Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why I Love the Browns but I Don't Hate the Steelers

We were driving down a suburban Cleveland street the other day, when we passed a house flying not one but two Steelers banners from a giant flagpole. My husband let out a disgusted snort. "That takes a lot of nerve," he said.

I laughed.

My bad. He wasn't trying to be funny.

"No, I mean it," he said. "How could someone fly those flags in Cleveland?"

The idea that someone would live in a Cleveland suburb and root for the Steelers--or worse yet, advertise it--is incomprehensible to my husband and probably a lot of other Clevelanders. I agree that pride in your community should encourage you to root for the home team. But I try to give people a break. Maybe they grew up in Pittsburgh. Or maybe a football player they've admired since his college days plays for the Steelers.

Or maybe they're from Youngstown.

You see, Youngstown is in a very interesting position, geographically speaking. The city lies almost smack-dab between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. People from Youngstown sometimes gravitate to one city, or find themselves going back and forth. My father, for example, would only pick up family members from the Pittsburgh Airport, never from Cleveland Hopkins. On the other hand, he leans toward the Browns rather than the Steelers. Go figure.

When it comes to football, living in Youngstown allows you to take sides in the AFC North without a high risk of injury. You could go to Olive Garden wearing your Steelers jacket and sit next to a guy in a Browns jersey, and there'd (probably) be no chance of you getting socked in the jaw. You could also remain neutral, just happy to see something exciting happening in the area, and not be pressured to choose.

In Cleveland, you see only enough of the Steelers to know you dislike them (like when they beat the Browns). In Youngstown, both Pittsburgh and Cleveland games are often carried on television, so you get a different perspective. It's almost like there are two hometown teams instead of one.

That may be why I don't trash-talk the Steelers, why I don't make jokes about the questionable intelligence of people from Pittsburgh and why I can't help but smile every time I see Terry Bradshaw on TV. The Browns are my favorite team, and I root for them every Sunday. But I don't hate the Steelers.

Because of this, my husband has given me the unattractive nickname of "traitor," and he asks me every Sunday if I'll be waving my "terrible towel." I guess that's what a rivalry is all about. You're not supposed to love one team and kind of like the other. It's like saying (gasp!) that you root for Michigan when they're not playing Ohio State.

I can't get it through my husband's head that my allegiance is with the Brownies. Time and again, I relay the story of my one and only trip to the old Municipal Stadium. I was a junior at Penn State, and my friends and I boarded a charter bus headed for Cleveland. I entered a sea of black and gold, and I guess I stood out in my bright orange sweatshirt. It was a vocal group on that bus.

"Browns fans can't sit in that seat," one guy hollered when I tried to plant myself next to my roommate (who, by the way, was a diehard Steelers fan as well). Everyone else on the bus found this humorous, and during the four-hour ride from State College, Pennsylvania, to Cleveland, I withstood the abuse. "Browns fans can't eat snacks!" "Browns fans can't sleep on the bus!" And then there was the most embarrassing one of all: "Browns fans can't use the bathroom!!"

They laughed as they tormented me, and I didn't feel really threatened. But I got the sense that if I did too much bragging, I could find myself standing alone on the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. So I did a few "ha has" and ribbed them back a little, but I tried to stay low-key.

As luck would have it, the Browns won the game. I couldn't wait to get on the bus and give it back to those Steelers fans. But when I sat down, everyone seemed to have their heads lowered, and no one was talking. I tried to lighten the mood. "Hey, Steelers fans can't sit down the whole way home!" Hee-hee-hee... Oops, no one was laughing; in fact, I distinctly remember a couple of glaring stares thrown my way. So I was forced to ride home in silence, rejoicing in victory silently in my head.

My husband probably would like this story better if it ended with me taking all of the "terrible towels" from the bus and ripping them to shreds in front of the amazed eyes of the Steelers fans. Although I felt a sense of Browns patriotism, I still couldn't bring myself to hate the other team.

Now we find the Steelers in the Super Bowl. For the second time since the "new Browns" have been around. The Browns haven't won a championship since I was four months old. I understand the frustration. And the resentment. So I won't be wearing black and gold on Sunday. But as a Youngstowner at heart, I realize that Pittsburgh is as much a part of our region as Cleveland, and anything that brings good news to the region is a plus. As a Clevelander, though, I'll wear my brown and orange and daydream about the Browns in Super Bowl XLIV. Woof, Woof!


John Ettorre said...

Loved this, Diane. I know it's considered a mortal sin for a Clevelander to say this, but who cares: I actually love the Steelers. They're my second-favorite team, and to me, they're truly America's Team, not the Cowboys. It all begins with the great family ownership and sense of pride and stability that the Rooney family has instilled.

Diane DiPiero said...

Wow, you're brave to live in Cleveland and admit that! I am sitting here with my Steelers-hating family, hoping they never find out about my post! I do have to agree: There is a sense of "family" when it comes to the Steelers that we don't seem to have here. Do you remember when the Pirates won the World Series years ago, and their theme song became "We Are Family"? It was really, really corny, but it created a sense of pride to which fans could relate.