As the thick smog begrudgingly separates to allow a few persistent rays through, the whistle signaling a shift change can be heard. The majority walk past each other, only giving a simple nod of the head as a gesture. Some too cold, others saving their energy for the day ahead of them. The faint glow atop the steam stacks can be seen from the distance and the sounds of barges coming and going provides the white noise.
That along with the ever present cackling of seagulls as they dart through the air. The streets are lined with cars at a stand still as people hurry past, taking delight in the fact that their feet are providing a quicker form of transportation. The old buildings act as a compass for the few that are unfamiliar with their surroundings. The air is frigid, and the wind proves to be a formidable opposition for those that have to work against it.
Manhole covers omit their steam in a way that almost looks sinister, like arising from a witches cauldron. Although the scene seems bleak and depressing, hope springs eternal. Why? Cause its football season in Cleveland.
It is a city that has made its mark on this nation through its hard work. It is the awkwardly shy, chubby kid in class that had to work harder than everyone else because he knew that nothing would be given to him, nor would he want it that way. It is a city that is comprised of blue-collar, no-nonsense people that are proud of where they come from.
People that will be more than willing to take a pot shot at their hometown and even more willing to take a shot at an outsider who tries do the same. Not much has changed in this city in the last 50 years, and that is perfectly fine with its people. It is in the truest sense, a football town.
The people that live in Cleveland and the surrounding area have a love and commitment to their Browns that is unequaled in any city and for any team. It is a commitment that is built on a foundation of loyalty. Loyalty that cannot be uprooted by a money-obsessed businessman. Loyalty that cannot be hindered by years of heartache and disappointment.
Every fall, televisions throughout the NE Ohio area are tuned to the Browns game. Those that can’t get to a TV quick enough, urgently spin through their dial, searching for “the voice of the Browns." That voice of course being Jim Donovan. The man who disposes the myth that “you have to see it to believe it." Not when your listening to JD.
He provides the eyes and ears to countless people that can't get to a TV and the countless more that would rather listen to him than subject themselves to the usual horrendous national coverage (I‘m looking at you Collinsworth). He is an artist that uses vernacular rather than brush strokes, all the while still painting an image, if only in our minds.
The sights and sounds of the Browns game are evident all around the Buckeye State. The tailgate parties in the driveway, the endless games of catch, the stretch of cars trying to push their way into the local drive thru and personally the father or brother purposely throwing the football into bushes or trees just to see how far their idiotic son/brother will go to prove that he should have been the next Brian Brennan, all the while risking serious injury.
It is scene that is played out 16 weeks a year, give or take a Super Bowl run. It is a slice of Americana at its best, and these are the fans that weren’t afforded the chance to go to the game.
It starts around 7am regardless of when the actual kickoff is. The steady flow of traffic meanders its way through the city in hopes to have arrived early enough to get a spot in the municipal parking lot. Lines of trucks and SUVs litter the 77 off ramp loaded with the appropriate rations—dogs, burgers and brew. Most are hanging out their window while driving and barking at the same time, all the while convincing their buddies that they are the first ones to think to cross out the C on their “vintage” Tim “ouch” jerseys.
It is a scene of optimism, of hope, of maybe just blind faith. Regardless, in those six hours before kickoff, it is a time to convince each other that the past is the past and this is a new Sunday. A Sunday that belongs to the Browns. A Sunday that belongs to the fans. A Sunday that belongs to Cleveland.
Being a Browns fan is not a right, it is an inherited obligation. We didn’t ask to be a fan of the most hard luck team in all of sports; we were born being a fan of the most hard luck team in all of sports. Would our lives be easier if we rooted for the next proximic team? No, it would suck cause we would be a Steelers fan and only root for our team when they win.
It would be awful. Instead we root for our Browns, just as my grandfather did, my dad does, I do and eventually my son will. It is a right that I am more than happy to oblige to.
It comes down to something deeper than the Browns. It comes down to something more than a city, a section of Ohio, a fan base rooting for their team to win it all. It is a group, an allegiance, that needs justification for all our heartache, for our parents heartache and for a taste of what our grandparents might have felt in the 50s and 60s.
We are a tortured soul that is desperately trying have our moment. That one time where we can celebrate being an Ohioan. Our moment that belongs to no one else. Not the NFL, not the nation, just us, to celebrate in a way that would be completely satisfying. No long parades, no emotional speeches, just a moment where you can look at your father and say “ we did it, we finally did it pop."
That moment where you can go to work on Monday and feel proud. A culmination of all the ridicule and heartache that go along with being a Browns fan, now finally feeling vindicated. And there in lies the justification…that moment where we can all celebrate in our own ways but yet united as a town, as a fan base, as Browns fans.
This is why we are Browns fans.
North Canton, Ohio