Browns fans steel for change

New Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III, right, formerly was a part-owner of the Pittsburgh...

New Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III, right, formerly was a part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland's arch-nemesis. (Getty)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:04 AM ET

Peering into a souvenir booth near Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, you quickly discover how much glee Steelers fans take in mocking nearby Cleveland and its sad-sack NFL franchise.

Dangling from the wall are T-shirts with the message “The Best Thing About Cleveland” on the front. Above those words is a photo of a highway sign reading “Pittsburgh 130.”

Obviously for these Steeltowners, the best part about Cleveland is leaving Cleveland.

The driving time between these two communities is just a couple of hours. But in football terms, this definitely is a tale of two cities.

The Steelers have won six Super Bowls. The Browns haven’t even appeared in one. You can bet that the Browns fan base, one of the most loyal in pro sports, constantly is reminded of those stinging numbers by Pittsburghers.

No wonder Pittsburgh is considered football’s Evil Empire by many in northern Ohio.

Keeping that in mind, you can understand the lingering cynicism flowing through The Dawg Pound after the league Tuesday approved the sale of the Browns to Jimmy Haslam III, a man touted as the franchise’s newest saviour.

The same Jimmy Haslam III who previously was a minority owner of the hated Steelers.

The same Jimmy Haslam III who, despite growing up cheering for the Cowboys, said in 2010, “I am 1,000 percent a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.”

That’s the last thing Browns backers needed to hear. Their “saviour” was a Steelers fan? Talk about sleeping with the enemy.

Haven’t these hearty people suffered enough the past two decades?

First they were screwed by the NFL when the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996.

Then, after being granted an expansion team that started in 1999, they’ve watched a sad-sack team that has subsequently played just one playoff game and recorded 10 seasons of double-digit losses.

Now they are supposed to embrace a new owner who once was a minority partner and huge fan of the despised Steelers?

Chins up, Browns Nation. Maybe this won’t be such a bad thing.

Whatever you might think of the Steelers, you can’t deny the success of this organization.

As a result, hearing Haslam III say Wednesday that he wants to emulate the Steelers model to build up the Browns should be perceived as a positive in Cleveland, as difficult as that concept might be to stomach on the shores of Lake Erie.

The Steelers blue print for success is built on consistency in the front office, at the coaching level, at quarterback and in the draft, all areas where the Browns have been lacking.

Since 1999, 17 quarterbacks have started games for the Browns, including names like Dilfer, Holcomb and Anderson. None produced a winning record in a Cleveland jersey, despite the fact that three — Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden — were first-round picks.

As a whole, most of Cleveland’s first round selections have been disappointing over the past 13 years. From No. 1

overall picks Couch and Courtney Brown to running back William Green, there have been more zeroes than heroes.

Weeden was selected 22nd overall back in April. Why? Sure, he’s skilled, but he’s also a 29-year-old rookie. How does someone that old and that inexperienced fit into a long term rebuild?

The Steelers, meanwhile, have had just three coaches since 1970. The only quarterback they picked in the first round in the past 32 years was Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Big Ben has won two Super Bowls since then.

By hiring former Eagles executive Joe Banner as the team’s CEO, Haslam III is on the path to bringing some much needed stability to the Browns. And if he can airlift the Steelers winning formula to Cleveland as well, may Clevelanders will forgive him for his previous Steelers ties.

 


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