The bitter rivalry between these Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers began in 1950 when the All-American Football Conference folded and three of the AAFC teams entered the NFL. The 49ers and Colts were joined by a Browns’ team that had won all four of the AAFC championships under head coach Paul Brown.
The Browns dominated the early years while the Same Old Steelers struggled to put up any resistance as Cleveland rolled over them eight straight times. The super seventies saw the Steelers take over supremacy. The eighties and nineties were evenly balanced and then Ben Roethlisberger arrived and he owns the Browns.
1982 was the year the Steelers celebrated their 50th anniversary. It was also the year that saw an NFL players strike which interrupted the Steelers’ celebrations. Naturally the walkout was all about money. The NFL Players Association wanted their members to have a bigger slice of the pie. Obviously, the owners didn’t want to concede and lose some of their large fortunes.
Football players were bottom of the pay league when it came to professional sports. The negotiations went beyond the start of the 1982 season which began on September 13. After two weeks of the negotiations proved fruitless, the players went out on strike.
The Steelers went into their enforced hibernation with a 2-0 record including a victory over the Bengals who were the previous year’s AFC Champions. The disrupted season resumed on November 21 with a shortened schedule of another nine games.
The playoffs would consist of the top eight teams in each conference irrelevant of a team’s division standing. Previously, only five teams from each conference had made it to post season football.
As usual, Chuck Noll was philosophical about the rest of the Steelers season. “We’re going to work to put out the best product we can,” he said. “We’ll try to remember what we were doing seven weeks ago. We’ll do some fine tuning, make some little adjustments.”
Terry Bradshaw certainly remembered what he was doing. He threw three touchdowns against the Houston Oilers in the Steelers 24-10 victory when the season restarted.
After splitting the rescheduled games, the final contest saw the Steelers host the Browns. Two weeks previously the Browns had edged the game in Cleveland 10-9. The Browns’ playoff chances improved with that win and success the following week in Houston added extra spice to the contest in Pittsburgh.
When told his team could still make the playoffs without beating Pittsburgh, Cleveland’s coach Sam Rutigliano was emphatic, “We don’t care about the “ifs” and “buts”. We just want to beat Pittsburgh. We don’t want to just get into the playoffs. We want to go on.”
The (5-3) Steelers vs (4-4) Browns January 2,1983
The Steelers opened the scoring on their second possession. Franco Harris carried three times, once for 19 yards, while Terry Bradshaw hit Lynn Swann with a 14-yard pass and John Stallworth with a 15 yarder. The drive finished with Ray Pinney’s 3-yard touchdown completion on a tackle-eligible play.
When the teams exchanged turnovers, it was the Bradshaw interception that proved expensive as the Browns drove 86 yards, finishing with a 1-yard pass from Paul McDonald to Ricky Feacher for the score. It was the longest drive against the Steelers on the season.
The next time Cleveland had the ball, it was the turn of Pittsburgh’s return team to do something special. Free agent John Rodgers burst through untouched to block Cleveland’s punt. Rodgers picked up the loose ball and ran 18 yards for a touchdown. A bad snap on the missed extra point meant the Steelers led 13-7 midway through the second quarter.
As the first half was drawing to a close, Robin Cole’s sack forced a fumble from McDonald and was recovered by Jack Ham. Coach Noll sent Gary Anderson on to kick a 56-yard field goal, but it fell short.
In a quiet third quarter, the exchanges were energized by a Steelers’ drive of 81 yards and capped by a 6-yard touchdown from Franco Harris to extend the Steelers’ lead.
When the game entered the final period, Bradshaw called an audible that sent Jim Smith flying down the sideline instead of running the post pattern he called in the huddle. Smith put an inside move on the linebacker before going back outside to make a diving catch in the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown.
A seemingly overwhelming Steelers’ advantage of twenty points was breeched when the Browns went 63 yards through the air for a touchdown from Dave Logan.
With the Browns pressing on their next possession, Ron Johnson came up with the first of his two interceptions. Unfortunately, Bradshaw returned the favor and McDonald accepted the gift guiding the Browns to another touchdown. He hit Feacher with a 12-yard scoring pass that brought Cleveland within a touchdown at 27-21 with five minutes remaining.
On the Steelers’ next series, Bradshaw and Lynn Swann moved the chains with a pass of 60 yards to set Anderson up for a successful 34-yard field goal.
When Johnson picked off his second pass, a clock killing drive was completed by rookie Walter Abercrombie’s 1-yard touchdown run and the Steelers triumphed 37-21 over their Turnpike rivals.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 37 vs the Cleveland Browns 21
The Steelers went into the playoffs as the fourth seed, but they came up short against the Chargers in the wildcard game. Leading 28-17 in the fourth quarter they gave up two touchdowns to lose 28-31.
Third year tackle Tunch Ilkin started for the first time in place of Larry Brown who had a sprained ankle. Ilkin was part of the offensive line that opened holes for the best rushing performance of the season with 261 total yards.
A New England win over Buffalo allowed the Browns’ losing record to take them into the playoffs The Bills and Browns finished with the same number of wins and losses, but the Cleveland had more wins in the conference so took the tie breaker. The Browns lost their wildcard game in Oakland.
The Steelers would win the division title the next two seasons with Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone at quarterback.