BEREA, Ohio -- Believe it or not, North Olmsted native Brian Hoyer has a soft spot for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even though he's still hoping to slay them when he starts at quarterback for his hometown Browns in the regular-season opener Sunday at Heinz Field.
The New England Patriots waived Hoyer on Aug. 31, 2012, after he spent three seasons serving as the backup to star Tom Brady. He was out of the NFL until Nov. 20, when the Steelers signed him because starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and backup Byron Leftwich were dealing with injured ribs.
"I was just grateful to have a job," Hoyer said Sunday after practice. "As bitter as this rivalry is and being a Cleveland boy, I'll always have a place in my heart for Pittsburgh because they gave me a job when no one else would. Had a couple things fallen different ways, you never know it would have turned out.
"I couldn't be happier to be a Cleveland Brown, 1/8but3/8 there will always be a spot in my heart for those guys because they gave me a job when 31 other teams wouldn't. I'll always be thankful for that, but at the same time, I think I'm on the right side of this rivalry now."
Three weeks after the Steelers signed Hoyer, they waived him. The move was made because Roethlisberger had bounced back from his injury and because the Steelers sought depth in their secondary. They promoted cornerback Josh Victorian from the practice squad and dumped Hoyer, a move they would later regret.
The next day, Arizona Cardinals claimed Hoyer off waivers. The Steelers wanted Hoyer back so he could serve as their No. 2 quarterback behind Roethlisberger in 2013, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. But Cardinals coach and ex-Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians blocked them that March by extending a second-round tender to Hoyer as a restricted free agent.
The Steelers then signed Bruce Gradkowski to back up Roethlisberger. That opened the door for the Browns' previous regime led by former CEO Joe Banner and ex-General Manager Mike Lombardi to sign Hoyer to a two-year, $1.97 million contract four days after the Cardinals waived him on May 13, 2013.
"Maybe I could be on the other side," Hoyer said. "You never know. I'm glad I'm here. That's for sure."
Hoyer was actually on the other side of the AFC North rivalry in 2012. In his first game as a member of the Steelers, he was Charlie Batch's backup against the Browns. Hoyer never left Pittsburgh's bench, and the Browns prevailed 20-14.
"I didn't visualize being on the other side of the rivalry the first time I was a part of it," said Hoyer, who entered the NFL in 2009 as an undrafted free agent from Michigan State. "I know what this means to this city. I know what it means to our fans. I'm one of the few that get a chance to actually impact it."
Hoyer, 28, is eager to seize the moment. A rocky preseason and Hoyer's competition against backup Johnny Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in May's NFL Draft, are in the rearview mirror. Now the St. Ignatius High School graduate is on the verge of entering an NFL season as a starter for the first time.
"I always felt like I had to earn the job. I'm always trying to do that," Hoyer said. "You're always trying to prove you're the guy for the job. I think if you take that mentality with you, you're only going to challenge yourself to get better on a daily basis. If you feel you kind of level off -- there's always someone trying to take your job through the draft, free agency, whatever it might be. As long as you could put that pressure on yourself, you could make yourself a better player.
"I'm not saying I'm coming out here every week thinking I'm going to lose my job. I honestly feel more secure today than I ever have. I always think it's good to have that chip on your shoulder, to prove other people wrong and prove yourself right."
Hoyer proved himself to some extent last season by going 2-0 as the Browns' starter before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Oct. 3. He watched film of the Steelers while eyeing a comeback during the rehabilitation process.
"If you watch them, you know exactly what you're going to get," Hoyer said. "They're going to be solid. The guys are going to be in the right place. They have some schemes where you really have to be ready for them or else they're going to get you. We know what we're going to face, and we have to be at our best to be able to beat these guys."
The Browns are 5-26 against the Steelers, including one playoff game, since the expansion era began in 1999. The Browns are also 1-14 in season openers during that span.
None of it's news to Hoyer.
"To start off the season with a win, especially a division win, would be huge," Hoyer said. "It definitely gets your confidence going -- not to say the season's over if you don't win. But it is important to get things going on the right foot."
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