Bill Polian said that he and Tony Dungy had an understanding that he could get his team up to play with just a little bit more intensity just a few times per year. It makes sense. Football players are human and their effort is likely to be somewhat consistent to their abilities most of the time with a little bit of fluctuation up or down. To think that you can get a team up to play at maximum level every single Sunday is unrealistic. Will Rob Chudzinski be able to do that this weekend with his team? Is there any way to make a modern NFL player feel a rivalry the same way fans have been raised to respect it? I’m not so sure.
Of course it helps that the Steelers are a divisional opponent. Competing in the division is important to any NFL player simply because it is the easiest gateway to the NFL playoffs. If you can’t handle your business against the guys who are all scheduled twice per season, year-in and year-out, how are you ever going to make meaningful strides toward winning a Super Bowl? Even then though, does that put the Steelers on any different level for players on the Cleveland Browns roster than when they play Baltimore or Cincinnati?
I think a lot of this has to do with free agency. I listened to Hanford Dixon talking to Kylie and Booms this morning about the Pittsburgh rivalry and how much it meant to him and his peers when he played for the Browns. He played his entire career with the etam from 1981 to 1989. One of the city’s favorite Browns of all time, Clay Matthews played for 19 season and all but his last three were in Cleveland. Can you imagine any player sticking around Cleveland for 16 seasons? Joe Thomas seems like he’s been in Cleveland forever at this point, but even he isn’t halfway to Clay Matthews’ tenure.
The rules changes don’t help either. I’m not complaining about that, necessarily, but new safety rules take some of the volatility and targeting out of the game. There’s a reason that we all remember Turkey Jones, but if a play like that happened today, the suplex of an opposing team’s quarterback might draw an indefinite suspension equal to a complete ban. Plays like that certainly don’t hurt a rivalry any, but take a look below and tell me what would happen if that play happened in 2013.
So, we’ll obviously see if the Browns have a rivalry game in them. We’ll see if Barkevious Mingo can rise to his coach’s challenge to get after Ben Roethlisberger. We’ll see if Phil Taylor gets a little bit mean and nasty when given the opportunity to do so within the rules.
I know the rivalry will be alive and well in the stands where there will likely be a mix of both Brown and Orange and those putrid Steelers colors. What is so obnoxious and annoying to us in the stands though, might not seem nearly as contentious on the field. We’ll see what Chud can conjure up in his first Steelers game as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.