Yet he has been reviled in Cleveland because fans are convinced that the Browns are winning in spite of him, not because of him. In the days before the game against the Steelers, his past failings—throwing five interceptions in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State in 1987 and losing virtually every week with Tampa Bay—still seemed to weigh on him. "I've carried that baggage here to Cleveland," he said after last Thursday's practice. "That Fiesta Bowl still lingers in the back of my mind, behind the cobwebs, deep down."
The events of Sunday are not likely to help erase those negative memories. Testaverde played well in spots, but giver the Browns' two-touchdown deficit, he needed to play mistake-free football, and Testaverde is not a mistake-free quarterback. In the second quarter he moved the Browns to the Steeler 14, then tossed a pass at Eric Metcalf that Jones intercepted at the two. Early in the fourth quarter, with a second-and-two at his own 33, Testaverde dropped back, focused and aimed for Metcalf, 12 yards downfield. The problem was that Metcalf had five Steelers along as company, and the resulting interception led to a Pittsburgh insurance field goal with 10 minutes left.
The victory was especially sweet for O'Donnell, who, like Testaverde, has come in for his share of abuse. Seven days earlier, in a 14-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, he had heard loud choruses of "TOM-czak! TOM-czak!" calling for his backup, Mike Tomczak. As he came off the field after Sunday's win, he heard no jeers. Instead he paused for a moment to greet, of all people, Santa Claus. "Santa, thank you," O'Donnell said. "Merry Christmas. See you at the Super Bowl."
After sitting out Weeks 12 and 13 to help heal a few minor injuries, O'Donnell has become the efficient quarterback that an Erhardt offense needs: no turnovers, smooth handoffs, move the chains. Since reclaiming his starting job, O'Donnell has completed 60% of his throws, with four touchdown passes and only one interception. His numbers on Sunday—10 of 18 for 175 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions—earned him a game ball from Cowher. "I'm giving it to my wife," said O'Donnell, who was married last May, "because she's been through hell on earth this season."
That's all in the rearview mirror now, as is the friction that plagued this team in 1993. Although defensive players still occasionally blow up at their offensive counterparts when the attack bogs down, the Steelers are a fairly harmonious lot. Their ire is now focused on their upcoming opponents—and on those who still dare to question their mettle. "Don't give me that NFC crap," Greene said, poking a reporter playfully for emphasis. "We're a great AFC defense, and we're bringing the heat. We'll represent the conference very, very well."
Just like old times.