CLEVELAND -- As a native of Toledo, Ohio, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer knows all about the AFC North Division rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, but it is one thing to know about it and quite another to play in it.
As Cleveland’s starting quarterback, Kizer will get his first exposure to the Browns-Steelers rivalry in the 2017 regular-season opener at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday.
“I definitely have a lot of respect for this game,” Kizer said. “This rivalry within our division and our conference is one that really shows you what Northern Midwest football is. It is hard-nosed. It is tough.
“The fan bases are the same way. The cities are the same way. We all kind of grew up the same way in the sense that it is blue collar. It is as blue collar as it gets, so now, to be a part of this and to obviously represent Cleveland and this rivalry, I am looking forward to going out there and representing the city and everything that comes along with this.”
The Future is Now: DeShone Kizer set to start for Cleveland Browns
The Browns owned the rivalry in the early days, but since returning to the National Football League in 1999, Cleveland has known almost nothing but misery when competing against the Steelers.
Including a 36-33 loss at Pittsburgh in the AFC Wildcard Playoffs on January 5, 2003, the Browns are 6-31 against the Steelers since returning to the NFL, and have won just four out of a possible 28 games over the last 14 years.
Cleveland’s woes in the rivalry have a lot to do with another Ohio native, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Findlay, Ohio native is 20-2 in his career against the Browns, having completed 412 of his 659 attempts for 5,490 yards and 35 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.
“Ben grew up around me,” Kizer said. “He is only about 40 minutes away from me. His reputation in my city is something that is well respected. Yes, I did grow up watching him. There are quite a few Pittsburgh fans in the Toledo area who live and die by his games and his play.
“His grit and what he does out on the field is exactly what you have to have to be successful in the AFC North. That is why he has been consistently successful. Hopefully, I will be able to pull from that and go out there, compete against him and do my best to try to take over that reputation that he has had in this city.”
Although Kizer admits “it is surreal” to have the chance to share the field with Roethlisberger, a quarterback whom he watched closely while growing up in Toledo, when the time comes to play in his first NFL game, he will be ready.
“He is going to become an enemy as soon as that ball gets snapped and we flip the coin,” Kizer said.
“I look forward to being out there. There are going to be a lot of those games where we step out there and I am going against guys that I have been looking up to, but it is my job just to take some of the things that they have been doing to create their success in the league and try to create my own.”