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Fans won't be inside Heinz Field for Browns-Steelers playoff game

Last Sunday, the Steelers and Browns closed the NFL's regular season in Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium where 12,000 fans were in the stands.
Browns and Steelers helmets
(AP photos)

PITTSBURGH — Yoi and double yoi!

The third Cleveland Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game in 26 years will be "Must See TV" for just about everyone.

Thursday, the Steelers announced that none of their season ticket holders will be permitted to watch Sunday night's game from the stands in Heinz Field. The reason is coronavirus, specifically Pennsylvania's restrictions on crowds because of the pandemic.

Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten issued a news release saying, “We are disappointed we will not be able to host our season ticket holders and other fans at Heinz Field on Sunday night against the Cleveland Browns in our AFC Wild Card Game.

"We were hoping to receive approval to host fans for the playoffs at a capacity similar to our games in October and November, but unfortunately the state’s orders will only permit 2,500 total people in the building, including players, coaches and staff," Lauten said. "This will limit fans in the seating bowl to family and friends of players and the team.”

In games in October and November, Pennsylvania coronavirus guidelines permitted 5,500 in the Heinz Field stands. But in three December games at Heinz Field, no season ticket holders were allowed to watch.

Last Sunday, the Steelers and Browns closed the NFL's regular season in Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium where 12,000 fans were in the stands.

In the fall, the Browns and Cincinnati Bengals were limited to 6,000 fans for two home games. Later, Gov. Mike DeWine doubled the capacity for all late-season games.

In addition, football fans hoping to watch the AFC Wild Card match-up between the Browns and the Steelers at Ohio bars will also be disappointed. 

When asked Tuesday if a variance will be granted for bars showing both the Cleveland Sunday night game or the Ohio State-Alabama NCAA national championship game Monday night, DeWine pointed to the day's data.

On Tuesday the state reported 5,652 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, 538 new hospitalizations and 90 new deaths. 

"I can't look at these numbers and say that we should expand the time when people can be together, crowd together in a bar or in a restaurant, because at a bar and a restaurant, by definition, you cannot wear a mask when you're eating," DeWine said.

Doing so "would simply add to the spread we already have," DeWine said. 

The Steelers have been the opponent in the Browns' previous two playoff games. In January 2003, the Browns led the Steelers 33-21 in the fourth quarter before allowing two late touchdowns for a 36-33 wild-card round loss at Heinz Field. A week later, the Steelers lost in overtime to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round.

In January 1995 at Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers defeated the Browns 29-9 in a divisional-round game. A week later, the Steelers lost to the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game, one of three played at Three Rivers Stadium in the 1990s.

In the regular season, the Steelers (12-4) won the AFC North, while the Browns (11-5) tied the Baltimore Ravens for second place. The Ravens have the AFC's fifth seed and the Browns the sixth because the Ravens swept the Browns in two regular-season games.

NBC will televise Sunday's playoff game. Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m.

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