Browns fans: Don’t protest
Dear Browns fans:
We are going through the fire… I believe that a great story is being told through the Cleveland Browns. We are a football organization unlike any other. It is alright to go through some suffering, some pain.
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My first season as a Browns fan was 1986. I was in sixth grade. I lived in Connecticut–just outside of New York–and everybody I knew worshipped the Giants, the Jets, or the Dallas Cowboys. I genuinely disliked the New York teams, even though everyone around me was excited about them. I wanted to find my own team. One night, after a Pop Warner football banquet, some friends and I watched Bernie Kosar and the Browns utterly dismantle Dan Marino and a heavily favored Dolphins team on MNF. I was in love. There was something about the Browns that pulled me in–they seemed like a team that would die for the cause, and for each other. When I told friends that Cleveland was my team, I was immediately questioned–even my parents couldn’t quite figure it out.
Within weeks, I had memorized the roster. This was 23 years ago, and my family didn’t have cable TV. I only saw the Browns when they played on national TV, which was two, three times a year. I would wait weeks, sometimes months, to see them play. I videotaped every game available and watched the tapes hundreds of time, slowing down every play to analyze strategy and player trends. I would take statistics in a notebook. I spent hours in front of Jets and Giants games waiting for the 10-minute ticker, waiting for Bob Costas to give me a highlight, a glimpse, a second from Municipal Stadium.
By December, I was fully, comprehensively obsessed with the Cleveland Browns in only the way a middle school kid with no car, no woman–no clue–could be. Anybody who was a Browns fan, as a kid, in the 1980s, knows where I’m coming from.
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I’m not sure what a younger person today could possibly see in the team–there’s no core, nothing to hold onto, not a single memory or hope to cling to. For those of us who followed Kosar’s Browns, we are haunted by a different “level of losing” (as Bill Simmons would say) than today’s fans. My heart was ripped to shreds in 1986, and totally burned in the furnace in 1987. Earnest Byner was my favorite player. I loved his absolute dedication, his underdog storyline, the way he’d outshine stars and household names–coming out of East Carolina to shred flashier teams for 144, 168, 178 yards in BIG games. I never blamed him for that fumble. Ever. I felt terrible for the guy. No player on the Browns has shown the same heart since. If we are cursed by anything, if such a thing exists, you don’t have to look much farther than the way we treated the heart and soul of those Browns teams: Bernie and Byner were shipped out of town. No disrespect to Mike Oliphant, but trading Byner was criminal.
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I have sat–and suffered–through every single game since. My goal was to work for the Browns. I went to school and studied public relations, and planned to move to Cleveland at the end of my senior year and get into the organization any way I could. I’d sweep floors–I didn’t care. I loved the idea of moving to Cleveland. My heart was with the team. When I graduated in 1996–the Browns were gone.
I’ll never forget the anticipation of their return in 1999. And the immediate, recognizable, sinking dread when the Steelers began to shred them on national television.
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A decade later, I catch myself watching YouTube clips of late-1980s Browns games. Many of these were games I only read about in the paper back then, and had to imagine by pieceing together the box score. For those of you who lived in Cleveland back then, and had the chance to GO TO games, every week–no big thing–I envied you greatly. I don’t envy the experience today. I picked up Sunday Ticket for the first time this season. Twenty minutes into the Vikings game, I knew it was a dreadful purchase. Sundays have especially annoyed my wife. From 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (I live in L.A.), I am sullen and non-conversational. She is incredibly patient, and wonderful, and roots for the San Francisco 49′ers. By the time her game comes on, I am taking my fourth walk around the block to vent. This season has been a special type of hell so far–worse than anything I recall, with no ray of hope. But sometimes you can’t see what’s around the corner.
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Unless you win the Super Bowl, every fan has a moment during the season when you know it’s over. It might be in the AFC Championship. It might be when your star quarterback goes down in Week One. It ranges. For me, the breaking point this season was the 4th-and-1 call they gave to the Steelers. We weren’t going to beat that team, but to suffer such an overt injustice–it ended the season in my book. I still watch the games, but from an emotional distance. Admittedly, I can’t help but get excited by Friday, even when we’re 1-6 and days away from another shredding. I have come to the realization that what I’m excited about is ILLUSION. The IDEA of upsetting the Bears and ending up 7-9, and everyone saying what a “great story” we are heading into 2010. Why do I still fall for this? I guess I don’t entirely–I’m starting to catch myself.
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We are going through an all-consuming fire today. Not one of us knows what will be left on the other side. I am saddened by the idea that Browns fans are protesting the MNF game–sitting out–staying away. Somebody on here wrote about a Cavs game in which the fans went nuts from end to end–and pushed that team to victory. I don’t suggest the same as a solution for our anger, but the whole protest thing reeks of entitlement and weakness to me. We all want a winning team. Our hearts are broken by a drifting Browns franchise. We long for a team that will DESTROY Smiley Hines Ward, Big Jen, the self-satisfied Steelers; the rest of the AFC; and the waiting NFC Super Bowl representative. What a great story it will be–and it will happen someday, I hope and pray–our Browns, who were proud, and then stolen away, returning humbly to win the crown.
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Don’t protest. As someone who would have given everything in youth to be at that stadium on those Sunday afternoons–don’t represent us that way. Go out there–pack that stadium–and make the Baltimore Ravens wish they never got off their luxury jet.
We have the world against us. We have a national press that releases daily stories embarrassing us. This is a team that needs support. Even if you don’t like aspects of the ownership and coaching staff–support the players, support the legacy of this team we fought to bring back. I don’t know Dawg Pound Mike from Holly Hobby, but the idea that he now REPRESENTS us in the national media is troubling. He doesn’t represent me. And he probably doesn’t represent you.
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We are going through the fire.
What will it reveal about us?