The Cleveland Browns have a bipolar, schizophrenic, love-hate relationship with glamour and crud. Of the two, we like both the most. The average Browns enthusiast, grabbing a case and a bag of chips from Maggiore’s on the way home from work, will tell you, “A guy like Joe Montana or Tom Brady would never work here in Cleveland. Nah, too Hollywood, too slick. The Browns are a blue-collar team. You know, lunch bucket, hardhat, that kinda thing.”
But if either of those too-slick guys were signed on to play for the team the following day, you would hear work whistles blow and hardhats would take flight. The fans would toast the deal over a Pabst, and say “Hey, a little white on the collar never hurts, you know?”
The dichotomy occurs because the archetypal Browns supporter merely loves his team and wants it to win. Thus, he wants sophistication and a continual updating of the team’s approach to the game. Yet he is also in love with the state of being crazy about the Browns, which means he demands that the Browns respect their age-old traditions and never abandon their blue-collar, hardhat personality.
The fan derives part of his own personal identity and self-respect from this particular element of his beloved home team. This is the sort of impossible demand that keeps team management in a never-ending struggle for sanity.
Case in point: When Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield, Browns cornerbacks during the ‘80s, began barking like dogs and revving up their teammates, it created an explosion of fan excitement. The two men were especially intense in their pass coverage near the end zone, and those fans in the cheapest seats close to the field paid homage to newly christened “Dawg Defense” by wearing hound dog masks and throwing milk bone treats at all 22 players waiting for the snap of the ball. Thus was The Dawg Pound inaugurated.
Now there is a shiny new stadium, which the fans love and appreciate...right? Well, yeah but...the new stadium has a special section designated as "The Dog Pound." That is simply not cool, and it needs to be pointed out. The crazies in the end-zone seats created the Dawg Pound spontaneously, and it cannot be contrived any other way.
That’s like telling a child “you can use your crayons to draw on this section of this wall.” It’s like Felix greeting Oscar saying, “I cleaned your room while you were out!” It is no longer a true den of junkyard hounds but a pit of pampered poodles. No good. New stadium, luxury boxes, specially designated Pound, secure parking, actual urinals in the men’s room instead of an old trough salvaged from the Navy, nice concession areas...all of it very nice. No good. It’s not The Browns!
Oh! And the grass. The old grass was Cleveland Browns Grass, buddy! That is to say, not really grass at all. OK, there was some grass, but not much. The old Municipal Stadium was truly a duel-purpose facility, perfectly suited to serve as a venue for both the Browns and Indians to disappoint.
Instead of laying some kind of sod upon the baseball infield, the grounds crew would actually paint the dirt green in preparation for a football game. In sunny weather, the players would be covered in something that looked like grass stain, but which was in reality nothing more than green dirt.
On rainy Sundays, green mud bespattered players, coaches, referees, the ball, everything. Split Pea soup. Nasty. Beautiful. The way the game should be played. We hated it. It was great. The new grass is lovely, and it drains very well in the rain. It retains its gorgeous appearance and stands up to abuse. Science at work. Fantastic. And we hate it because it is just not the same.
"Give us the old ways,” we cry out. “Give us lousy grass that isn’t really there, mud games, snow games, cold soft pretzels, bodily fluids dripping in rivulets on the concrete. Give us lunch-pail players who are just like us. And most of all, give us a fiercely-competitive-but-disappointing team, just like we’ve always had!”
And in the next breath...“And give us a new facility, keep it nice and clean, and bring in lots of revenue and sign great players and get a coach that uses modern methods and give us a winning culture.” Don’t give us what we need; give us what we want. Don’t give us what we want; give us what we need. Spoon feed us; watch us gag on the spoon and spit it back at you. Browns fans are bipolar in utero.
And when we first found out—lo these many years gone by—that we were signing Bernie Kosar, we were verily overwrought with elation because he was a winning quarterback from Miami of Florida, a perennial champion with a space-age offense.
Bernie was smart and sophisticated and would bring us a Super Bowl. Like priests in a third-world airport, the white on our collars was sticking way out there. Only then did we discover that Bernie was a Browns fan who grew up in nearby Boardman, OH. Then we were totally off the charts with glee. “Now we’ve got one of us behind the center. A lunch-pail guy. Blue collar. Oh yeah...sure...I knew he’d be great when he was in high school!”
So now I come to the main point of these perambulations. Brady Quinn is our future. We like him because he is a winner, and he is Hollywood to the bone. He is the face of the franchise–or should be, that is. He is the young Turk, our own version of Joe Willy Namath...some day...we hope.
He is that guy in all the commercials, hawking energy drinks, who rarely takes a snap on the actual field. His name is Brady, and that’s enough. Plus, he’s hip. And that, my fellows, is why Derek Anderson is getting booed when he encounters difficulty.
It has nothing to do with Derek, Brady, or the price of Vernor’s Ginger Ale at Speedway. It has to do with the ownership and the exasperating fact that they never know when to give us what we need and when to give us what we want.
They give us glamour, and we demand mud. They give us grunge, and we want stardust. And as long as they fail to bring a championship to this town, we will keep on assuming that the owner and management staff—not us—are the ones making the poor decisions.
It never occurs to some people that Derek Anderson is actually better this year than he was last year. It cannot be otherwise; he has another year of experience under his hip pads.Opponents actually have something to do with a QB’s inability to throw completions, and this year’s schedule is Draconian.
Defensive backs watch film (...pssst–they actually have a movie projector in the Ravens’ practice facility–pass it on...), and they study every quarterback until they know what that guy will choose when faced with strawberry or blueberry Pop-tarts, and the toaster setting he will use. Derek is having the same down-year-after-the-breakout-year that everyone has.
The fans know this. We like Derek. He really is alright. What we resent are these decision-makers who do not know that now is the time to push Secretariat to the front, seize the Triple Crown, and make us cool again.
“We liked the old stadium,” we are saying, “with that thing called an End Zone, that we turned into a Dawg Pound without any help from you–but you had to give us a pre-configured Poodle Pound for show dogs. We liked the old grass that wasn’t there and you gave us California grass. So it should not be difficult for you guys to bite the bullet and give us Brady Quinn!”