Fans hyped for Browns-Steelers game


Pittsburgh and Cleveland have been football rivals for more than 50 years.

“Cleveland Clowns!”

“Pittsburgh Squealers!”

These are nicknames that Browns and Steelers fans use to irritate their foes.

Sunday, area fans of both teams will watch to see if Pittsburgh can continue its winning streak — or if it will be broken by Cleveland.

“I’m predicting a 14 point win for Cleveland,” said Bryan Brantley, 29, a Youngstown native and die-hard Browns fan who happens to live next door to a Pittsburgh Steelers player.

Brantley moved to Pittsburgh in 2001, and that’s where he later met the biggest person he’s ever seen. Standing six-foot-eight-inches and weighing 340 pounds, Max Starks, 26, plays offensive tackle for the black and gold.

In a joint interview with The Vindicator, Starks said to Brantley, “You have to have a lot of pride and dignity to cheer for losers.”

“No, it takes a lot of heart,” responded Brantley — who said only someone from Youngstown could stand by their team through thick and thin.

The two neighbors enjoy bickering back and forth about which team is better and said their relationship is only affected twice a year: when Cleveland and Pittsburgh face off.

The hardest time for Brantley was when Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl after the 2005 season.

“I showed him my ring and said, ‘This is what it takes to be a champion,’” said Starks.

An attorney for McGuireWoods LLC, Brantley works and lives in Pittsburgh, dealing with trash talk from Starks as well as other black-and-gold supporters.

“This is the worst place to be if you are a Browns fan,” he said.

There is one place that’s worse, said Starks: “At Browns Stadium when they are playing the Steelers.”

Mahoning Valley Steelers fans who won’t be in the stadium can watch the game from Billy’s Black and Gold, 514 Sharpsville Ave., Sharon, Pa.

“There will be no one here in Browns clothes,” said owner Bill Novosel of the crowd that will come out for Sunday’s showdown.

The game day dress code at Billy’s is stated clearly on the door: “ABSOLUTELY NO OPPOSING TEAM GARB-AGE.”

A walk into Billy’s is like a trip to a different country — Steelers Country, where black-and-gold rules and Iron City beer flows like water.

Steelers memorabilia and murals of the Pittsburgh city skyline and sports heroes embellish the walls at Billy’s.

Novosel is confident his team will do well this weekend and during the season. “As long as they [Steelers] stay healthy, they can contend with anyone,” he said.

Browns fan Mike Plyler, 25, of New Castle, Pa., won’t be stepping foot into Billy’s anytime soon.

“I love the rivalry,” said Plyler, who has been a lifelong Browns fan and even has a helmet tattooed on his arm to show his team spirit.

Plyler got the tattoo last year after seeing the players’ enthusiasm when Cleveland beat Baltimore.

“I have a beard going and I’m not going to shave it until the Browns are in the Super Bowl,” said Plyler of one more way to show his brown-and-orange dedication through physical appearance.

Living in Pennsylvania, Plyler takes a lot of flack from fellow employees and said every time the Steelers and Browns play, he and a co-worker bet on which team will win.

The loser must stand on the street corner wearing the opposing team’s jersey, while holding a sign degrading their team and praising the rival.

Some people aren’t as cruel to friends who are fans of the competitor.

Michelle Bonacci said Browns fans are welcome to watch the game in her Steelers-themed basement with a bar.

Decked in black and gold from floor to ceiling, the basement features such memorabilia as a Jerome Bettis Wheaties box, autographed pictures and a miniature Steelers corn hole game.

Behind the bar, Bonacci has three swings with gold chains and seats padded with Steelers fabric that she and her girlfriends enjoy during the game.

“We have a party every weekend,” said Bonacci, 42, of Austintown.

Some Browns fans show up, but they have to watch a smaller TV. “We get the big screen,” she said.

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