Even before the Steelers beat the Browns in what was essentially a "loser leaves town" match, you just knew that the winning side was going to say they were motivated by the other team's apparel choices.
Like clockwork, quotes started emerging from the Steelers locker room that they were motivated by Freddie Kitchens' 'Pittsburgh Started It' shirt. Longtime Browns reporter Mary Kay Cabot wrote a story about it for Cleveland.com, and Emily Mayfield -- wife of Baker Mayfield -- asked why this is what the reporter focused her questions on after a game where so much else went wrong:
In response to this, Cabot tweeted, "I asked exactly one t-shirt question after the game. I asked Baker what he thought of it, and he defended Kitchens, which I thought was pretty cool. He gave a great answer, saying 'I’ve done much worse.' Funny, and struck the right note."
This is a little bit of a deflection from Cabot as whether she "focused" questions on it or not, she did make the story the basis for a postgame feature. That being said, of course she did! The quotes from both the Steelers and Browns on the matter were interesting, and have a lot more appeal to the general public than a breakdown of exactly what went wrong for Cleveland from a pure football perspective.
The subplot here that I find fascinating is that this is the latest episode of bulletin board material entering the sports narrative. You'd think there were enough stakes in this game that a t-shirt would be irrelevant. The division rivals had a vicious brawl like two weeks ago, a playoff berth was at stake, and these players are professionals who are paid on average around $2 million a year. That should be motivation enough!
And oh by the way, Steelers players wore inflammatory shirts too! Cam Sutton, a defensive back, wore a shirt featuring a urination meme that was objectively a lot more offensive than Kitchens' shirt. Maybe there's a distinction between talent and management here? The big takeaway here is apparently that Pittsburgh was better at synthesizing bulletin board material into motivation than Cleveland.
Should be interesting to see where this all goes from here.