Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster attracted the wrong kind of attention a couple of times last season, drawing less attention for what he was doing in games than what he was doing or saying beforehand. The TikTok pre-game videos are perhaps best remembered, but a stray comment that was ultimately taken out of context set the tone for the team’s playoff exit in January.
In responding to a question about the improved nature of the Cleveland Browns, who were at the time their upcoming opponent in the regular-season finale, Smith-Schuster was attempting to invoke a Tomlinism—his ‘nameless, gray faces’ line to refer to opponents—when he said “the Browns is the Browns.
Understandably, Browns players and fans embraced that and took it as an intended slight, as though Smith-Schuster were saying that the Browns will always be a bad team no matter how close they might get to digging out of their own hole. We certainly heard Browns players invoking the phrase during post-game celebrations. Former Browns player Joe Haden, however, never thought much of it.
“I think players, anything inside motivation to get yourself up for a game, at the end of the day, we’re gonna go out there and play as hard as we can regardless of who it is, and I feel like they do the same thing”, he told reporters on Wednesday when asked if he believed the comment motivated Browns players.
“But you want to try to give yourself any little extra edge, if you feel like they’re trying to little brother you or something like that”, he continued. “But I don’t think that’s the case anymore. They’re a quality opponent, we feel the same way. We know it’s gonna be a battle”.
Haden actually missed the final two games against the Browns last season because he had been diagnosed with COVID-19, even though he was fortunately asymptomatic. Thus, he didn’t even, at the time, even get a chance to comment on that whole angle of the story.
Formerly drafted by Cleveland in the top 10 back in 2010, Haden spent the first seven years of his career there before being released, and he is now in his fifth season with the Steelers. He still has a great love for his former city, and former team, however, even if he has become a Yinzer.
For what it’s worth, I’m not seeing any mention of this sort of thing from the coaches or players on the Browns’ side leading up to this game. I do think it’s well and truly in the past at this point; it was never much of a story to begin with, of course, even if it goes without saying that you never want to go out of your way to give your opponent another reason to want to beat you.