By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
SHARON, BROOKFIELD —
Few things can ignite passion and bring out sound reasoning – at least in the minds of the fans – like an NFL rivalry game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.
There are lucky jerseys, hats and, at one time, even a lucky Steelers Chevrolet Caprice. One devoted Cleveland Browns fan wears the jersey of any team playing against the Steelers.
“It used to work. It hasn’t been working so good for a while,” said Ed Marmion, a Masury resident who came to Laddie’s Sky Club in Brookfield to watch the game. And as the beer commercial says, “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”
And it didn’t work again Sunday, as the Steelers dominated the Browns, 20-7, in what has been a lopsided rivalry for years. However, the Steelers’ last-ditch bid to reach the playoffs was ended by the San Diego Chargers’ overtime victory some three hours later.
For a sports bar, Billy’s Black and Gold in Sharon was eerily quiet in the beginning stages of Sunday’s game, as the 60 or so patrons were intent on watching the game.
“They are serious about their football. They didn’t come to socialize. They came to watch the game. Even the servers know not to step in front of them when the game is on,” said Carol Novosel, who along with her husband, Billy, owns the strictly Pittsburgh sports bar on Sharpsville Avenue.
“We love it. But it was a Browns’ fan who helped create our place. A guy would come in and hang a Browns’ pennant on the wall. And Billy would take it down and replace it with Steelers memorabilia and it grew from there,” she revealed.
She, too, is a Steelers fan. “I had to be or he wouldn’t have asked me out again,” she said.
Bill Bell, of Hermitage, said he’s been coming to Billy’s to watch the games with friends for years and his love of football hearkens back to when he played in his youth. The Steelers-Browns rivalry, he said, is because the two teams are so close and Sharon sits smack in the middle between them.
“Pittsburgh’s been dominant for years. But, once in awhile, a great while, Cleveland sneaks one in. The rivalry kind of dampened a bit when the original team went to Baltimore and became the Ravens,” he said.
Sunday’s game was the 122nd time the teams have played one another and it is the oldest rivalry in the NFL’s American Conference, according to Internet information. Sometimes it’s called “the turnpike rivalry” because the Pennsylvania and Ohio turnpikes are a primary route connecting the two cities that are 135 miles apart.
“At least the Steelers are a real football team,” said Terry Ruffo, of Grove City, who said he’s been a Steelers fan since high school. “There was a time, back in the Super Bowl ’70s, when it was really something,” he said.
Ruffo’s family decorated a car with Steelers decals and championship signs and he and his friends, Bell included, would drive it to the Steelers training camp in Latrobe, Pa. “We were a little wild back then. But man, they thought we were celebrities when we came in that car. They let us drive right in with the team,” he said.
He since donated the car to Billy’s Black and Gold but it has rusted away by now, he said.
Even die-hard Steelers fans have to endure some division at home at times, Bell said.
“I have a goofy brother-in-law who isn’t a Steeler fan,” Bell laughed.
“And I got one who’s a Miami Dolphin’s fan,” Ruffo said.
And it wasn’t just older fans who turned out to cheer on the Steelers.
“We don’t like the Browns. And that’s because I was born in Pittsburgh,” said 8-year-old Harry Leftheris, who was enjoying a day with his family who were all decked out in their new Steelers jerseys.
His younger brother, Alexander, 5, agreed.
“I like Steelers more better than Browns. Just because,” he said.
Their mother, Phileea Leftheris, said it was a perfect day to bring the family out to show off their new clothes and enjoy the rivalry.
“I think it’s a lot of fun and football can attract a lot of zealous fans. It’s a good time,” she said.
The determined-at-birth theory holds true for Cleveland Browns fans as well.
“I just hate the Steelers. I was born that way. Absolutely.” Marmion said.
“I think the Browns have a slim-to-none chance of winning but I don’t want to see Pittsburgh in the playoffs. I want to dash any hopes of that,” he said.
Ashley Swezey, of Brookfield, agreed.
“I don’t like Steelers fans. They are obnoxious,” she said, despite being seated very close to Tara Donahue of Hubbard, the lone Steelers fan in the place.
“The Browns still play really tough against the Steelers, so it’s good to watch,” Donahue said.
Another couple that came into Laddie’s for a takeout order were split.
“I am a Browns fan, absolutely,” cheered a woman named Tammy. “And he’s a Steeler fan. I was willing to overlook that. And we just bought a house and we’re moving to Ohio so I’ll be official. Yay!” she said.