The last time the Browns won an NFL championship was 1964. This feels distant to everyone in America except those living in Northeast Ohio. To them, it seems like last weekend. If you try to annoy a Browns fan by noting how Cleveland has never won a Super Bowl, he will tell you that they've actually won four titles (1950, '54, '55, and '64) and that the only problem is that the term "Super Bowl" had not yet been invented. He will go on to tell you that the greatest football player who ever lived was a Brown, and that his name was Brown, and that the greatest player who ever lived is still only the second-most important person named Brown in the history of the franchise. He will tell you that he'll always root for the Browns, under any circumstances, no matter what happens, forever.That is the one beautiful thing about being a Bengals fan. At least I'm not a Browns fan. Of course the best professional football team in Ohio is at The Ohio State University.
And then he will proceed to tell you how much the Browns suck.
This is the central dichotomy of Cleveland football: No other fan base is so deeply loyal and so self-consciously negative at the same time. Locally, there just seems to be a universal belief that — somehow, either by human error or random chance — the Browns will fail at whatever they try. Longtime fanatics have code words for all the moments that have crushed their souls. "Red Right 88" denotes the fatal play call from the 1981 divisional playoff against the Oakland Raiders, when — trailing 14-12 with less than a minute to play, inside the red zone — the Browns tried to pass instead of running the ball and attempting a field goal. The ensuing end zone interception ended the season. That squad was (arguably) Cleveland's best team of the modern era, unless you consider the '86 Browns (who were killed by John Elway and "The Drive") or the '87 Browns (whose hopes were dashed by "The Fumble" in the AFC championship). There are no code words for things that went right, because those things never happen. In 1996, owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore, a move so devastating to the community that some citizens openly expressed glee when Modell died in 2012. For three seasons in the '90s, there was no football team in Cleveland, although the nonexistent Browns remained just as popular as the Indians and more popular than the Cavaliers. (This three-year stint was actually an excellent era for Browns fans, since nothing bad could possibly occur.) The club was reintroduced in 1999, highlighted by a new $300 million downtown stadium and the first overall pick in the draft, Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch. In the 14 years that have since passed, the team's record is 73-151.
Still, the team sells out virtually every home game. This is not Jacksonville. When it comes to football, Ohio is just a colder version of Texas.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Inside The War Room, Sort Of
Chuck Klosterman spends part of draft day with the new management of the Cleveland Browns. He describes the wretched history of the Browns: