Cincinnati is overwhelmingly rooting for the Cardinals in tomorrow’s titanic struggle. There’s a good reason for that. In the AFC North, one does not root for the Steelers unless one lives in Pittsburgh.
I grew up hating the Steelers. I screamed in triumph whenever the Steel Curtain came to the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, only to get stomped on by the Dawg Pound. However, I also would have my heart broken when my beloved Browns would lose in Three Rivers Stadium. When I moved to Cincinnati, I brought my loyalty to the Browns with me (telling my then-girlfriend the Bengals would have to earn my loyalty. Living here isn’t good enough, since no one on the Bengals had helped me move.) My hatred of the Steelers, though, fit in nicely in the Queen City.
A funny thing happened in those intervening years. Two funny things, actually. One was the Bengals Lost Decade. So much for earning my loyalty. The other was the outright theft of the Cleveland Browns, kidnapped to Baltimore, a city also the victim of theft and kidnapping of its football team. For four years, there were no Cleveland Browns. And I learned to hate the Ravens. I still hate them. I despise them with every fiber of my being.
How much do I hate the Ravens? I have offered to join any Baltimore or Cleveland writer at the 2009 Bouchercon in going to Robert Isray’s grave and “toasting” the late owner of the Colts for originally causing this sad state of affairs. Were there still a Baltimore Colts, there would still be the original Cleveland Browns. (Seriously. Los Angeles would not have been an option for Art Modell.)
So with the Bengals unable to muster even an 8-8 record, I became a Steelers fan for four years. For a Cleveland boy living in Cincinnati, it was horrendous. Then the Browns returned, a shadow of their former selves. The Bengals managed to earn my loyalty, though Mike Brown will rue the day that happened, for now I consider him beholden to me.
But in 2009?
The Steelers – who showed solidarity with Browns fans in their final game before the Great Abuduction to Baltimore – beat the loathsome Ravens in the playoffs.
Now they just have to beat the Cardinals to rub the Ravens’ collective nose in it.
And that, friends and neighbors, is how I can live in suburban Cincinnati and root for the Steelers. It’s a moral imperative.
(Apologies to Laura Lippman, David Simon, Marcia Talley, Tony Cheatham, and Jack Bludis. I love your city and think they should rename an NBA team “the Browns” so basketball can return to Charm City. Hey, it’s worked since 1953.)