Cleveland is a football town. There really isn’t anyway other to describe it.
Yes, there are two other professional sports that garner just as much of the Cleveland faithful with the Indians and the Cavaliers, but for the latter LeBron is gone and the Indians were swept in the playoffs.
Normally, in the last couple of years these events would crush the Cleveland sports faithful. It didn’t.
A funny thing happened on the way to start of the football season. HBO’s Hard Knocks, featuring none other than the Cleveland Browns. This set the tone to bring back the faithful and it generated the highest viewer ship the show has enjoyed. That was step one.
Then the real test began. Step two.
With little hope of winning against the Steelers the Browns did the next best thing they came back and tied. The faithful started to take notice. A glimmer of hope..
Growing up outside of Cleveland, football was a religion all its own. My home town, like many others in Northeast Ohio set their Sunday scheduled around the game. If you went to noon Mass you were guaranteed to be home by kickoff.
If you have ever been to country auction you know how fast the auctioneer speaks. Well if the Browns were in the playoff. The Homily or Sermon if you will, would be spoken just like those of those country auctioneers much to the delight of the faithful and the Browns faithful. I suppose my favorite Homily during those days was when our Priest look at his congregation and said simply this. “You know what you did and so does he!” Communion was more like a discus competition except you had to make sure your tonsils were ready to receive the host. No one ever complained. After all kickoff was quickly approaching. Our Priest would then race down the aisle faster than a groom in a shot gun wedding, yelling half way down “Mass has ended go in peace and go Browns” on this day no one was going to get out of the church faster because he knew he wanted to get to the rectory and not be stampeded on by the faithful.
Sunday meals were prepared as if it was a holiday; starting in the morning and served after or before the game. Even if football wasn’t Mom or Grandma’s sport they knew what had to happen. After all it was the second religion in the house and someone would always say “God must love football or we wouldn’t have it on Sundays!”
Back then there was never any worry about cameras shooting a take a knee because the National Anthem was never televised. Even during the playoffs.
In 1980 I was part of the Singing Angels that were asked to sing the National Anthem and do the half time show during the Oakland Raiders and the Browns playoff game. While my Dad was a parent escort, my Mom and everyone else stayed home and grew angry when they could not watch us perform- when they called the TV station they simply stated it was valuable advertising time. It was also the same day a certain nickname, Clevelanders have called it red right 88 and the rest of the country would refer to it as “Mistake on the Lake” which eventually became the reference for the whole city. But still the faithful remained.
Even in 1995 the faithful remained and Cleveland was the first team ever to keep the history in Cleveland and retain the name of the team. The faithful were promised a team and waited for 1999.
Its hard to shake us diehard Browns fans. But it happened. Now for me living in Louisiana it’s hard to get games unless you are willing to spend extra on a two drink minimum or NFL game pass. However, I can listen to the games on Cleveland Browns Radio network. Thank god the Browns have the best play by play man in the universe in Jim Donovan. Up until 2016 I was an avid listener. Then Dad passed away and well football left me. It was our religion after the game we would talk for an hour about what was good, bad and ugly. He would tell me what I would have to wait for in sparse highlights on ESPN..his replays always sounded better than the National Media would convey. So I left football. No more fantasy leagues, no more NFL Network nothing my heart wasn’t in it anymore.
Little did I know the faithful came with me and so did the Browns. For me it was too painful, I missed my Dad. For the Browns and the faithful it was two years of only winning the number one draft pick.
In May of this year, I decided to tune back in.
Hard Knocks, 92.3 the fan, ESPNCleveland, and the Browns Daily. I watch every preseason game and marveled how Hard Knocks kept up with it and just how much talent it takes to produce such a show. I felt bad for the players who were cut. Checking the Browns website for the final roster and keeping tabs on cuts and additions.
I rejoiced knowing we were playing the Saints! I could see a game in my home! I cringed as we lost and diligently kept and ear open all week if we would pull the trigger on the quarterback position.
I became so wrapped up waking up to 92.3 the fan in my morning haze I heated the traffic report. 480 and 271 were backed up and for a moment I thought great my commute is gonna suck.. then I remember where I lived in Baton Rouge. Homesick is my only excuse.
Then a Thursday night with color rush jerseys came to my TV. Cleveland looked fantastic the city and the team and I was more homesick then I could remember. But it wouldn’t last.
The Jets flew through the defense and were 14-0 it was then I changed the channel shut the radio broadcast off and muttered nothing has changed. Until…..
My phone started going off. News alerts from the major sports outlets and the Browns filled my phone “Baker Mayfield has taken the field….” my heart leaped which I thought was stupid but as I fumble around for my remote then couldn’t remember what channel number it was on I began that hurry up panic. Finally I found the NFL Network and I was electrified as if I was at FirstEnergy Field.
I wasn’t the only one. The faithful and those who hopped on the Bandwagon were there too. As if the sports gods reaped their brilliance and rewarded the faithful for their long suffering. The losing streak snapped, the faithful cheering, and the team smiling. The Bud Light coolers where going to be open. To hear Jim Donovan make the call “is this what it feels like?” WOW!
As the game began to turn around my text notification went off. “Beth is this still your number?” A friend of mine who moved to Texas, (who’s name is also Beth) was wanting to know if I was watching. She had become a Browns fan through Hard Knocks. And I now had someone to share the game with! Just like Dad used to text me during the game.
Even my work here in the Deep South you might have thought I was the Haslems. The congrats, the texts and FB shout outs made me realize what I had been missing since my Dad passed.
Over the next week friends from all over were sending me joyful responses and anger when the bad calls in Oakland became center stage.
The Browns/Raven game wouldn’t be any different as I was on a Sunday afternoon with my new Browns partner in Crime (Beth) were feverishly texting. I was listening as she watched. My granddaughter was asking me what I was listening to? Nearly six she looked at me oddly when I said the Browns. “You mean the color on TV?” Ummm WHAT!?!
CBS switched from the blowout Chiefs game to the Browns and I didn’t notice. Now I could really texting with Beth and we could enjoy the game together! Thank goodness the Saints were on MNF or she would be swapping back and forth I thought.
The Browns would win again! My phone lit up like Christmas with all my Baton Rouge friends cheering for me because of my love for the team and Cleveland friends cheering because we the faithful had something to cheer about.
The faithful and new faithful have returned.
This week I was in Atlanta racing across the airport to catch my connecting flight to Cleveland. In the midway I abruptly stopped and knew which gate was mine. Not ever having to look at the gate sign–The legions of Browns fan were proudly dressed for a flight to Cleveland. Orange and Brown gear was everywhere! I immediately regretted not wearing mine.
See it is not just the winning. It’s the feeling, the excitement that is bringing the legions of faithful back. Just like when our children leave home and come back, they usually bring more with them. So have the faithful and it includes the sports media. Jim Rome told Jerry Jones to move over “The Cleveland Browns are America’s Team!”
The Cleveland Browns showed up in time to pick us up and to return hope to the most hopeful city in the country Believeland and sent a bandwagon for the new faithful.
Someone needs to explain to Hue Jackson this:
You know the pressures of losing, now you need to learn the pressures of winning. Instead of asking where were you over the last two years. Consider this– whether you were a fan for 50 years or 2 months there is room for all the support and love we can get. Hey Hue think about it next you want to say something less stellar.
The support is buying tickets, gear and viewership how can there NOT be room for more?
Maybe you Coach Jackson missed it, but….
Hope has return to Believeland.
I hope it never leave us again.
Or maybe it’s just The Rally Possum!