I am a Browns Fan.
My girlfrend is a Steelers fan. (Enter joke here, but I've probably heard it already.)
We live in the divided world that exists between the Cuyahoga River and the Pennsylvainia state line.
We've seen many games in the company of each others' "ilk."
There's a constant rivalry that remains between the two, no matter what happens on the field. It goes beyond the on-field play to the stands, bars and living rooms, where the fans claim they they are better fans than one another.
Yet, over time, I have found this comparison to be more and more difficult.
These two fanbases are so different underneath their similar surfaces, that claiming one is better than the other simply becomes a matter of personal preference over objective qualities.
First, the Browns and Steelers enjoy (inter)national fanbases.
Steeler Nation simply fills their closet with team gear and fill opposing NFL stadiums when the Steelers are in town, especially Ford Field during Super Bowl XL.
The Browns, however, are organized like a global corporation. Hundreds of chapters with over 90,000 members - the largest organized fanbase in the world. And when I say global, I mean Australia, Asia and Europe.
But then again, we're the easiest to organize.
There's a saying with us brown and orange, "There's no such thing as a former Browns fan."
Give us losing seasons, break our hearts in the playoffs—hell, even take the team away.
We're harder to kill than a horror movie villain. And in a way, we're proud of it.
Without losing seasons, we can't demonstrate how die-hard we are. And while we long in our hearts for a Steeler-esque dynasty, we won't admit it'll come with a tinge of sadness that it'll bring fairweather fans who aren't cut from the same bulletproof cloth that we currently are.
On the other hand, Steeler fans have only "suffered" seven losing seasons since 1972.
There's no way to tell who's fairweather or not, for an entire generation of Steeler Nation has never really known hard times.
I think the best example of this difference was last year, when Steeler Nation hung their heads low after missing the playoffs at 9-7, while Browns Backers were thrilled with the team's first four-game winning streak in forever to finish 5-11.
The rivalry between Browns and Steelers fans also represent a deeper division within the NFL over the importance of the Super Bowl Era.
Steeler Nation: We've got the most Super Bowl titles. We're the Best Ever! Got six? We do!!!
Steeler Nation: Dude, those don't count. (Sometimes "dude" isn't their word of choice. Family website, so I won't say what word they choose.)
Me: Really, Is that because of those pre-Super Bowl titles, you have NONE of them? If you had won a championship, say, in 1936, wouldn't you be proud of all seven of your NFL titles?
Steeler Nation doesn't like to be reminded that the NFL existed before Chuck Noll.
The idea that they were once the poster boys for futility is to introduce the idea of fallability, which is as scary as it is unfamiliar. (Maybe because it is unfamiliar? OMG! We could be like "them.")
On the other hand, Browns Backers can't do anything but be proud of their distant past. Paul Brown. Otto Graham. Jim Brown. Seven appearances in our first eight years in the NFL, including a championship in our first year in the league. In our world, the NFL stopped existing in 1970.
These respective pasts lead to what we are today.
In the company of Steeler Nation, I have seen 42-yd passes over the middle from Roethlisberger to Ward recieve all the applause of Phil Mickelson sinking a two-foot putt on the 7th Hole of the Buick Open.
In contrast, I've seen Charlie Frye throw interceptions with all the eye-rolling disappointment of a bad boss walking into the office in the morning.
And, vice versa, I have seen Rashard Mendenhall losing two yards causing bar-wide panic, while a garbage time interception by whoever the Browns have in as safety set the place into a frenzy.
It all goes to expectations.
With Steeler Nation, playoffs are a given.
Browns Backers save all that post-season excitement for the NFL Draft, where another single-digit pick awaits us.
Steeler Nation knows victory is coming, but is also willing to tolerate the occasional loss. Browns Backers tolerate losing for the occasional treat of a win.
On a greater scale, that same philosophy applies for seasons and longer. Lastly, Steeler Nation wants to build on its momentum, while Browns Backers dream of the days things change.
In conclusion, the deepest, most underlying difference between Steeler Nation and Browns Backers is a universal one.
The Steelers have proven that they can build an organization that will find talent then coach it into a winning team. It's easy to conclude that they will continue to do so.
Meanwhile, the Browns have experimented with as much error as trial to find a winning, championship formula of management, players and coaches.
We have not done it for decades, and we've got no reason to think that Mike Holmgren will have just as much success as Butch Davis, but give us enough time and one of them will emerge as the right mix.
Simply put, Steeler Fan is a fan of logic; Browns Fan is a fan of faith. Go ahead. Tell me which one is better.
The answer is the fan who brings their A-Game because of the rivalry and and doesn't take it personally - win or lose.
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