There's no such thing as a bandwagon Cleveland Browns fan. No casual football fan would subject themselves to the annual heartbreak of following a team that has two winning seasons and zero playoff wins since 1999. No casual fan would endure the yearly tribulations of Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel or the team's endless line of starting quarterbacks.
Instead, people are born into Browns fandom. In Mentor, Ohio, a 30-minute drive away from Cleveland, University of North Carolina junior quarterback and potential No. 1 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky grew up rooting for the Browns. Slowly, the kid who was raised rooting for one of the NFL's laughingstocks became a highly touted quarterback recruit, earning Ohio's Mr. Football honors, as if he recognized his favorite team's greatest need and determined he needed to fill that hole himself.
Trubisky and Brandon Short, the gunslinger's high school center, followed the Browns passionately. After going through high school game film together on Sundays, they'd often grab a bite to eat before watching Browns games together. Like most Browns fans, given their team's history of regular-season futility, they paid close attention to the team's potential (and often high) draft picks.
"The draft is just as big as the playoffs here in Cleveland," Short said. "That's an exciting day for Cleveland."
When Trubisky and Short played Madden, they'd fight over who got to play as the Browns, who've averaged a 76 rating in the game and rated as low as 65 since 1999, the year they returned to Cleveland.
"You'd want to be the Browns," Short said. "Whoever else got the crappy end of the stick because they weren't the Browns."
This is the upside-down football world in which Trubisky was raised. Kids actually want to be the Cleveland Browns in Madden.
"I think he's just like any one of us Clevelanders," Short said. "He loves his teams."
Soon, Trubisky may have the opportunity to be the quarterback for that team. The Browns own the No. 1 and No. 12 picks in the 2017 NFL draft, and Cleveland is once again expected to be searching for someone who can provide stability at quarterback. Many scouts and analysts consider Trubisky to be the best signal-caller in the draft. (Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him as the 16th-best prospect overall, one spot above Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer.)
Should the Browns decide to take Trubisky, he'd follow in the footsteps of Cleveland hometown quarterbacks like Bernie Kosar, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brian Hoyer, which is sort of like being the next DC Comics movie and having to follow up blockbuster train wreck Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
To many around Trubisky, loyalty stands out as one of his defining characteristics. He replies to every text from high school coach Steve Trivisonno. When he returns home, he visits his teachers and mentors. When someone asks for a photo or autograph in Mentor, Trubisky obliges. When Marquise Williams beat him for the starting job at UNC in 2014, Trubisky decided to stay a Tar Heel instead of transferring to another school in search of playing time.
"A lot of kids feel entitled to be a starter from Day 1, and he always had this bigger plan for himself," said Taylor Vippolis, who played wide receiver for the Tar Heels. "He trusted that God had a bigger plan for him and that his time would eventually come at North Carolina."
That time came in 2016, when Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora named Trubisky the starter as a redshirt junior. The 22-year-old put together a season that shot him to the top of draft boards. Despite having just 13 starts under his belt, his numbers—a completion percentage of 68.0, 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions—spoke for themselves.
And though being a Tar Heel moved his college football loyalties from Ohio State to Chapel Hill, Trubisky remained loyal to his Cleveland roots.
"Me and him would go back and forth about LeBron, and I would tell him that [Cleveland] was soft for letting him back in like he never left," Vippolis said. "All [Trubisky] would say was that he wanted Cleveland to win as many titles as possible. He doesn't care who it takes."
It may take Trubisky, who some analysts view as a potential franchise quarterback, for the Browns to start creeping into any title discussions. In 2016, the Browns had their worst season ever, which is an accomplishment given their 88-200 record since their 1999 rebirth. Head coach Hue Jackson and the front office, led by Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, will undoubtedly need to make changes in the offseason.
While the Browns have a short-term starter in RGIII, it's hard to imagine them lifting the Lombardi Trophy with him leading the way. In Trubisky, Cleveland could have a player who has believed in the organization through all the highs and lows.
"You can see every Sunday, no matter what the record, most true Cleveland sports fans are turning on the TV and believing that they are going to win," Short said. "None of us pick against the Browns, and I bet Mitch never did."
The Browns' previous hometown quarterback saviors have flamed out one by one. Should they take Trubisky at the top of the draft, he would become the franchise's highest-drafted quarterback since Tim Couch in 1999. While pressure comes with that label, Short doesn't see Trubisky having any trouble handling the attention.
"People keep talking about the pressure of coming to Cleveland," Short said. "I understand being the hometown boy, but I think that Mitch doesn't look at it as pressure. Even if you reach tough times, I think he's the kind of guy that would pull through and you would want leading your team."
All quotes obtained firsthand.