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Browns Browns Archive Don't Tell Us How To Feel
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

chefIf we’ve learned anything about ourselves along the way, in this seemingly never-ending saga of being Cleveland fans, it’s this.  We don’t like being told how to feel it.  It's like virtually every character on ABC's LOST uttered at one point or another, don't tell me what I can't do.  From “grow up” to “get over it”, we just want everyone to stop telling us what to do or how to feel about certain things because we don’t fit in the line with the status quo.  On those days when we choose not to be doormats, to ignore the criticism of our fans and our city, we are told to know our place.  It’s gotten to the point where we can’t even have the in-fighting amongst ourselves and chalk it up as a family spat of sorts because we don’t have any common ground as a fan base; there are fans and there are critics.

The fans end up being the victims, and the critics are simply an extension of the naysayers from outside the city, county, and state lines.  Any more, it doesn’t make much of a difference who makes the suggestions; don’t tell us how to feel.  We don’t want to hear it about Lebron James, Art Modell, Ray Lewis, Dan Gilbert, or Larry Dolan.  If there’s a legitimate argument to be made, one that can enlighten us and change our minds, feel free to present it.  Otherwise, let us be us, and don’t get pissed because we don’t want anyone walking all over us.  I mean, that’s where I’m at, in a place where I don’t have to take anyone’s crap because I don’t fit in the box they want me to be in.

So, after seeing the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday night, I thought I’d share with you exactly where I sit with everything.  Some people may share this sentiment, whereas other may choose not to.  I’m not out to be the person I’ve come to dislike, no one should feel obligated to feel any certain way about things; we’re just out to share some perspective.  I am proud to say that I did not give the Baltimore Ravens the satisfaction of ruining my week, or even my night.

I doubt there’s anyone more surprised by that than I am.  You don’t have to go back very far to find a version of me so angry about the Baltimore Ravens run of success this January, a couple of weeks or even a couple of hours.  I’d grown fatigued of those lessons in life that dictate life isn’t fair, and between Art Modell’s Hall of Fame candidacy and the very realistic possibility of Ray Lewis going out on top, to encouraging cheers and praise, I had essentially reached my boiling point.  I wasn’t pulling my hair out, but more than once, I’d weighed the possibility that the Perfect Storm of all the worst case scenarios in sport would actually drive me insane.

MetcalfArt Modell had moved the team he owned, the one I’d been foolish enough to call “my team” in 1995.  I was too young to deal with it then; I just worked every Sunday and pretended football didn’t exist.  The Browns may or may not have made the playoffs in 1995, in a parallel world where Baltimore has no offer for Art Modell, but in reality, they did not.  The Browns, coming off a playoff appearance in 1994, traded Eric Metcalf to gain draft position, which was all for not when Kyle Brady was taken by the Jets a pick ahead of the Browns upgraded position, in the 1995 draft.  Combined with a dreadful 1995 season, which was possibly a result of the off-field distraction that rumors of The Move had become, Cleveland netted draft position and picks that netted Baltimore Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, once the dust cleared.

On Saturday, Ogden was officially announced as an inductee to this year’s Hall of Fame class.  In five years, Lewis will join him, and he will deserve to do so.  Honestly, it surprises me that a loose tie like that, between the Browns setting up the 1996 draft for Baltimore and the career longevity of Ogden and especially Lewis, would eat at me.  When Matt Stover, the last remaining 1995 Cleveland Brown on the Ravens roster, left Baltimore for Indianapolis in 2009 after 18 years with the franchise (no matter how the colors and history is parsed out, the old Browns and new Ravens are the same franchise), I really thought it was over.  Modell hadn’t owned the team in years, and there were no holdovers.  What Modell had once stolen was no longer his, and it existed with nothing that was once ours.

For years I had believed things about Ray Lewis, that he was just the victim of some bad luck in Atlanta over a decade ago, and I never really questioned anything.  It wasn’t until about a year ago that a friend of mine, one who isn’t a Browns fan, mentioned how he believed that Lewis was a cold-blooded murderer.  I dismissed the notion, and decided to read up on things, to make sure this friend had all of the facts, that there was no way Lewis did it, no matter how much a Browns fan would have wanted that to be so.  I ended up feeling very differently about the benefit of the doubt that I'd offered the Ravens linebacker for the better part of a decade.

To make a long story short, the facts that I’d gathered had led me to doubt his absolute innocence.  Now, I obviously wasn’t in Atlanta, outside the club, that night, so I really don’t know whether Lewis did or did stick Jacinth Baker or Richard Lollar with one of the brand new knives that some of his friends had purchased that week, but I’m left to believe that the two young men who originally hailed from Akron are dead because of Ray Lewis.  It doesn’t matter to me, whether he actually did any of the stabbing, if Ray Lewis was a social worker, Kellye Smith wouldn’t be raising Richard Lollar’s daughter on her own.  I won't apologize for believing that, even if some hurl the perceived insult, "typical Cleveland fan" at me.

HOFAs recently as last summer, Modell was out of sight and out of mind.  I’d always resent him, but I didn’t think or speak of him often.  He wasn’t even a lame duck any more; he was just some guy.  He was up for the Hall of Fame in 2002, but the Cleveland delegate in the room spoke of how tragic the 1996 uprooting of the Cleveland Browns was, and Art was, once again, out of sight and out of mind.  Then, in September, the old man goes and dies, inadvertently peeling scabs off of old wounds, and putting Cleveland in a pickle just days before the 2013 season kicked off at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

With the Miami Heat’s World Championship in the rear-view mirror, Cleveland hadn’t been a subject of much national interest as autumn approached.  I took what I believed to have been the high road, and I expressed apathy instead of hatred.  At the hour of, and in the days after his death, I viewed him as a man, not necessarily the man that caused such great angst for my hometown.  I thought of how difficult it must have been to lose his wife, and that he left her sons behind when he passed.  However, my sensitivity, my sympathetic heart did not make me into a sucker of any kind.

Immediately, the stories of the league-wide tribute broke.  Should the Browns have participated in such a tribute or not?  Had Modell earned such recognition around the league, let alone in our city, from the fans that he stepped on, on his way out 17 years earlier?  Would Cleveland be able to handle that at Cleveland Browns Stadium with the Eagles in town?  In the end, we were spared from having to address any of those questions.

The family of Modell asked the Browns not to, and that was spun into a black eye on our city, but especially on our fan base.  Suddenly, we were just a bitter bunch that was to be ignored.  We were told to feel one way, and when we didn’t comply, we were dismissed and others were advised to ignore our rational voice.  This spin inspired a campaign to put Art in Canton, but many of us would have none of it.  To make another long story short, whether it was his death or Cleveland’s apathetic, if not joyous, reaction that may have propelled Modell on to a list as a Hall of Fame finalist, his first appearance on such a list in almost ten years.

In the type of coincidence that only occurs commonly in Cleveland, Super Bowl weekend would feature Modell, Lewis, and a game that could end with the Ravens being crowned Champions.  I avoided all of the hype surrounding the weekend, but lobbied hard to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks with Modell being snuck into the Hall of Fame through the back gate.  I didn’t necessarily think that I needed to, but I was worried that my fellow Cleveland fan and I would be painted in such a negative light that voters would put the old bastard in, just to spite us. (Note: I don't actually think the world is out to get Cleveland, but it sure feels that way sometimes.)

ModellAt 5:30 on Saturday evening, I was relieved to learn that justice had prevailed this time around.  There would be no Hall for Art, not this time.  I still had to worry about all of the people that suck on Ray Lewis’s gas getting their rocks off on a Ravens Super Bowl win.  I also thought back to an AFC Championship wish I had, for those jerseys with the Art patches not to make a Super Bowl appearance.  As we know, that wish was not granted.  Call it small or petty, but that's a legitimate thought.

I did manage to ignore all of the hype that led up to the game, having been mostly focused on keeping Art Modell out of the the Hall of Fame, but I braced myself for the worst case scenario.  For two quarters and a kickoff, my blood seemed to boil.  The Ravens were going to win again, but this time I was tuned in.  When they defeated the Giants in 2001, I accepted an invite to go shopping, and did not learn of the game’s result until the next morning at work.  As the game went on, my worst nightmare came true, and the Ravens took a 21-6 lead into the half.

I was over nothing, and mad at everything that crossed my path.  I was mad at Lewis, at CBS, at Facebook, at Twitter, and at life in general.  I was basically mad at everything and everyone, except for my wife to the left of me and my father to my right.  I even acted mad at Beyonce and spent some time out on the patio during halftime, while my wife sat and watched the A Very Destinys Child Halftime with her father-in-law.  I made it back in time to catch Jacoby Jones run 109 (or 108) yards to paydirt to open up the second half of this year’s Super Bowl, and that was enough for me.

Had I been watching alone, I would have turned the game off.  Then the power went out, and the 49ers made this thing a real-live football game.  Sure, I was rooting for San Francisco, but I was honestly pleased to be watching a decent football game on such a grand stage.  I was watching this game as a football game, not as an object of potential spite.  Art Modell is dead, so are Baker and Lollar, and nothing is going to change that, no matter how the football game goes.

I didn’t find myself calling Baltimore cheap or begging for flags when flags may have deterred Baltimore from anything special.  When Collin Kaepernick’s fourth-down pass fell out of Michael Crabtree’s reach, my heart didn’t sink.  When Baltimore employed a “hold everyone while our punter runs out the clock before taking a safety” strategy, I didn’t flip because flags weren’t thrown.  And I must have drawn up witnessing something like this, the Ravens winning it all, so much worse in my head, because when Teddy Ginn hit the ground with the clock reading all zeroes, I was okay.

The Ravens won; in this case, that doesn’t mean that the Browns lost.  It just means that a team in our division is better than us, and that team was better, for four weeks, than any other team in the league.  I’ve found ways to feel good about the present tense.

  1. Art Modell may have moved a team we all loved to Cleveland.  If I were into telling people what to do, I might have approved of the notion that we stay as bitter as our hearts will allow us to.  We look on the bright side with that; he just died and his team is in the Super Bowl, and that didn’t get him over the hump for Canton.  I’m believing that he will never get in, and I'm going to root for exactly that, whether the status quo approves, or not.
  2. The good news is that I won’t have to see Ray Lewis on the football field or hear the commentators talk about him as a player.  The bad news is that he’s going to land with a network, which may or may not be a good fit for him, but he’ll never go away.  Like I said, I don’t know whether he did or didn’t murder anyone in Atlanta, but I’m bothered by the public acceptance of this cat as a hero of any sort.
  3. The Ravens aren’t the Steelers.  The Move happened 17 years ago, and our problems in-house are a result of mismanagement, not the Baltimore Ravens.  Next year has begun, and everyone is zero and zero.  Other than Ozzie Newsome’s office, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that ties the current Ravens back to Cleveland, aside from the aforementioned 1996 Draft.  Because of where I was at just hours ago, I understand what feels like an undying hatred for this team, but now I’m taking a step back.  I’d be better off not caring, and it’s excellent, but you have to care about something eventually.  I'd rather not care, but that's my decision, not anyone else's.  Don't tell me what I can't do.

MemeIf I were in the business of telling people how to feel, I’d tell them to feel like me, but I know how annoying that is.  If you think it’s best to carry every level of angst for the Ravens to your grave, that’s fine.  If you really want Art to “Rot in Piss” or “Burn in Hell”, so be it.

I find it healthier to take everything in stride.  If I’m a Brown fan, I’m already over the 2012 season already, and focused on what I’m going to see from my team in Berea.  We figure the Ravens and Steelers aren’t going anywhere, and it’s about really beating them when the come to town.  So, maybe it took a Super Bowl win, but I’m over it, and if I'm not, so what?

I think most of us are, though I’m sure the bitter fan will always be there, ready to speak ill of the Ravens at first glance.  Get over it soon, or never get over it; that’s up to you, but don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do.

Long live, Cleveland.  Don't tell us what we can't do, and don't you dare tell us what to feel.

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