Thursday, October 10, 2002

Steelers make selves at home here

Our house is your house, Brown says to Pittsburgh

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Dallas Cowboys still might be America's Team, but right behind them are the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have a national following, and on Sunday, when they make their annual visit to Cincinnati, the Steelers might have as many fans in Paul Brown Stadium as the Bengals.

        At least it will sound that way.

        Last season, when Pittsburgh played in Cincinnati, Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna had to use a silent snap count - in his own stadium - because Steelers fans were making too much noise for the offense to hear his verbal signals.

        “That was a first for me,” Kitna said Wednesday. “It surprised me.”

        The heavy Steelers fan base in the stadium will have as much to do with the Bengals' losing ways as Pittsburgh's winning tradition.

        The Bengals are expecting the game to be a sellout, just their seventh in 19 games at Paul Brown Stadium. It again will be awash with gold, terrible-towel waving Steelers fans dressed in Jerome Bettis replica jerseys.

        The Steelers will have been the opponent in three of the Bengals' Paul Brown sellouts. The Cleveland Browns sold out Cincinnati-based games in 2000 and 2001. The other two were walk-up sellouts last season against Chicago and Tennessee, too late to lift the NFL's local television blackout.

        Nine times in the first 18 games at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals have distributed fewer tickets than the 59,755-seat capacity of their former home, Cinergy Field.

        The Steelers and Browns are AFC North Division rivals, just a few hours' drive from Cincinnati.

        Bengals president Mike Brown once said his ideal realigned division would have featured a third regional team - Indianapolis, less than two hours away by car - as opposed to Baltimore.

        Why? It's better to sell tickets to the other team's fans than not sell them at all.

        “I'm just glad to have the fans here,” Brown said Wednesday when asked about the Steelers' road crowd. “They have a good time. I'd just like to send them home a little less happy.”

        Normally in the NFL, the home team allots 525 tickets to visiting teams. In Pittsburgh, where every home game has sold out since 1974 - except one strike game when the Steelers made ticket refunds available - Steelers fans call or write to order tickets in Cincinnati and Cleveland once the schedule is announced.

        These are some of the people on the Steelers' 10-year waiting list for season tickets.

        “We have many thousands of fans who travel with us to Cleveland and Cincinnati,” Steelers president Dan Rooney said Wednesday. “(Former Browns owner) Art Modell used to say, "We get 525 tickets for Pittsburgh. You get 3,000 for Cleveland.”'

        Winning has something to do with the Steelers' national popularity, just as the mind-numbing streak of losing has made the Bengals the NFL's most irrelevant franchise.

        Since the 1990 season, the last in which a Cincinnati team made the playoffs, the Bengals are a combined 53-128 without a playoff appearance. In the same span, the Steelers are 107-73 and have played in 13 postseason games in seven different seasons.

        Steelers coach Bill Cowher traces the Steelers' popularity to the 1970s, when the Steelers won four Super Bowls.

        “We were able to rekindle a little of that in the '90s,” Cowher said. “It says a lot about the organization and the tradition that exists within this organization.”

        The last time the Steelers played in Cincinnati, the Bengals pulled a 26-23 overtime upset. That was the game Kitna had to use the silent count.

        The tying touchdown that day was caught by Bengals receiver Danny Farmer, who was the fourth-round draft pick of the Steelers in 2000 before his release at the end of training camp.

        “What that does,” Farmer said of surrendering the home-field advantage at home, “is provide more inspiration for us.”


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