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Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Browns fans...still the bestSuper Bowls are nice.  Playoffs are nice too.  Consistency with the coaching staff and an unspoken, honorable trust in the front office goes a long way with fans.  So, maybe I’ve been told as much, but I’m basically guessing on all of this; after all, this is the Cleveland Browns we’re talking about.  Often times, we hear some nonsense about being on the right track and respecting the process, but it’s all just talk.

That’s one thing we like to do is talk.  It’s the hardest thing about being away from home, the part where I can’t just talk about the Browns.  People get fed up, people wonder what’s wrong with me, and there’s the obvious bottom line that people just don’t care.  I wear blinders and cover my ears as much as I can to avoid reality; it’s not just the reality of everything related to the Browns in the present tense, but my own private reality, where I will soon have existed longer outside of Cleveland than I ever did as a local.

“It’s not like it was back home,” I’m reminded.  Only, I don’t need to be reminded; I found out right away.  They don’t care about their own thing, let alone my thing.  I don’t expect them to jump on board with me, but I expect them to understand and relate to where I am when it’s miserable and in those rare moments when it’s wonderful.  They don’t know either place.  Two of my closest friends, expats from the north coast like me, are in South Florida and San Diego, towns not unlike Phoenix, full of transplants and a general feeling of apathy towards the local teams.

Ryan LeafI’ve talked about how they don’t care in San Diego; if they did, they’d be a lot more like us.  Two modern-day World Series losses, Ryan Leaf, franchise emigration in a major sport, and zero Super Bowl wins, it all sounds familiar if you substitute a Tim Couch or Courtney Brown into Ryan Leaf’s place.  Their last league championship of any sort came in 1963, a full year before the Browns upset the Colts, but both occurred before the merger, or “in the days of leather helmets”, the way a Steelers fan would incorrectly describe those times.  San Diego is never mentioned in the same breath as Cleveland, though there are obvious parallels after you’re done preaching about the weather.  Not like it is back home, right?

Florida, specifically South Florida, brought home an NBA title in 2006, but you’d never know it from the water cooler discussions the next day.  There’s nothing to see here, please disperse.  Marlins win two World Championships in seven years, which draws a big old yawn from Key West to Orlando, save a few households.  Maybe the Dolphins, the one local team with a local following that does not necessarily directly correlate to the team’s recent success, could get people off the beach if they ever did anything significant in the days since Marino.  It’s not like back home, Jeff, I’m constantly reminded.

This is where the bar has been set.  There’s a little part of all us that believe Sipe’s pass sailed into the lake because Ozzie wasn’t open.  We believe Elway didn’t actually have 98 yards in him, or that Byner followed Slaugter’s vicious run-block and walked into the endzone untouched.  We believe the ’96, ’97, and ’98 Browns made us all proud, and that the Dawg Pound never stopped barking and maintains it character to this day.

That’s the “back home” that we pretend exists.  If you’re not an expatriate, and bless you for sticking it out, maybe it’s “back in the day” that makes you feel better about the Browns in the present tense.  If you don’t have the days of old to look back on, asking the youth not to jump ship can be a tall order.  They have nothing.  If you were born in 1986, maybe you got to enjoy a few years of Metcalf and Eric Turner.  If you were born in 1992, you don’t have anything; you don’t really even have the word “if”, because there’s no one single “if” that makes any installment of the rebooted Browns a good thing.

From the top to the bottom, there’s nothing to hitch your wagon to, not an owner, not an executive or coach, or even a player that still wears the orange and brown.  The days are still rewarding for them, even without the victories, though some level of emptiness may exist if it turns out the grass isn’t greener on the other side, where the world isn’t seen in single shades orange and brown.

Modell and LernerAl Lerner was a Modell guy, his son was of the absentee variety, and the new guy is a crook, right?  Whether it’s by death, incarceration, or a completed business transaction, they all have ways out, and it’s doubtful they lose sleep over that same carrot that’s been dangling in sight of Cleveland since 1964.  Owners 1 Fans 0.

With the way the game works with coaches, with regards to how they intersect with agents and front office executives, it’s probably not fair to segregate those groups.  That groups poor Chris Palmer with Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark, a regime we’ll refer to as the 49ers without Walsh.  Butch Davis gets to own every bit of his own time, including the days of Terry Robiskie wearing the interim tag when the going got too touch for Butchie to handle, though his time overlaps with Policy’s tenure.  The Davis years will be known as “The U Without 2 Live Crew”. 

John Collins brought Phil Savage into the fold, but Savage forced him out, so he ultimately wears every loss hung on Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini.  However, Mangini’s days were numbered when Mr. Absentee Owner deferred the duties of his office to Mike Holmgren for $50 million.  These days should forever be remembered as “Green Bay’s Head Coach Who Didn’t Want to Coach” or “A Packers Dynasty Less Favre”.  When you take away all things that made Holmgren a great head coach, you end up with Pat Shurmur.

Carmen PolicyThese days, Policy is remembered only as a Niner Guy, Butch gets mentioned for every big college coaching search, Savage is getting ready to showcase what he does in Alabama with the Senior Bowl, Romeo has a promising road ahead in Houston, Mangini is one win away from a Super Bowl, Holmgren is in a Pacific Northwest retirement community lighting cigars with $100 bills handed to him by the hard-working people of Northeast Ohio, and Pat Shurmur got to be part of the 2013 Playoffs…at the side of the guy the current regime wanted to replace him in Cleveland, but they’re not in Cleveland.

The only one that hasn’t found greener pastures yet is Rob Chudzinski, the one formula the Browns had not yet attempted in the reboot, a real, live Browns fan to lead the team.  12 months later, he wasn’t the guy.  Of all the guys with any level of accountability to receive the short end of the stick, isn’t it fitting that it ends up being the fan.  I don’t know quite how to score this, so let’s leave it to song.  The regimes, all of them, are Steve Miller Band’s “Take The Money and Run”, while Chudzinski and the fans are left to hum the 1993 Beck song “Loser”.

Professional sports have hit a level where you can’t identify a team by a player, or is that just Cleveland?  Honestly, if I eliminated Phil Dawson as an option, is there anything that resembles anything close to a consensus response to, who’s your favorite player of the reboot? 

Joe Thomas?

D’Qwell Jackson?

Joe Haden?

Joshua Cribbs?

Orlando BrownHow far down the list are we going to get before we hit the name of someone who actually touched the ball on a regular basis?  So, that’s actually a finite list, but here’s something that’s essentially infinite, because who has Antonio Langham or Orlando Brown on any type of favorite player list, who on the list actually won a playoff game in a Browns uniform.  Of course, if you were a Browns fan in 1994, you could say you experienced postseason triumph, so maybe it’s a wash under that criteria.

However, once these guys shed the uniform and clean out their lockers in Berea for the final time, the kid gloves come off.  Trent Dilfer doesn’t have a mountain to shout his grievances with the Browns from, so he uses the microphone ESPN gives him.  Joe Jurevicius spoke his mind against the organization in civil court.  Braylon Edwards lost me somewhere between being a Michigan Man and having that New York Essence, but he’s still made plenty of noise, even if he never really said anything.  Even our hero, Josh Cribbs, attempted to put the almighty Jets on a pedestal, claiming they don’t quit like the Browns.  At least the fans can't don’t quit; we’re just stuck with this.

I understand there’s some mistruth to be found in that statement about the fans and quitting.  People are letting go of season tickets, we’ve seen the Bills and Steelers take over Cleveland Browns Stadium or whatever corporate name it’s taken on, and people are finding better things to do on Sunday.  Our “greatest fans” title may be nothing more than a label of self-proclamation at this point, or simply lip-service from the brown-nosing owner that knows this great brand is losing its value.

With me, I treasure what the Browns are, or what they’re supposed to be, regardless of perception or worth.  If I walk into a sporting apparel store outside of the Cleveland market, it’s going to be draped with Steelers and Cowboys stuff as far as the eye can see, and nary a spec of orange and brown.  I might find a Browns lanyard, pint glass, or a size “smedium” 2008 Draft Day cap that makes me look like Humpty Dumpty.  They don’t get a mention on ESPN, unless they trade Trent Richardson or unjustifiably fire their head coach.  In season, even a victory over a good team merely creates the narrative of “What’s Wrong with Good Team X?”

Mangini defeats PatsWinning cures all, and the Browns would be no exception if they could do anything of the sort on a regular basis.  The seats wouldn’t be empty or filled with opposing fans, the merch would pop up in stores nationwide, and most importantly of all, there would be more games to watch.  Should they get to bite down on that dangling carrot one day, there would even be promotional items made available with magazine subscription and local newspaper pages worth archiving, provided the day after coincided with a regular print-edition day.

That whole concept seems so foreign to me, and it does feel farther way with every new calendar I buy, to the point where I’m not sure how much winning even matters to me anymore.  I figure if I was going to jump ship, I’d have done so by now.  I don’t live in the area, so I can bury my head in the sand with ease.  I can stop short of taking a second mortgage to afford Sunday Ticket, for the mere privilege of hearing Ian Eagle narrate another humiliating loss and the bonus of Steve Beuerlein picking apart why they’re so inept from week-to-week.  The thing is I don’t want to.

I like the camaraderie that comes with being Browns fan.  Even with the unprecedented levels of anger that accompany a typical Sunday afternoon, it brings us together as a community, the locals and expats alike.  My old man and I, we could live without the Browns, but what kind of life is that?  My childhood friends, the one’s I tend to only see at weddings and funerals, tend to communicate mostly during Browns games.  It might only be a text, and it may come in the form of, “why do I bother watching this shit anymore”, but I read it as “hi Jeff, are you watching the game”.  It’s honestly good to hear from them, and to know they’re still subjecting themselves to this mess.

It’s not just friends, but complete strangers too.  Most of the games I’ve attended lately have been road games.  Some of the people I’ve met along the way have never called Cleveland home, which I admit is a little Steeler-fan-like, but at the same time, thanks for being a part of this thing.  Some of them, like the Anchorage Browns Backers that came to Arizona for a game in 2011, were just happy to be here, seeing the team in person for the first time.  There were others, like the guy in the Eric Turner jersey in Denver, who was born and raised in Los Angeles by a die-hard Browns fan, who said that he kept his late father’s soul alive by being a fan himself.  Mostly, it’s that bond we share with each other; we stop what we’re doing to talk about the Browns with each other.

Kardiac KidsI’ve long said that Twitter doesn’t really represent any real-life demographic, but banter between Browns fans is an exception.  If you’re not familiar with that particular medium, you can find someone on Twitter to talk Browns with you 24 hours a day, no lie.  I gripe about the people who grip about giving the Browns a free pass.  For us, the fans, the Browns are our free pass from the things that really matter in life.  We need the dialogue like we need oxygen, and that’s why they belong on a pedestal.  They can survive anything and everything because of us, even a 3-year banishment from the league and the perpetual doom that goes with this particular territory.

They’ll laugh at me, and call me crazy, but this is true: the adoration for the Cleveland Browns supersedes anything the Browns have ever been in my lifetime.  The Kardiac Kids, the Dawg Pound, are both things kept alive by the fans.  No owner, coach, or player bridges the gap between that last championship and the present day quite like the fans.  Even the players that are still part of the whole thing, Jim Brown, Hanford Dixon, and Bernie Kosar, to name a few, have assumed our role.  They’re just fans now, people who are emotionally invested, but do little to nothing to influence the result of the game on the field.

So, in a move comparable to the 2006 Time Person of the Year, I’m stating for the record, the best thing about the Browns is you, it’s me, it’s us.  I suppose the fact that so many of us still care is the nicest thing of all.  We are what make today’s Browns the “Best Browns Ever”.

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On that note, we’ve reached my stop, so I’ll be getting off the bus now.  Words simply cannot express how grateful I am for the time I’ve spent at TheClevelandFan and the things I’ve learned in the years that I’ve occupied this space with my words.  Special thanks go out to Rich Swerbinsky, for taking a chance on an unknown who didn’t even write under his real name in the beginning; this was an unreal opportunity.  Thanks to the editors, my fellow writers, the message-boarders, and all of the readers, who made this environment so special.  Whether I’m here or not, I believe we share one common wish, the desire for prosperity in Cleveland sports, and I hope it comes to fruition sooner, rather than later.  This is where I suppose I should drop some wise parting words, and since no such words of my own come to mind, I’d like to borrow a few from the man who inspired me to take an interest in sports and writing, Hal Lebovitz.

Stay well, and I hope to see you somewhere.


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