I’m not quite sure when I became a Browns fan, but I do remember my dad telling me, “As long as you’re living under my roof, you will be a Browns fan!” This tirade was after yet another embarrassing loss by the Browns to their archrival Pittsburgh Steelers, 51-35 on October 7, 1979. I was 7 years old at the time and I just won a brand new one dollar bill from my dad after betting him that the Steelers would win. Now, don’t get me wrong, I had no affiliation with the black and gold, but my dad was so heavily invested into this game that I played devil’s advocate just to see how he’d react. Needless to say, it didn’t go well for either him or the Browns that day! With that said, I'm not sure if that was the day I officially became a Brown's fan, but my dad's "kind words" definitely moved me in the right direction.
My dad was born in West Virginia, but he was always a diehard Browns fan because they were the only team whose games they showed on TV. Born in 1948, my dad was able to see a lot of winning football over the course of his childhood including the team’s 8th and final championship in 1964. I guess it’s easy to understand why a person who was born in that era could be a devoted Browns fan. I however, was born in 1972, and my only Browns memories are “Red-Right 88” (1981), “The Drive” (1987), “The Fumble” (1988), “The Move” (1996), “The Lost Years” [without football] (1996-1998), and “The Return” (1999). Unfortunately, these new Browns have not differentiated from the franchise’s post-1964 traditional ways after 10 years of putrid to mediocre football.
I guess myself and other Browns fans from my generation were forced to follow this team in an effort to relive the glory years like our parent’s did. If not, then we just love the cruel and unusual punishment that our sports teams give us on a game by game basis. Browns fans are very special people, unlike any fans in the NFL, because no other fans understand the concept of “next year” like we do. No matter how dismal the previous year was, in Cleveland, hope springs eternal when training camp opens in July! What makes the Browns so important to Cleveland is the fact that they are truly a microcosm of the city they play in. The fact that this city has traditionally been a laughing-stock of the entire country, our sports teams seem to take on that same attribute amongst their professional peers.
I firmly believe that Clevelanders, rightly or wrongly, place the fate of our city’s image squarely on the “shoulders” of our sports teams. In some weird way, we feel if one of our teams would win a championship, then there would be a sense of redemption for the 45 years of sports misery that we have endured. Then, we would no longer be the “Mistake on the Lake” to the rest of this country. People like Charles Barkley would not continue to demean and verbally assault our city. We would no longer need the services of Rev. Billy Graham, Rev. Joel Olsteen, Rev. Creflo Dollar, or Bishop T.D. Jakes to “exorcise” the sports demons from this city. Finally, we will gain some respectability.
Maybe, just maybe, we want our sports teams to give us what we can’t give ourselves…hope! Our sports teams have become a huge part of our city’s personality, and the Browns lead the charge. Why…because they were the only team that was truly molded to resemble the image of Cleveland.
People in Cleveland are hard-working, determined, passionate people, who constantly feel disrespected, chastised, ridiculed, disenfranchised, and irrelevant to the rest of the country. For decades, we felt the Browns were the same as us. Browns fans are good for the soul because life demands that the best things happen to a person after he/she has faced a considerable amount of adversity. Through adversity, you become a testimony to others about what hard work, dedication, and belief in yourself can do. Browns fans, in particular, continue to be pushed, kicked, and beaten on a yearly basis but still continue to fight.
Dictionary.com defines the term underdog as: “one that is at a disadvantage”. Not only does that apply to the Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians, but to all of Cleveland’s fans as well. Maybe Browns fans get their passion from the fact that this team was once one of the NFL’s most storied franchises with arguably the greatest coach (Paul Brown), the greatest quarterback (Otto Graham), and the greatest football player (Jim Brown) in the history of the sport; which over the course of time, has completely fallen from grace. If the Browns are able to have enough pride to resurrect their once great franchise, then maybe this city will find enough internal pride to do the same.
Sometimes apathetic/ unmotivated people need an extraordinary event to jump-start them, and/or to make them believe. A championship, in this city, may be just what the doctor ordered. Now that I know, what I know, I want to thank my dad for not only helping me understand what it means to be a Clevelander, but most importantly, what it means for me to be a fan!