For The Cleveland Browns, a Lost Generation of Fans

Tom DelamaterAnalyst IOctober 29, 2009

1 Sep 1996:  A flag hung in Memorial Stadium boasted there were no more Cleveland Browns as the Baltimore Ravens debuted in the NFL with a 19-14 win over the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.  Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger/All
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Akron Beacon Journal columnist Patrick McManamon, in describing how a reader questioned whether Browns owner Randy Lerner realized the damage that has been done to the fan support for his team, wrote: "Imagine this...11 years of losing...three years with no football...the Belichick years...That’s an entire generation of football kids, lost."

Truer words were never spoken.

I was born in Cleveland, and grew up 60 miles south, in Canton. For most of my childhood, Cleveland was a two-team town: The Browns in the winter, and the Indians in the summer. The Cavaliers didn't join the fray until 1970, and pro hockey never really caught on.

I was part of a generation that came along just after the glory years of Otto Graham, Marion Motley, and Dante Lavelli. The heroes of our childhood were Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, Gene Hickerson, Dick Schafrath, Paul Warfield, and Gary Collins. In those days, the Browns reigned supreme in Cleveland.

Later, the tradition would continue with the likes of Brian Sipe, Ozzie Newsome, Clay Matthews, Bernie Kosar, Kevin Mack, and Earnest Byner.

Love for the Browns was passed down from generation to generation. Black and white images of our mud-splattered heroes graced local newspapers after each game. Fans in Northeast Ohio viewed Cleveland Stadium as a shrine—cold, dank and dreary though it was—where the ghosts of Browns teams past still lingered, and cheers from championship seasons echoed in the rafters.

It was special.

Not any more. The Browns have become a depressing laughingstock. The atmosphere at Browns' games, once electric, is now somber, as if a specter of doom hangs over the stadium (which it does). TV ratings are down. Interest among fans is waning. Media analysts search for words and shrug at how bad things have become.

The Pittsburgh Steelers even pity them now, for crying out loud. That rivalry is on its last legs, because an increasing number of football fans in Northeast Ohio—particularly the younger ones—are switching their allegiance to the gold and black.

The shared love for the Browns that once passed down through the generations exists now for so few, if any.

My sons were 8 and 5 when the "new" Browns entered the league in 1999. Thanks to me, the boys had the requisite pennants and posters in their room, and each of them had their very own Tim Couch uniforms, complete with plastic orange helmets and plastic shoulder pads. I really tried hard to pass on to them my love for the Browns. 

But I got no help from the Browns. They stunk when they came back into the league, and they stink today, 11 seasons later.

As the years have passed, my sons, now 18 and 15, have become less and less interested.  In a decade, we've never sat down and watched a Browns game, start to finish, together. They'd rather do just about anything with their Sunday afternoons than watch the team I grew up loving play football.

That's sad.

We've been to the stadium a few times, but the results have always been the same. The Browns flutter, and flounder, and leave everybody shaking their heads with some of the most inept play this side of the XFL.

Even worse, we've never sat down to watch a Browns game on TV with my dad, who is 81 now. He grew up in Cleveland, and saw the Browns play back in the '40s, when they were dominating the old All-America Football Conference. Imagine the stories my boys have missed, the things their grandfather could have told them about Motley and Graham and Willis and Groza. He told me some of those stories when I was young, stories my sons have never heard, and probably never will.

"That's an entire generation of football kids, lost."

No kidding. If there is no shame in the executive offices of the Cleveland Browns, there ought to be. It's time this annual nightmare came to an end.

Recently I suggested that the NFL solve its dilemma about how to make pro football a truly international game by persuading the Browns to move to London. I was being absurd to make a point, but I’m beginning to think it's not a bad idea.

Either restore this franchise to a level of competitiveness that befits the name and storied history of the once-proud Browns, or sell the team to someone who will. If you won’t do that, then why not just get out of town? London’s calling. Maybe then the NFL could give us a new team, with a new name, and forever preserve the wonderful tradition that is (was) the Browns.

I know, I know, it’s not going to happen. But, "…perchance, to dream."

Ay, there's the rub.