I grew up in Lakewood, Ohio (right on the border of Cleveland proper). At the age of 4, my parents started allowing me to dabble with something very dangerous. I remember sitting in front of my parents’ 19″ television with the bunny ears adjusted just so in order to get a crisp image on the screen. That TV screen introduced me to what I now consider a life-long addiction that consistently causes me more unhappiness than happiness. But I guess that’s what addictions typically do. My addiction? Being a fan of the Cleveland Browns.
Vividly replaying in my mind as I type this, John Elway of the Denver Broncos methodically picks apart the Browns defense with both his arm and his legs in the 1987 AFC Championship game. At the end of that game, being very young, I didn’t fully comprehend that the Browns’ season had ended. I KNEW Bernie Kosar and Kevin Mack were going to take us to the Super Bowl. But my father and grandmother explained to me that it was over and that we had next year to look forward to!
That very next year is when my addiction officially began. Wearing, what I liked to call my fake Kevin Mack jersey (the numbers were 43 while Mack wore 34), sitting in front of the same TV with the bunny ears adjusted exactly the same way as the year before, watching the same two teams play in the same AFC Championship game, heartbreak hit once more. The Fumble happened. I was heartbroken as I watched Earnest Byner get stripped of the ball at the 2 yard line as he was about to cross the goal-line and tie the game. I understood the gravity of the event this time. And I developed a disdain for Byner that would last until I was an adult. This was the first time negative emotions developed in me as a result of a sporting event.
In the summer of 1989, my family moved to Atlanta, GA. This changed a lot of things about me, but not my fandom. That season, the Browns made it to the AFC Championship game. And once more, the Browns did it… different TV, same teams, same game, same result. Heartbreak.
Side note: I dislike the Steelers with my entire being. But it’s the Broncos that thrice prevented my Browns from going to the Super Bowl. Why is there not an equal hatred for the Broncos here in Cleveland?
A few years later, my family moved back to Cleveland (the city proper this time). That very year, Bill “Stinking” Belichick released Bernie Kosar in favor of Vinny Testaverde. Bernie? You can’t get rid of Bernie! We wrote songs about him that got overplayed on the radio! Once again… heartbreak. And once again, I developed disdain for two people: Testaverde and Belichick.
November 7, 1995. I remember hearing my dad raising his voice in the kitchen. This wasn’t a strange occurrence in my house, but he wasn’t yelling at anyone in particular. I went into the kitchen to see what was going on. Then I heard the news. The Browns were moving to Baltimore. There would be no more football in Cleveland… no more Browns. Art Modell became the eternal villain of my beloved city that day. Heartbreak… disdain for Modell.
I was broken of my addiction because my “dealer” was gone. I had nowhere to get my fix. I was clean for a number of years.
Al Lerner became my hero (but also my new “dealer”) when, in 1999, he brought the NEW Browns back to me! Only instead of freebase, he brought me crack. We were an expansion team so we all expected there to be a rocky start. The first couple of awful seasons were tolerable. But then consistency set in. Losing season after losing season… it became a culture which has remained to this day.
I wanted to quit the Browns again, but I couldn’t… I can’t. It’s just too hard. I am now in my early to mid 30s and I have not kicked the addiction which is also a major affliction. I haven’t had many reasons since 1990 to root for the Browns, but they hooked me at an early age, like any good “dealer” would.
This post is to help everyone who reads “You Gotta Be Tough” to somewhat understand my perspective… the base from which I form my opinions. Opinions of a team I love and an organization that I hate. If I’m negative, you understand why. If I’m positive, you also understand why. I am a full-blooded fan, not a journalist.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go drink some tea and lay on my bed which is basically a cloud.