Footbawl Blog reader Peter Speer, a long-maligned Browns fan, asked if he could submit a frothy piece about why it sucks to be a Browns fan. I contemplated telling him no and making a LeBron James joke, but in the end I didn’t because, hey, Cleveland has suffered enough. So here it is. Keep in mind that this is from a disgruntled fan, so reader discretion is advised. Enjoy!
I was born in 1977 a Cleveland Browns fan. I am a fan of all Cleveland sports which as far as curses go is fairly unbearable. You may have heard of our football team. Former NFL powerhouse, looking to restore itself to greatness. You may have heard of our most recent game, wherein the Browns faced the Seattle Seahawks, and won 6-3, in spite of 2 blocked field goals. Those games are expected to be played in seventy mile per hour winds and driving snow, not sixty-three degree sunny days in October.
For those of you subjected to that game, I offer my apologies. If it’s any consolation to you, it felt as though the game took at least six hours to watch and will likely be used to help people in 12-step programs stick with the program after they relapse.
While you could bring up a litany of reasons why it sucks being a Browns fan — ranging from ‘Dude, it’s Cleveland; Cleveland sucks’ or the logo and lack there of, to ‘Dude. It’s fucking CLEVELAND’. I’m going to give you five (and a bonus reason) very real, very legitimate reasons on why it sucks being a Cleveland Browns fan.
1996 to 2000
In 1995, the news broke that Arthur Modell was moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. He’d been fighting the city for a new stadium, and rather than wait for a public referendum to pass, he kicked and screamed and negotiated overnight to move the Browns to Baltimore.
In 1996, the Baltimore Ravens took the field. Every game that first year was broadcast in Cleveland and Browns fans took great delight in watching them lose game after game. We called them bums, no talent hacks, and derided and decried players we’d cheered for the year prior. Vinny Testaverde went from “that prick that replaced Bernie Kosar” to “that no-good, talentless, washed-up turncoat prick that replaced Bernie Kosar.” We had great nicknames for him. Vinny Cuntesticleverde was one of our favorites.
Truth be told, the team wasn’t terrible. They weren’t blown out (an improvement over the 95 Browns), and when the start of a good defense anchored by Ray Lewis showed signs of what it would become that’s when the nightmare started. 1997, they improved. 1998? Improved. 1999? Really improved under Brian Billick.
And then 2000. Specifically, January 28th, 2001. I remember sitting in my cousin’s basement (as us bloggers do) eating chicken wings and staring incredulously at the TV screen. That these impostors, that these traitors, that these motherfuckers, that these… THESE SHOULDA BEEN THE CLEVELAND BROWNS won a Super Bowl. I closed my eyes and for a second — a split second, I saw Ray Lewis looking magnificent in Brown and Orange, wearing number 52. Later on, I’d see Dilfer in the 8 and Lewis in the 31, but it just wasn’t the same.
It would have been wonderful. I’d have marched down to Public Square, and quite intoxicated professed my love for Ray Lewis. Instead, I call him “Stab”. It’s a nickname he’ll never shed, no matter how many great interviews he gives to ESPN, no matter how charitable he’s become, no matter how much of himself he’s given of himself. He’s “Stab”, and fuck him for not bringing my city a Championship…
…except Browns Management would have traded up in the 1996 draft to grab Eddie Kennison, Reggie Brown, Pete Kendall or Marcus Jones because…
WE’RE TOO CYNICAL FOR OUR OWN GOOD.
In 1999 when the Browns came back into the league, and the entire NFL draft was our pearl, and we could have had any of six players, the argument wasn’t if Tim Couch would fall apart and be a draft bust, but how soon into his NFL career would we realize that he was never going to be an NFL player. And while in truth the 99 Draft will very likely never yield a Hall of Famer, our choices had potential.
Ricky Williams was long discussed as the #1, but the rationality of having a feature back behind a horrible OL made it a really risky pick. Akili Smith and Donovan McNabb were as well, but eventually the Browns did settle on Couch, the one who looked the most like Peyton Manning on paper, if you’re talking about physical characteristics only (6’5″ vs. 6’4″ for Couch, 230 vs. 220).
When it was time for Couch to make his debut — far too early after Ty Detmer ruptured his Achilles heel in his first game as a Brown — he wasn’t terrible. Certainly — as is the case for every Browns QB since 1994 — with better talent around him, he’d likely have made at least one Pro Bowl (see Derek Anderson) before injuring himself and dropping off the face of the earth.
I’ll fully admit to being a Tim Couch fan, and knowing that he didn’t get a fair shake in Cleveland, simply because as Browns fans, we enjoy being so cynical that we cannot allow our current players to have any success without thinking up ways to destroy it. When Tim Couch started games, fans wondered why Kelly Holcomb wasn’t. When Holcomb eventually took over for Couch, he was so terrible, we had to replace him with Jeff Garcia, who was then run out of town and replaced by former Baltimore Ravens hero Trent Dilfer who was worse than Garcia and replaced by Charlie Frye who was so bad he couldn’t beat Bruce Gradkowski in Oakland for a third string job.
Oh, but this doesn’t just stop at QB, friends. With previous regimes (Tom Heckert has done well to draft quality folks in Joe Haden and Phil Taylor, I believe, so he gets a pass so far) take a look at who we drafted and who we passed up to draft them:
In 2000, in order to bolster our defensive line, we took Courtney Brown “The Quiet Storm”, who, fizzled out after a few years. We passed on Chris Samuels, Jamal Lewis, Corey Simon, Thomas Jones, and this guy Brian Urlacher.
In 2001, knowing we needed a beast to pair with Brown on the inside, we drafted “Top Dollar” Gerard Warren, who then played like “A Few Pennies”. Nevermind that Richard Seymour was still on the board, and LaDanian Tomlinson would have been a tremendous improvement over James Jackson, Jamel White and Ben Gay.
2002? William Green. With Ed Reed, Lito Sheppard and Javon Walker still on the board.
2003 was a bit of an anomaly as we drafted well, taking Jeff Faine who’s still in the league and has been longer than the four picks before him stayed in the league combined. But, talent comes at a price, and Faine was traded to the Saints because he wanted to be paid like the future Pro Bowler he became. That trade netted us LeCharles Bentley, who went on to star in what would become a huge deal for three years in Cleveland; Staphgate.
We’re conditioned by these picks to expect that the players we select will be terrible. We have the expectation of failure immediately, the surprise when the player isn’t terrible, and a sense of dread that he’ll leave in free agency someday, no matter what. And it’s not like it will matter if they’re fantastic players either way. Because no matter what happens…
THE STARS AND HIGHLIGHTS NEVER GO OUR WAY.
Cleveland Browns (and really most Cleveland Sports History since 1964) can be summed up with a few phrases that’ll strike a grimace on any fan’s face: The Drive. The Fumble. And, most famously, The Shot.
The most infuriating moment I’ve ever had as a sports fan is the Gatorade commercial where Michael Jordan posts up Craig Elho as time runs down, and misses The Shot as Elho celebrates in a Jordan-esque fashion. I’ve turned off ballgames, TV shows, whatever. Because that’s how it’s always happening.
In 1988 there was an article in Sports Illustrated about Bernie Kosar. Inside, they talk about how every NFL QB was in awe of him and how he played the game. Marino. Montana. Kelly. Trudeau. Kramer — for Godsakes Tommy F’n Kramer. But admiration doesn’t help you beat the Denver Broncos in successive years when you’re stopped on the goal line by a fumble, or a 98 yard drive for a touchdown.
And as we found out in 1994, it doesn’t help you keep a job when Bill Belechik wants to replace you with a ‘more reliable’ Vinny Testeverde. Of course, all Browns fans are happy that Kosar got a ring with Dallas (and the ONLY reason we cheered for Dallas in 1998) ten years after he was due one.
Go back and look at some of your favorite stars in the NFL and see who they consistently had big games against. I would be surprised if many of them weren’t against the Cleveland Browns. Take a look at any highlight reel for any NFL player, and showcased is likely some magnificent touchdown catch, sack, tackle for loss, whatever against a Cleveland Browns team.
Simply, the Cleveland Browns are a foil for other teams/players greatness. They’re the guys there to make you look good, possibly better than you really are. Tommy Maddox passing for 426 yards, anyone? Jamal Lewis had nearly 550 yards in two games in his 2000 yard season against the Browns.
In this article I talk a lot about what was. Why? Because…
THE PAST IS ALL WE HAVE.
My best man at my wedding is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. We rip on him constantly for being a Steelers fan, and yet each year the Steelers put an absolute whooping on the Browns, and we’re forced to slink into the past and have conversations like this:
Us: Well, we have more NFL Championships than you do.
Him: So? We have seven Super Bowls.
Us: If you discount our NFL Championships, then you have to discount all your Super Bowls because they didn’t just happen THIS YEAR! HA! FUCK YOUR HISTORY ARGUMENT.
Him: Whatever, dude.
Us: THE STEELERS SUCK! TURKEY LEG JONES! REMEMBER THAT, MOTHERFUCKER?!
And then, this is where Every Steelers fan needs to break it to every Browns fan.
Him: Look, man. I know you like this whole rivalry thing, but, it’s kind of old. You barely play good games against us, and quite frankly, kicking your ass all the time isn’t as fun as it used to be. At least in the 70′s and 80′s you gave us a fight. It was fun then. But, we’ve moved on. We think the Ravens are our rivals now, and some years, the Bengals. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the two wins we get over you a year. We do. But, this isn’t a rivalry anymore. Let’s see how it goes this year, okay? It’s not you, it’s me. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. From the Super Bowl. Again.
Us: Yeah… I know. I know. Can we just pretend it’s a rivalry again?
Him: No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. You need to move on. What are those Detroit Lions doing these days? Maybe call them?
Us: Winning. I think they got Barry Sanders back.
Him: Oh. Well, what about the Bills? They’re pretty terrible, aren’t they?
Us: No. They used to be, but they got a SmartQB. We had a SmartQB. Bernie.
Him: Hmmm… Well, we’ll always have Three Rivers.
The Browns/Steelers rivalry is dead or at least on hiatus for a very, very long time. Long live the rivalry. Because it was a really special time, and Pittsburgh is a really good team. Because…
WE’RE TOO STINKIN’ NICE.
I said in my intro paragraph that Browns fans are possibly the nicest fans in all of sports, and I stand by that. You’re not going to get into a pissing contest with a Browns fan about what team is better because we’re able to see our weaknesses, embrace them and try to find a way to enhance our strengths. As fans, we’re the pretty okay looking girl at a bar who helps you clean the stain off your shirt when some ass spills red wine on it, and then takes you home when you get too drunk. You sleep in our bed and we take the couch because it’s really no trouble despite our bad backs. If you want to fuck us, that’s okay. We’ll probably like it and tell you it was good. And if you don’t call again, that’s okay, too.
We’re worse with our own. After my wedding a few weekends ago, a Browns fan and I rode an elevator together with my Steeler Fan best man and my new wife. I wore a Peyton Hillis Jersey I bought last season.
Fan: Great Jersey, man.
Me: Thanks. My favorite player.
Fan: This year, right?
Me: Yeah, right. Next year it’ll be Joe Haden.
Fan: And then we’ll trade him.
Me: That’s why I won’t buy a Joe Thomas Jersey! Laughter shared in pain.
Fan: God, we suck.
Me: No shit. Good being miserable with you.
Fan: Go Browns! Laughter shared in even more pain.
We don’t fight with fans of other teams. We’re rational and don’t fall for baiting. But, you mention the Broncos and we will throw the fuck down since…
IT’S STILL CLEVELAND
You will likely never see a Browns game NOT sell out, though it’s been close the last two years more for the economy and less for the fan’s passion for the team. In years past, Sunday was the day the mills and shops cooled down and for fourteen weeks, families got together and went to a game or listened to it on the radio. Our home radio announcers are some of the best, ranging from Nev Chandler, who stands as one of the best of all time next to Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken, Don Webster, Jim Mueller, Bruce Drennan, and Basketball Hall of Famer Joe Tait. Hard working salt-of-the-earth types.
It’s just what we are. We’d celebrate a championship they same way we celebrated them in 1964. We’d cheer, throw a parade on a weekend, and make sure we didn’t miss work. And then next season, we’d prepare ourselves the same way we do every season. “Well, they might be pretty good. Probably 8-8. We’ll see.”
Because that’s just how it is in Cleveland. Too much is too much. Not enough is probably what you deserved anyway. Trains take jobs out of Cleveland. The Flats are a reminder of our Steel industry. The Inner Harbor is a reminder of our formerly robust shipping industry, a coal stop to the rest of the Great Lakes. Cleveland Stadium lies at the mouth of both, unnamed and unassuming.