. This is Cleveland’s chance to enhance its playoff chances and damage Pittsburgh’s.
“This game is like our season,” Rubin said. “If we don’t pull out a win right here, I don’t know. This is very, very, very important to us, and we’re going to do everything we’ve got to do and try to do to get a win here.”