Certain things remind you of your friends and the great times you have shared with them.
Your favorite watering hole.
For me and one of my best friends, it was and still is the Cleveland Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry.
Everyone has ups and downs in their lives. However, there are always constants that stay the same.
For me and MM, it’s the Browns and Steelers.
I have known MM for almost 20 years now (where has the time gone?). He is a mutual friend of my long time friend, Rich.
We instantly connected because of our love for 80’s hair metal and sports. We both loved the Bruins, but football is where the lines in the sand were drawn.
I have always been a Patriots fan, but I had a football mistress on the side.
The Cleveland Browns.
I began following them during their glory years in the mid to late 80’s. They were always the brides maids when they lost to Denver in the AFC Championship in ’86, ’87, and ’89.
I loved Bernie Kosar, Clay Matthews, and the Dawg Pound.
I was probably the only kid in New England to have a Browns hat and jacket. I wore it with pride.
My buddy, MM, was a die-hard Steelers fan since birth I think. He owned a Bubby Brister jersey (still asking myself why) and later Hines Ward.
He ate, drank, and breathed Steelers.
There was no hometown allegiance to the Patriots for MM.
Since the age of 17(we are now both 36), our friendship and the rivalry grew.
Phone calls taunting in each other (no email back in the day).
When video games like Tecmo Bowl and Madden came along, you guessed it, he was Pittsburgh and I was Cleveland. And just like the real rivalry, the Steelers usually won.
I sent MM a Rod Woodson card with a band aid on it when the star defensive back was lost for the season. I typed his address on the envelope, so he wouldn’t notice my hand writing.
Like he didn’t know who it was from.
The rivalry had to take a five year hiatus in 1995 when the Browns were stolen from Cleveland. Art Modell moved the historic franchise to Baltimore and they became the Ravens.
With no Browns to cheer on, I still hated the Steelers. I rooted on the Patriots to beat Pittsburgh. I tried to talk smack to MM. However, it just wasn’t the same.
Then in 1999, game on!
The Browns were given an expansion franchise and the Dawg Pound was reborn. “New” team in Cleveland, but the same results.
All Steelers, all the time.
MM had a field day taunting me over the years.
Then it happened on January 5, 2003.
What MM and I always wanted.
The Browns and Steelers were going to meet in the AFC playoffs!
Pittsburgh won the AFC North yet again with a 10-5-1 record with the Browns in the rear view mirror at 9-7.
My Patriots were edged out by the Jets that year for the AFC East. Cleveland actually edged out New England
for the wildcard as well. Just not the Pats year.
All my playoff energies were focused on my football mistress, the Cleveland Browns and their matchup against MM’s Steelers.
My girlfriend at the time and I made the two hour drive to Ossipee NH (aka Steelers country), to watch this epic battle.
I had my Kevin Johnson jersey on and was ready to do battle with MM.
The game couldn’t have started any better for the Browns.
Kelly Holcomb hit my boy, Kevin Johnson for an 83 yard bomb which set up ex-BC Eagle, William Green for a touchdown. The Browns were up 7-0 IN PITTSBURGH!
They built a 17-7 half time lead IN PITTSBURGH!
My buddy, MM was disgusted and was throwing half full beer cans at me. I was loving life.
This was like the Sox beating the Yanks or the Bruins beating the hated Canadiens.
The Browns kept up the pressure in the second half. Kelly “Holy Crap He’s
Good” Holcomb hit Dennis Northcutt for a 24-7 lead.
The Browns, yes the Cleveland “freaking” Browns were DOMINATING the Steelers IN PITTSBURGH!
Then it happened.
The black cat.
The upside down horse shoe.
MM’s son came home dressed in brown!! The kid knows a winner when he sees one!
MM changed his son into Steelers colors and something just felt “different” in the air.
Pittsburgh quarterback, Tommy Maddox caught fire. He found Plaxico Burress to cut the lead to 24-14.
Dawson field goal, 27-14.
Maddox another TD pass, 27-21.
Kelly Holcomb (429 yards and 3 td’s) said no soup for you and threw another touchdown pass to make the lead, 33-21.
I was nervous. Could the Browns hold on?
Maddox drove the Steelers down the field yet again to cut the lead to 33-28 with 3 minutes left.
All the Browns had to do was run out the clock. Game would be over and I could taunt MM to no end in his house!
It was in my grasp!
Then Northcutt dropped a third down pass that would have ended it. Pittsburgh had life and I had a pit in my stomach the size of Lake Erie.
Maddox (367 yards and 2 td’s) couldn’t be stopped and I hoped the Browns could contain him.
No such luck. The Steelers took the lead on a Fuamatu-Ma’afala touchdown run, 36-33.
I couldn’t believe the Browns implosion. They let up 22 fourth quarter points. They still had a chance at the end of the game but another drop did them in.
I was crushed.
MM was gloating like a bully stealing my milk money in grade school.
His son was the X factor and put the horns on the Browns.
Something I will always remember and I shared it all with my buddy, MM.
Over the last 6 years, MM has been through a lot. He had to battle many demons and I tried to help him every way I could.
I learned that sometimes people have to do it for themselves. They have to get themselves right. It makes you feel helpless that you can’t do anything.
We lost touch over the last 2 years. I haven’t talked to him or seen him since Thanksgiving 2007.
However, when the Browns and Steelers played I thought about him.
I hoped we could share in the rivalry again.
Recently I learned that MM was doing great and he finally is where he wants to be.
I got his cell number. It’s always tough to think about something to talk about when you haven’t spoke in so long, but we always had one thing.
He called me while I was out, catching the Bruins and Browns games.
I spent the night updating him what the Browns-Steelers score was via text.
It felt great. It was like old times.
And the cherry on the top, the Browns actually beat the Steelers! Josh Cribbs played like a man possessed and Cleveland beat their hated rivals, 13-6.
The Steelers fifth straight loss all but ended their playoff hopes.
The Browns won and I reconnected with my friend, MM. It was a magical night.
Now MM and I need to keep our promise to each that we made when we were teenagers.
See a Browns-Steelers game in person.
I can’t wait.