Saturday, October 8, 2011

It Ain’t Easy Being Brown

It is October, and we are smack in the middle of the football season. I love October – the weather cools, Friday nights belong to High School football, Saturdays are the domain of the colleges, and Sunday belongs to the pros.
The pros. Ugh.

This is not an indictment of the professional game. Instead I just got that uncontrollable chill go up my spine. It happens when I think about my beloved team, the Cleveland Browns.

Ugh. It just happened again.

I grew up in northeast Ohio, about 35 miles south of Cleveland and about 15 miles from the pro football hall of fame in Canton. The roots of the professional game were planted there. The league was formed in 1921 in a car dealership in Akron, my hometown. As a child in the 1960’s, Sunday afternoons in the fall had the same ritual – my mom would cook a vat of spaghetti sauce and all the relatives would come over to watch the Browns lay waste to their opponent week after week. Like clockwork.

Because, this may be difficult for anyone under 40 to imagine, but the Browns used to be really good. Consistently good. Not catch lightning in a bottle for one season good, but year in and year out in the playoffs good. The saying back then was, there are two things you can count on in December – snow and the Cleveland Browns. They were called the New York Yankees of pro football.

So that was the environment I was raised in, and I fully expected my adult life to be one of glowing pride of celebration of multiple NFL championships. In 1970, when I was 12, the NFL and AFL merged, and three teams from the NFL moved to the AFL – the Colts, the Steelers and the Browns. The reconstituted AFC Central was formed consisting of the Browns and three shitball teams – the expansion Cincinnati Bengals, the AFL-doormat Houston Oilers, and our perennial whipping boys, the Pittsburgh Steelers. At that moment in time, the Browns’ all-time record against the Steelers was 52-9. I kid you not. This was not going to be pretty, I thought – we would own that division for years on end.

Then in 1972 Franco Harris scooped a ball off the turf and the Steeler dynasty was born.

Ugh. It just happened again.

The 70’s and early 80’s featured glimpses of glories past, such as the upstart Kardiac Kids of Sam Rutigliano and Brian Sipe, but hopes were dashed on a ridiculously cold January day in 1981 when the first chink in our psyche, Red Right 88, was planted. The late 80’s brought a string of dominating teams led by Bernie Kosar that could not get past one person – John Elway. The Drive and The Fumble got added to the list of acrid memories.

The 1990’s brought turmoil. We hired a coach you may have heard of. Bill Belichick. But this wasn’t the hoodie-wearing genius Bill Belichick. This was the arrogant young punk version who had the nerve to cut Bernie Kosar. In mid-season. With the team in first place and the starting Quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, injured. That day made Belichick a vilified assbag in the minds of the fans. A 11-5 record in 1994 did not matter – Bill Must Go was the chant.

Well, he did, but unfortunately, so did the rest of the team. After the 1995 season Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore. And all those previous disappointments paled in comparison to having the Cleveland Browns….are you effin’ kidding me? taken away. Three years later, through incessant demands from the fan base, the NFL gave us a new team.

I use the word ‘team’ very loosely in this instance.

It was a team in name only. What it was, was the most horrid collection of truck drivers in football uniforms ever assembled. Just God-awful. 2-14, 3-13…records that we never dreamed of happening to the Cleveland Browns became regular occurrences. We changed coaches and general managers the way people change their underwear. Bust draft picks, overpriced free agents and snake-oil salesman general managers all conspired to turn the New York Yankees of pro football into the Washington Generals – the patsy team that every other team circled on their schedule as an easy win.

The newest incarnation of the Browns appears to be heading in the right direction, but I just don’t know. Not that I do not trust the people in charge, it’s that I cannot believe this team can ever be consistent winners. Somewhere along the way we apparently pissed off the Football Gods and they are making us suffer. As a result, our fan base is probably the most neurotic in professional sport - the only other team/fans I can compare to are Chicago Cub fans. We always assume the worst is going to happen, and often it does. LeCharles Bentley, Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Butch Davis, Willie Green, Bottlegate...and that's just the new incarnation of this team - we already carried Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble & The Move in our psyche before we got the new team.

So we assume the worst. And until 'the worst' stops happening to us, we will continue to go there. Sucks, but that's just how it is. We are like a beaten, abused dog - whenever we hear a newspaper being rolled up, we cower...even though we still love our 'owner' unconditionally. He can beat us and we still love him. Even when he just may be rolling up that newspaper to swat a fly - we think it's coming for us.

This helps to explain our collective psyche. You think Steeler fans think like this? Hell no. They're dogs that have been fed Filet Mignon and sleep on a feather bed. They got 6 Lombardis to ogle at. We get a glimmer of hope, and we think, 'How are we gonna eff this up?'

Here comes another ugh.

Often I am asked, ‘Why are you a Browns fan?’ Great question, and one I have pondered often, usually on the heels of a blowout loss. And I have come to this conclusion:

I blame my parents. They could have conceived and raised me anywhere else but northeast Ohio, and I would have been none the wiser. I could have grown up a Dolphin fan and at least have had two Super Bowl victories in my youth to point to.

But no. Cleveland it is.

And you know what? One day when the Browns win that Super Bowl, which will hopefully happen before I lose my marbles and being fed through a straw and am wearing a diaper, it will be a wonderful day. It will make all those years of mind-numbing catastrophes all worth it.

Go Browns.

1 comment:

Moxie Dawn said...

There's a gleam, Jer.