Steelers, Browns to open season at home

Associated Press

A Thanksgiving night visit to Baltimore and a trip to London highlight the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2013 schedule.

The Cleveland Browns will open the season under new coach Rob Chudzinski at home and then hit the road against the Super Bowl champions.

How involved new owner Jimmy Haslam III is then remains to be seen.

Amid a deepening fraud investigation involving his truck stop empire, Haslam joined his football operations staff at work Thursday to prepare for their first draft with the franchise.

Haslam, who purchased the Browns for $1.05 billion in October, arrived in Cleveland three days after FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents executed four search warrants at his Pilot Flying J company headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn.

According to an FBI agent’s affidavit released Thursday night, an employee of the company told authorities that Pilot Flying J CEO Haslam knew about rebate fraud at the truck stop chain. Haslam’s family — including his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam — owns 59 percent of the business.

Haslam wasn’t made available to the media by the Browns, but did release a statement.

“I’ve read the affidavits,” Haslam said. “I now understand more clearly the questions the federal investigators are exploring. I maintain that the foundation of this company is built on its integrity and that any willful wrongdoing by any employee of this company at any time is intolerable.

“We will continue to cooperate with the federal investigation and continue our own investigation in these allegations. I value the relationships we have with our customers, our vendors and our team members across this country and regret that they have to go through this with us, but I trust and believe their faith in this company and its principles has never been misplaced.”

Cleveland will host the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 8 at newly named FirstEnergy Stadium. It’s the 14th time in 15 years since the Browns returned to the NFL that they’ve opened the season at home. Unfortunately, they’re 1-12 in home openers

After facing the Dolphins, the Browns travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens. Last season’s champs will visit Cleveland on Nov. 3.

The Browns play four of their first six games at home, including three straight against Cincinnati (Sept. 29), Buffalo (Oct. 3) and Detroit (Oct. 13). The matchup with the Bills is on Thursday night.

The Steelers visit Cleveland on Nov. 24. The Browns close their regular season on Dec. 29 at Heinz Field.

The Steelers open the season at home on Sept. 8 against Tennessee then play the first of four prime-time games the following week in Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh plays the Minnesota Vikings during the NFL’s annual trip to London on Sept. 29 and will get the next week off.

The Steelers will host the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens on Oct. 20 then play in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night, Pittsburgh’s first appearance on Thanksgiving since 1998.

Pittsburgh will play three of its final four games at Heinz Field, starting on Dec. 8 when the Miami Dolphins and former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace visit. Pittsburgh ends the season at home on Dec. 29 against Cleveland.

While the federal investigation into Pilot Flying J continues, Browns CEO Joe Banner said Haslam has jumped right back into his football job. Cleveland has the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft.

“This is the first year Jimmy has really owned the team and has the chance to put his imprint on it, so I think he’s excited in general,” Banner said. “We’re glad to have him here. He asks good questions. He’s a good asset to have as an owner.”

At a Tuesday press conference in Knoxville, Haslam revealed the government is investigating rebates offered by the truck stop chain, but said, “We believe we did nothing wrong.”

Haslam added that he has not been subpoenaed and no Pilot Flying J employees have been arrested, but subpoenas were issued to several members of the company’s 23-person sales force.

“Jimmy made a statement about that the other day, and there’s not much I can add to it,” Banner said. “Everything I can and want to say about this, I already have. I can tell you that the Browns’ operations are the same as they’ve always been.”

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