Somehow I made it to the last Browns game of the season. They played the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, January 3, 2010 when northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania were starting to experience their first big bout of lake effect snow.
I started my trip from eastern PA across the state and up to Cleveland, OH at 4AM. I really wanted to be in the stadium at 11AM when they opened. I don't make games often, but I do have front row seats and I really wanted to meet my friend from Columbus, OH and #89 tight end, Evan Moore. It was both their birthdays.
I don't drive in snow. When it snows I have a snow day. Needless to say, I was not mentally prepared to deal with what Mother Nature had in store for me. (Although I did take a few supplies with me: shovel, salt, charged capacitor, food, water, blanket, etc. Western PA can be very unforgiving.) It did all turn out great though, as you will see.
I should have turned around after re-fueling in Clarion, PA, but I already have gone so far. Surely, I could make it just 150 more miles.
The 480 corridor to Cleveland was a royal b*tch.
I have never, EVER driven in this stuff. Even if I wanted to turn around I couldn't because all of the ramps where covered in snow. Just stay alert, keep away from everyone, go very slow, and try to avoid the brake.
(In retrospect, using the iPhone at this time was stupid.)
Don’t ask me how, but I made it to the stadium at 10:55AM. I never stopped (except for gas) but I was not hungry or thirsty. I was excited.
Before I could go, I had to add more layers of clothing. As you can read, it was very cold, but unlike the Pittsburgh game (which was at night), this was the daytime and there were snow showers.
Camera, extra batteries, hand and feet warmers, my two posters, extra camera card, bottled water shoved down my front (I am not paying $3.00 for a Dasani. It is just the principle of the thing.) and all of the other accouterments that go with a football game were at hand.
(That would include the two tickets, but unfortunately, my friend KNEW how bad the lake effect snow could be in Cleveland and did not risk coming up from Columbus. I was disappointed, probably not as much as her though, but she did make the right call.)
I finally made it down to my seat where the usher promptly shooed away people less fortunate not having front row seats. I don't know what they were looking at anyway because as you can see it was empty and cold.
There was one stray Dawg who had season tickets, I think, up in a nosebleed section, but managed to buy much better tickets on eBay for $24.00. Smart move. Even though my seats are on the opposite side facing the Dawg Pound, he was happy when I said he could have my other vacant seat. The condition being he watch my stuff if I had to leave. In gratitude, he bought me a program. I never did leave and stayed right there for five hours straight. You'll see why real soon.
This is why I must be at the stadium as soon as possible. The players come out onto the field and start warming up. As long as they are not in their official NFL game jerseys / uniform, they can sign autographs if they want to. You also see some pretty strange things as the players have fun and get psyched for the game.
Josh Cribbs lost a bet to Blake Costanzo and wore his jersey out onto the field.
Of course the real reason why I have those tickets and trek 800 miles round trip is to see Brady Quinn.
I know he was at the Raider game the week prior - bad foot and all, but he was no where to be found. Some people said he may be in a box seat, but that doesn't sound like Brady. He would be out there encouraging his team. Throughout the entire game no Brady. :(
Having a great camera helps to zoom in on the heated bench. Only thing I saw was more snow and no Quinn.
Speaking of Moore.....
I made two signs for the game. It is easy to ask players to sign them. For instance, last year I made a huge GO BROWNS sign that nine players autographed, so I figured I'd try my luck again.
My seats are right next to the tunnel, so it is pretty difficult for the players to miss the posters.
I set up my big "Happy New Year to the CLEVELAND BROWNS" poster only to find that it was so cold the tape would not hold to the wall. Drat. So I held onto it as I asked players to sign it as they passed to go back into the locker room. i didn't have as much luck as I do earlier in the season and chalk that up to the cold.
Immediately, #65 Eric Steinbach signed it and #83 Greg Estandia. I thanked them and we both exchanged New Year's greetings. A third player came over to sign.
I looked down and saw a third player sign my New Year's sign and saw it started with a big E. Could it be?
I asked, "Evan?"
A very cold player with part of his combo clava in his mouth like some horse's bit, looked up at me and said, "Yeah?"
"Evan Moore?" I could not believe it.
I took the big white New Year's sign from him and held up my other sign, the one that says, "Happy 25th Birthday EVAN MOORE!" He looked at it and didn't say anything.
"It is your birthday right? Today?" A big smile went across his face and he acknowledged that indeed it was. I asked him to sign his b-day poster and wished him a good birthday and a great game. He was very impressed to see anyone remember him. Some of us recognize that he is going to be a great asset to the Browns, but many fans around me were asking me who he was.
I asked him to autoghraph my other sign and he said he already did. Duh. So we high-fived and that was the last autograph I got. I really wish I could have gotten a picture of him, but it was just too difficult with gloves, holding signs, a Sharpee, and just too overwhelmed that the one guy I came to see (sans Brady) was right there and yes indeed, I got to meet him.
Now that the players had their uniforms on, I knew that signing would be almost impossible. I am not sure of the rule, but once a player has his uniform on he represents the NFL and is not supposed to take anything from fans, etc. I guess that means pens to autograph with. I've been to several games, and aside from pre-season games, no one signs with their jersey on.
So I was very content with meeting Evan and a few players, so I could continue to jump up and down to keep warm and take pictures.
Here #91 Brian Schaefering warms up.
#99 Corey Williams practices tackling.
#73 Joe Thomas comes out onto the field to warm up.
More and more of the team was coming out onto the field and the stadium was slowly filling up.
I couldn't blame the players for not wanting to sit on the cold snowy ground to stretch.
Many players all have their own traditions and rituals. It was nice to see many praying before the game.
#86 Michael Gaines and #47 Lawrence Vickers also pray together prior to the game.
(I got Vickers autograph in my Browns notebook last year when we beat the Giants October 13th, 2008.)
It appears that spending a year with Green Bay did not acclimatize Evan to the cold.
One thing I did notice about Evan was that he looked skinny. I mean, stand out of the crowd skinny.
I'm 6 feet 5 inches and weigh 197 pounds. Evan is 6 feet 6 inches and I do not believe for an instant that he is the official 247 pounds it says on the Browns site.
Sports authorities have said that if Evan wants to be tight end he needs to put on some weight. I just checked, and the other tight ends are around 20 pounds heavier.
I did see Evan block a shorter, stockier Jaguar and, even though he did slow the Jag, Evan was the one that was being pushed back a bit.
I don't know. What do you think?
Not a sellout crowd. Far from it. The paid attendance for the game was 66,935. I can assure you that half did not show up. With the cold and the weather, not even the idea of winning four in a row brought out all of the Brownies.
As it was said during the broadcast of the game, "Only the die-hard fans came out today."
In fact, this was the lowest home attendance all season. (The highest being the season opener with 70,560.)
Nothing in front of me but players :-)
So everyone is finally out and warming up. Here's a team huddle before everyone broke to do their own thing on the field.
"Hey Evan!" I shouted, and finally managed to get a decent picture.
Yes, there are other tight ends besides Evan.
#86 Michael Gaines and #84 Robert Royal
Josh Cribbs going in after warming up.
Soon all of the players went into the locker room only to be formally called out onto the field in a few minutes.
I get right in the tunnel for pictures of the players when they are called out.
Derek Anderson is just not friendly.
He didn't stop and sign for anyone. Not even the children gathered all around. Several of us yelled for his attention and like Yukon Cornelius prospecting for gold or silver... "Nuttin!"
In his defense, your mind should be on the game at hand, and I know last year Romeo Crennell told players NOT to sign (although several did anyway). Maybe Mangini said something similar?
That is ALL the defense I can muster.
Most of the players were already called out onto the field but a few were getting called out one by one. At first I thought this was because they were the starters like Mike Adams here, but I don't think so.
Does anyone know?
When Mike Adams left the tunnel he and Derek Anderson showed off for the cameras.
Now HERE is a DA having fun.
Great pic by David, the man I gave my seat too. While I was awestruck and taking other photos, he got some good shots.
Alex Hall comes out of the tunnel. He was not the starting outside linebacker. Matt Roth was,... I think.
Best Browns' players' name: KALUKA MAIAVA.
His full name is: Kaluka Kawahalama Maiava. Obviously Hawaiian.
Bet he wishes for that warmth now.
Recent addition to the Browns roster is #93 Jason Trusnik, acquired by trading Braylon Edwards. (Smart trade.)
Even I cannot lie that Joshua Cribbs is the best player on the entire Browns team.
When he was called out of the tunnel last, the whole stadium lit up with cheers. Why in the world the Browns management is jerking him around is beyond me. What a terrible shame. We must keep Josh!
Yes, that is Derek Anderson jumping up and down keeping warm, and yes, that is Evan Moore in the background doing what looks like a jig.
I told you it was cold. How they can be sleeveless is beyond me.
Of course everyone was happy to see Cribbs.
I love that Josh is such a humble man.
At the end of the game he went around the sides of the stadium where we all got a chance to slap hands, [SPOLIER ALERT] congratulate him on the win, and slap his pads.
I hope that the insult to Josh is not going to stick around even if the Browns DO play him a decent amount.
Time will tell. (But the Browns really aren't that stupid are they?)
Not too many things are bigger than Rex Hadnot. Except maybe Derek Anderson's feet which Rex stepped on during a game against the Bengals in 2008 making Derek trip and fall.
During a commercial break or Jaguar timeout, the Browns played on their big Jumbo-tron, all eight of Josh Cribbs' kick-off returns.
It really was special seeing them all as the crowd roared.
I didn't take any pictures of the plays. I learned a long time ago that the pictures just don't do anything for me, not when I get the entire game on HD at home.
Plus, taking your hands out of your gloves or pockets for a picture was not worth the frostbite.
I was given these shots by David.
No close-ups this time during the broadcast. The "crazies" who were bare shirted got a lot of air time though.
This isn't my photograph, it is the NFL's (used with distinct written permission) but I wish it were mine.
Evan Moore was just one yard away from a touchdown RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!
It would have been his first TD as a pro player.
What a perfect photo opportunity it would have been if Evan Moore made that catch for a touchdown on his b-day.
I was just above the photographer with my birthday sign. A photographer commented that it would have been a great shot.
Maybe next year.
The game was over as was the season. I think it was the four in a row that saved Mangini's job, but people who know more than I can debate that. Seems we are stuck with him.
A very funny thing happened though when the players left the field.
Remember when I said Josh Cribbs went around the stadium high-fiving and congratulating the fans for, I don't know, being loyal? That was happening around the time this picture was taken by David.
**Blake Costanzo jumped right on top of me** and yelled,
"PULL ME UP!"
That has never happened. I was close to getting game balls, but never have I had a player jump up. On me no less.
Of course all of us rubbed his head, yelled congratulations, etc. That was really neat. This was also when Kamerion Wimbley gave that one girl in the NFL photos his helmet. Major photographers everywhere. I did briefly see a photo of Blake in the crowd, but lost it. David took this one, and the next.
Can't criticize David for not being prepared for the photo. He obviously was thrilled at all the player contact you get with my seats.
LOL. This was definitely a highlight...
.... but there was another.
I am very VERY grateful for David for getting this shot.
As Evan Moore was coming in off the field he gave me his game glove! You can see it in his hand.
I have been very lucky to have, on three separate occasions, caught players' gloves and towels, but this one, by far, means the most to me.
On my way out of the stadium, the usher who patrols the same section I sit in came up to me and said, "How cool was it to get Evan's glove?"
"You saw that?" I replied.
He said he did and added that I got pictures of him, slapped him five, and his autograph a couple of times, all on his birthday.
I couldn't put it better any other way. It was cool.
Doesn't have the orange like a wide receivers, but it still is pretty awesome.
Well I did have a great time at the game, but I asked myself the question if it was worth going in all of that snow.
The answer is no, it wasn't.
Those of you who are from the Great Lakes area already know this, but the constant snowing was a major pain in the @ss!
Even though I am from the Pocono Mountains, I have never driven in snow because, well, when there is snow there is a snow day and I have the day off. Yeah me, but that doesn't help when you find yourself driving in it. The only other two times I have driven in snow ended in disasters. MAJOR DISASTERS!
So, to recap, I have been up since 3AM, drove about 600 miles (a lot of it in snow), didn't eat anything, was running on adrenalin from being so excited (and scared of snow covered interstates).
On the way home, Interstate 80 East was at a stand still. Cars and trucks were stuck and / or just idling their way east. I did the sane thing and managed to make it up a ramp and spent the night in a hotel. Many travelers did.
Next morning was a little better, but it did not stop snowing. I eventually found my way home 38 hours later. Thank God I had the foresight to call a personal day in at work.
To top it all off, the Cleveland Browns put me on their official web page!
The link below takes you to the photo player where you can see me and my signs as well as the player autographs.
Maybe next season I can share my seats and meet some of you? Thanks for reading!
Happy New Year!
Go Brady (and Evan) and the Browns!