Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette introduces what he considers are the best 10 games in the big emotional tapestry of the series.
Do not look here for another revisit to the 1976 Turkey Jones atrocity, or for quotes from the old gobbler. To be blunt, there wasn't much to recommend that game as a competitive episode. Although it was a two point game, the Browns dominated and had not Jones, the unremarkable defensive end, gotten himself the opportunity to plant Terry Bradshaw in the Ohio sod as though he were operating a post-hole digger, it would have disappeared from the consciousness of the fans almost overnight. (Well, there, we rehashed it anyway.)
Almost the entire framework of this series' history is built from fractious episodic memories rather than gloried last minute finishes.
Even Myron Cope, the renowned scholar, cant remember much about any particular game in the 92 performance show. He remembers instead, this kind of stuff:
"Joe Greene got in a fight in front of the Cleveland bench, and they had him down on the ground and they were kicking him," Cope said. "There was a big melee, with players coming across the field from the Steelers bench, and for some reason, I took my eye off this great fight with Greene. and there was Jack Splat Lambert and one of the Browns receivers. He had dropped back in coverage. The receiver turned to walk back upfield, and Jack Splat, seeing nobody paying any attention to him, gave the guy a swift kick in the rear. Splat was the last guy in the showers, and in that locker room, you walk right past the showers to get in. I told him, 'I seen what you done, Splat ' He just curled up the sides of his mouth at me."
Running backs coach Dick Hoak who either played or coached in 68 of these games, says he'll remember the same kind of things.
"I'll remember how the towns got behind the players," he said. "I remember we'd stay at the Marriott out by the airport, and the next morning, after the game, all the cars with the Pennsylvania license plates on 'em had their tires slashed.
"It was a great rivalry."
But without any further unrest, here is one stinking media representative's best ten Steelers-Browns games of all time, in basic top ten list format.
No. 10 At Pittsburgh, Novembers 3, 1985
Gary Anderson kicked a 25 yard field goal with nine seconds remaining to lift the Steelers to a 10-9 victory, their 16th straight at Three Rivers Stadium over the hated Browns.
In a game where the statistics seem like they must have come from 1935 instead of 1985, David Woodley went 9 for 17 for 91 yards, and Bernie Kosar was 13 for 16 for 96 yards. A classic hair pull in a driving rain, the game is memorable, even historic, for three reasons.
One was Kosar's inability to get a snap in the shotgun formation because Steelers fans were just too loud. Another was this odd historical note. When the water cleared, all four AFC Central teams were a robust 4-5. But most noteworthy, this game ended on the only last minute win or lose field goal attempt of Anderson's long Steelers' career. A lot of kickers face three in three weeks.
9 at Pittsburgh, October 4, 1952
The Browns overcame a 13 point deficit and a stunning performance by quarterback Jim Finks and end Elbie Nickel for a 21-20 victory over the hated Steelers at Forbes Field.
Otto Graham, who could throw a little bit, hit Dub Jones with a 47 yard touchdown pass and Sherman Howard with a 57 yarder to overcome that deficit, but what killed Pittsburgh was a missed extra point, its fourth blocked PAT in two games.
Those were Graharn's second and third touchdown passes, the first he flipped to Marion Motley to avoid being trapped at his own 32. Motley caught it at the 35 and steamed to the end zone.
No. 8 at Pittsburgh, October 22, 1961
Lou Groza, whose toe was said to be educated (I believe at Hofstra) drilled a 12 yard field goal moments after a Steelers fumble to give the Browns a 30-28 victory over the hated Steelers.
What happened here was an unfortunate collision between Steelers fullback John Henry Johnson and center Buzz Nutter, who was out to block on a swing pass. The impact jarred the ball loose and the Browns, who'd just scored to go up 27-21, quickly made it 30-21. But with only 1:54 to play, Pittsburgh quarterback Rudy Bukich found Ruddy Dial with a majestic 88 yard scoring pass that cut Cleveland's lead to two points. The Steelers, however, did not threaten thereafter. Dial's 235 receiving yards in this one are a club record to this day. It was the fifth game of the season the Steelers lost after leading in the last five minutes.
No. 7 at Cleveland, October 7, 1979
Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Terry Hanratty ripped a Cleveland defense to tatters on a muddy field as the Steelers rumbled to a 51-35 victory over the hated Browns before 81,260 fans
Jack Ham went into the Steelers defensive huddle with 10 seconds left and asked sarcastically, “Now let's see if we can hold them off."
The Steelers mounted enormous early leads, one of 27 points, but the Browns got five touchdown passes from quarterback Brian Sipe and wouldn't go away.
The win left the Steelers atop the AFC Central by one game on their way to a fourth Super Bowl.
No. 6 at Cleveland, October 10, 1964
Thirty five year old fullback John Henry Johnson, running like a 25 year old halfback, led the Steelers to a stunning 23-7 upset over the hated Browns in front of 80,530
This episode is obviously not included for its raucous finish, but for perhaps the single most memorable performance in the history of the series, thus compelling inclusion on any “best" list.
On a Saturday night in Cleveland Stadium, Johnson gained 200 yards on 30 carries, which included touchdown runs of 33, 45, and 5 yards. He upstaged Jim Brown, who somehow managed only 59 yards and eight rushes and carried only once in the first quarter.
No. 5 at Cleveland, October 27, 1991
Bernie Kosar ran his string of non intercepted passes to 262 and the Browns used some fortuitous bounces of the old pig bladder for a 17-14 victory over the hated Steelers.
The luckiest bounce was probably the Kosar pass that clanged off the extended paw of Steelers defensive end Keith Willis. Kosar was aiming for his tight end near the end zone, but what he got was a deflected touchdown pass to fullback Leroy Hoard, who was lying flat on his back in the the end zone nowhere near the original flight path of the ball.
"I didn't really see what happened," Kosar said. "Somebody tipped it. Then I saw a black jersey."
Funny, the Steelers wore white, the Browns brown.
Much later, Gary Anderson's game tying 52 yard field goal attempt bounced outside the right upright and the Browns held on to win.
No. 4 at Cleveland, November 22, 1959
Bobby Layne's 12 yard pass to Gern Nagler in the final seconds lifted the Steelers to a 21-20 victory over the hated Browns in the rain and fog.
The Steelers were behind 20-14 with 1:50 left, 72 yards from the Cleveland goal line. Tom Barnett, the little halfback hobbled into the huddle with a pulled muscle and told Bobby Layne he couldn't carry the ball nor run pass patterns, but that he would gladly stay in and block
All the way down the field, Barnett protected Layne from Browns defensive lineman Bob Gain and Paul Wlggin, earning Layne's enduring admiration.
"That little spindly-legged Barnett; he's all man, you can take that from me. That was a show, what he did to those guys."
Lou Groza missed a field goal as time ran out.
No. 3 at Cleveland, November 23, 1986
Bernie Kosar's 36 yard pass to Webster Slaughter with 6:37 left in overtime boosted the Browns to a 37-31 victory over the hated Steelers, mathematically eliminating the Steelers earlier in the season than at any time since 1969.
Kosar consistently beat the Steelers blitz on third down as the Steelers defense surrendered all time highs for total yards (536), yards passing (414), and first downs (35). For the first time all season, the Steelers did not record a sack.
The Pittsburgh offense, by start contrast, had its best game of the season, and when Gary Anderson kicked a 40 yard field goal with seven seconds remaining in regulation, the Steelers had forged a 31-31 tie.
The Kosar to Slaughter pass came on Cleveland's second possession of the overtime.
No. 2 at Pittsburgh September 24, 1978
Terry Bradshaw's 31 yard pass to Bennie Cunningham of a double reverse in overtime lifted the Steelers to a 15-9 victors over the hated Browns, their ninth in a row in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers won the toss for the overtime period and elected to receive, but Steelers rookie Larry Anderson fumbled it away to Cleveland. The Browns were in field goal range instantly, and the game looked like history, but the referee ruled the play had been whistled dead before the fumble. TV replays suggested otherwise.
Terry Bradshaw moved the Steelers to the Cleveland 37 and called Fake 84 Reverse Gadget Pass for his second and 9 play. Bradshaw handed the ball to Rocky Bleier, who handed it to Lynn Swann, who tossed it backward to Bradshaw. By that times Cunningham was open in the right corner of the end zone.
"I got caught," said Cleveland safety Thom Darden. "It was damn good call."
Bradshaw called his own plays.
No. 1 at Pittsburgh, November 25, 1979
Matt Bahr, whose 21 yard field goal with 24 seconds left tied the game, kicked a 37 yarder with nine seconds left in overtime to vault the Steelers to a 33-30 victory over the hated Browns in what some observations felt was the best NFL game played at Three Rivers Stadium.
Franco Harris carried 32 times for 151 yards and caught a career high nine passes for 81 yards to drag Pittsburgh back from deficits of 20-6 and 30-20, but it was the defensive work of L.C. Greenwood that had most of the Steelers' admiration after an exhausting four hours of football.
Greenwood was in on five of the seven sacks of Cleveland quarterback Brian Sipe, three coming in the fourth quarter. "I'm so exhausted I can barely move; I can barely stand up," said Greenwood. "It was one of the most physical games I've played in the 11 years I've played football. We played five quarters. Five complete quarters. I guess for the fans, it was a very dramatic game. For us it was a hard fought game. We had to fight. Cleveland played great football."
Cleveland players said the same thing of the Steelers, and the same could be said for most of the past 46 years.
Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette of November 25th 1995
Editor's note: Since Gene wrote this article, the Browns have featured in some more outstanding Steelers' games. The January 2003 playoff game, won by the Steelers in overtime, has now got to rank close to the top. It will be a long time before I forget that one.