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Browns Browns Archive The Browns and Their Truck-Stop Salvation
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

Pilot Flying JNow that the instantaneous “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Willis?” reaction to the news of the Browns being sold has passed and the knee-jerk predictions of who will lose what job and how this is either the best or worst thing to ever happen in our lives, I think we’re at a point where we can actually sit back and intelligently marinade the possibilities.

Let’s start with just how crazy-ass fast this happened. Or more specifically, how an organization that can’t keep staphylococcus under control could keep a secret this big for this long.

This bizarre little story exploded out of the darkness and came at us like a spider monkey. As a result, with the Roadrunner-cartoon-pace that it developed, we conjure the image of Randy Lerner and Jimmy Haslam III meeting by chance at one of those clubs for people with rich daddies who have no interest in football. Then, after a few drinks that each cost more than my couch, they hit the karaoke bar.

We picture a spritely Randy Lerner then getting up on stage, punching up some Carly Rae Jepsen, and serenading JH3:

I just met you...

And this is CRAY-zee

But here’s my football team

So buy it, maybe?

And Haslam, having built a financial empire designed around a service that requires no cerebral activity and lasts, on average, 107 seconds, reflexively swiped his credit card in the slot and automatically went along with the proposal. (Leaving us to wonder if the city threw in a buy one, get one free coupon so Haslam can also take the Indians off the Dolans’ hands.)

As you no doubt know by now, Haslam’s family founded the Flying J/Pilot Travel Centers - those red-and-yellow, plastic-and-cement monstrosities you see on the side of the highway that you crinkle your nose at as you drive by. Unless, that is, you desperately need a toilet.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with truck stops, just like there’s nothing wrong with being the owner  of an NFL team. But, sort of like Dan Aykroyd in the “We Are the World” video, you have to admit the two things don’t go together.

And yet, now that we’ve had a week to think it over, we can begin to understand what Haslam saw in the Browns.

We can start to visualize his mental checklist, one that runs parallel with the success of the Flying J/Pilot empire.

Can you see the stadium from the highway? Check.

Does it smell like a urinal cake? Check.

Has Kenny Chesney been there? Check.

Clearly, there’s some synergy here.

While the more high-minded pundits have spent the week focusing on whether or not Mike Holmgren and/or Tom Heckert and/or Pat Shurmur will still be employed by the Browns by Halloween, let’s turn our attention to some of the more immediate changes in store as JH3 introduces the Cleveland Browns to the business model that has made Flying J and Pilot legendary among those of us who know how to turn on a CB.

Hang on, you might be saying. You just said a truck stop and an NFL team have nothing in common. You can’t run them the same way.

That’s true. But like in most issues concerning Cleveland sports, logic just ran out the door, crying.

Keep in mind what happened the last two times the Browns were bought. Art Modell, who’d been a successful New York ad man, turned the Browns into a team more locally marketable than competitive with that pompous, AMC original programming, Madison Avenue attitude. The Lerners then came along and ran the team with the soullessness of a credit card company that genuinely doesn’t give a fuck about its customers.

So, with that in mind, why would Haslam not stick with the girl that brung him?

Coincidentally, last month, a Pilot Travel Center opened up in Cleveland (Cleveland, Tennessee, that is, but it’ll still serve our purposes over the next two paragraphs). Included in a press release announcing the opening - yes, friends, that’s a press release announcing the opening of Pilot’s 679th travel center - was a quote from the Browns’ new owner. 

Let’s take that statement, replace “Pilot Travel Center” with “football team” and see what we get:

“We are thrilled to finally find the right spot in Cleveland to open our new football team and serve our customers. We know that the Cleveland area has been asking for a football team for a while now, and we couldn’t be happier to fulfill those wishes and become a part of the Cleveland community. We are proud that this football team will serve the local community through products and services as well as contribute to the local economy through jobs and tax revenue.”

Now hold those comments up to what Haslam said at his introductory press conference as the Browns' new owner on Friday. Was it live, or was it Memorex? 

With this in mind, it’s safe to assume the following changes are in store on Lou Groza Boulevard - which will soon be renamed “Flying J Way” to coincide with the selling of the naming rights for Cleveland Browns Stadium and the proverbial burning at the stake of the franchise's last shred of dignity.


A Denny’s will be installed inside the stadium.

A new feature to Flying Js across the country, the addition of Denny’s restaurants somehow manages to class up the joints. And since Browns Stadium is already one of the bleakest places on Earth every Sunday, shoving a Denny’s in there can’t hurt. (Jesus. How pathetic is that?)


Spend the night in the parking lot.

Who hasn’t done this? Following a Browns’ game, you’re either a bit too soused (or depressed) to get behind the wheel, so you just lean back the driver’s seat and catch a quick 40 winks. Now we’ll have a designated area of the Muni Lot specifically for this - sponsored by Cleveland Clinic.


Bring an empty propane gas tank to the stadium, get a free ticket.

Although fans will have the slightly more appealing option of just dropping off the empty tank and leaving.


Change the name of the stadium to “State Route 2 Football Travel Center #895.”

Just to differentiate it from Haslam’s other facilities. We all knew “Cleveland Browns Stadium” wasn’t going to last long, anyway.


Condom vending machines will be installed in the restrooms.

‘Cause you just never know.


Grab a shower.

Let’s face it, personal hygiene has always been problematic for truckers and most Browns fans. Not knowing when they’ll have the chance again, visitors to Cleveland Browns Stadium will be able to enjoy the same kind of rewarding, private shower experience that Flying J/Pilot offers its visiting truck drivers, complete with ample squeegees and soapy water. And, just like the rest of your visit to Browns Stadium, so long as you touch nothing during the entire experience, you should be fine.


Less corporate sponsorship and asinine marketing techniques, more beef jerky and Andy Capp’s Cheddar Fries.

The NFL may frown upon this one, but America has spoken.


Knock down the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center to make room for a concrete archipelago of 65 gas islands, including 34 diesel lanes.

Other than the Browns themselves, gasoline is the only thing Clevelanders always complain about but never stop buying.


For as sketchy as some of these ideas may be, just remember what we’ve been telling ourselves for the past week, a phrase that the Browns have actually adopted as their official motto for the 2012 season: “Well, It Probably Can’t Get Worse.”

Don’t worry - it won’t. Buckle your seat belt and check your blind spot, Browns fans. Our beloved team is about to merge back onto the freeway.


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