By Jim Sweeney
The Browns are on.
There was a time when that meant I would have been on the couch in front of the TV or in a sports bar in front of a TV or at a friend’s house in front of a TV. But this Sunday, instead of watching the Browns, I’m in front of my laptop writing about why I’m not in front of a TV watching the Browns.
After 54 years, I’m done. I’m no longer sacrificing my fall Sundays to support an organization that doesn’t deserve it. I’ve made this decision with a little sorrow, some bitterness, and a lot of relief.
I have a lot of co-workers in their 20s, some of whom wear Browns gear the Fridays before games. This puzzles me. They’re too young to have any memory of the team when it wasn’t putrid; they weren’t hooked on a quality product when they were young and impressionable.
Me, I’m old enough to have fond memories of the Browns. I went to my first game in 1968 when I was seven years old (Browns vs. Giants, Dec. 1, Browns won, 45-10). I remember being upset that a player was flagged for tripping, something that I had been taught at home and on the playground was just not right. I remember Abe Abraham catching extra points in his brown suit and Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield, Bill Nelson and Dick Schafrath.
I was at the Red Right 88 playoff game against Oakland in 1981 on a day when the wind chill reached 36 below. I remember thinking two things after Brian Sipe threw the game-ending interception: “I can’t believe they called a pass” and “I have never been so cold in my life.” My father and I walked back to our car at Burke Lakefront Airport on legs that were numb from the shins down. When we got home, we built a fire and thrust our feet so deep into the fireplace that we scorched our socks.
I was there for The Drive in 1987, when Denver marched 98 yards to tie the AFC Championship Game, a game the Broncos won in overtime. The loss was doubly bitter because the suburban daily newspaper for which I was a reporter had promised to send me to Pasadena for the week before the Super Bowl to write features. So, while the Browns lost a Super Bowl bid, I lost a cushy week in a warm climate, going to parties and writing puff pieces.
It wasn’t all heartbreak. A week before The Drive, I was at Municipal Stadium when Bernie Kosar led the team to a double overtime playoff victory against the Jets, still the most exciting NFL game I’ve ever attended.
My breakup began when Art Modell uprooted the team and moved it to Baltimore. Anyone who had been paying attention up until that time knew that the NFL was a business, but that piece of treachery laid bare the league’s mercenary soul.
[blocktext align=”right”]The new Browns have been a warped simulacrum of the team that left, like the resurrected cat in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary[/blocktext].During the three-year gap before the Browns returned, I learned to do other things on Sunday afternoons. I was glad to see the team come back, but the relationship has never been the same. The new Browns have been a warped simulacrum of the team that left, like the resurrected cat in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.
Since the team has been back, I’ve been to two regular season games and a handful of pre-season contests, all with other people’s tickets. I’ve got no plans to go to another game.
Whenever I tell people about my abandonment of the team, someone always fires back: “What will you do if the Browns become good again? Are you going to be a fair-weather fan?“
Yes, yes I will.
I used to mock fair-weather fans, like the ones who sold out Jacobs Field for 455 games in the 1990s, guys in suits and women in Indians hair ribbons, people who’d never come out during the awful years of the 1970s, the era of Frank Duffy and John Lowenstein.
But I see now that they were the smart ones. When a quality product was put in front of them, they supported it. When the quality faded, so did their support.
The Browns are like that neighborhood restaurant your family patronized when you were a kid. The food was good, if unspectacular. The owners knew your family and always dropped by the table to say hello. You looked forward to eating there.
But then it closed and reopened under new ownership. The place looked the same, but everything had deteriorated. The food was no longer fresh and the waiters were surly. It changed hands a few more times and the new proprietors had other interests or were just incompetent. You’re pretty sure the restaurant even gave you food poisoning once or twice. Do you still have to eat there because your parents liked the meatloaf 30 years ago?
Abandoning the Browns is still a lonely position, but it’s not quite as heretical as it used to be. Since I’ve sat down to write, the Browns are still playing on TV and my next-door-neighbor has come out to mow his lawn. Wearing a Browns jersey.
Banner photo by Erik Drost (http://flickr.com/people/edrost88)
Jim – You’re sentiment is common among many longtime Browns fans. For me, as a Lions fan, I officially took my Sundays back when they went 0-16. I haven’t looked back.
I could’ve written this almost word for word. My Dad and I had 4 Upper Deck Boxes in “Left Field” for 25 years. They were awesome seats partially because that was the one corner of the stadium that got sun (if the clouds parted). Many a time, I had my coat off when the rest of the stadium was huddled under blankets. (But not Red Right 88 day. That WAS cold) I also remember freezing as a kid when the Colts beat the Browns in 1968, only to go on and lose to Bradway Jow in Super Bowl III. When I hit adulthood in 1978, I also became a season ticket holder in Columbus. But in those days, many a weekend was overflowing with football. When Ignatius got good in the late 80’s we had many a weekend of Football on Friday Night, Saturday afternoon AND Sunday. Yes, my wife IS INdeed a saint. But the point is, the Browns weren’t a third class attraction. I looked as forward to Sunday as I did Saturday.
Last season, I VOLUNTEERED to go to Costco with my wife during a Browns game. My friends thought I had had a stroke and wasn’t “all there”. I still root for them, but without the passion that I have for the Buckeyes. If they get good again, I’ll be happier; but Art Modell and the NFL permanently changed my relationship with the Browns. Sort of like having the hottest girl on the westside, opnly to have her leave you for an Ed’s kid. Even if she comes back, its never the same.
I feel you. I still watch from time to time, but I am nowhere near as fanatical as I once was. The ownership has been terrible, both the Lerners and the Haslams.
As a 31 year old, I only have vague memories of the Browns being good. The games I attended in the early 1990s are a blur.
Having attended Ignatius, of course I am sour at the departure of Brian Hoyer. But that’s life. What really was the beginning of the end for me was how they treated Phil Dawson, my favorite Brown of all time. (That’s saying something!)
Now with the new NFL rules on bags and the like, I won’t go to NFL games even if the tickets are free. The rules are insane.
Living in Washington, it’s not like I have a local team worth cheering for. The Redskins are as poorly managed and coached as the Browns. And I sure as ______ am never going to cheer for the Ravens.
At least we have the Buckeyes.
Your comment about 20-somethings wearing Browns gear with no memories of success is so true. I’m 19, and I don’t even call myself a Browns fan. My dad has lived in Cleveland his whole life, and he keeps on saying that the Browns have lost a generation of fans since their return since they’ve been garbage. There’s no excitement about the team. In high school, we never talked about the Browns. My friends at college tease me (They’re Patriots fans, mostly.) about how pathetic the team is. It disappoints me. I hear stories about Paul Brown, Jim Brown, and other legends of football who played for Cleveland, and now the team is the butt of jokes. I don’t understand why, after all these years, there hasn’t been any indicator of an upward trajectory and some sustained success. I’ll be glad to see it.
To each his own.
I’m 26 and wasn’t raised to be a quitter. But some people just have miles and miles of quit in them.
Enjoy your Sundays, but don’t try and crawl back once they start winning.
Good luck. You’re going to eat a lot more shit between now and a winning team. Maybe when you’re fifty.
Really, I’ve been a Browns fan twice as long as you’ve been alive. Please do not lecture me or my long suffering compatriots about commitment. Oh, and wipe your snotty nose.
I agree with a previous commenter. This article states my sentiment, my story, and my feelings nearly word for word. I first felt things were going to hell fast when they cut Bernie. Modell had finally blown out his last brain cell.
What is the problem with the “new” Browns? Let’s see if we can find some common denominators since they’ve come back. Owners, nope, there have been several in charge, sort of. What about coaches, GMs, quarterbacks, draft picks, coordinators, players? None for all of them. Even the brand new stadium has gone through renovations already.
What’s the common denominator? It’s the stupid Cleveland fan base who can always be counted on by the NFL to eat whatever s***t is fed to them. The residents of fantasyland who every year swallow higher ticket prices because the team acquires some other high draft pick or cashed out free agent who will be on the pro football junk heap within a few years.
Is there a solution? Not as long as everyone believes that this joke of an expansion team is vital to the survival and identity of our city. No free agents want to come here. The faux Browns and their fans are the joke of the league. The real Browns are gone forever, stolen by the NFL who in their benevolence replaced them with this pile of crap. All we have now is a broken product mired in mediocrity which will never make enough money to rebuild itself properly. Stop going to the games and that will be taken away as well.
Keep buying those season tickets and jerseys, ya rubes! The NFL bigwigs love ya! Just wait until next year!