The word "home" does not necessarily mean where you grew up, but where you feel the happiest. Growing up a die hard Browns fan in Connecticut was not exactly easy. Everyone north of Hartford was a Patriots fan, and everyone south was a Giants or Jets fan. Connecticut is a state with no pro sports teams and it's big for transplants from other states which creates a mixture of other fans as well.
Living almost 600 miles away from Cleveland was tough. The local media was either pro-Boston sports or pro-NewYork. Any write up in the paper about the Browns was just a mere sentence or two, and on local sports TV, just a score. You can forget coverage on ESPN - they are basically TMZ for men. ESPN is more concerned about hype and image than actual sports reporting. Thank goodness for the internet. The internet alone can give anyone the news and info they need for their sports fix.
It was the spring of 2001, and I was using my father's old computer with the latest AOL on dial up. I happened to come across some Browns Message Boards and joined them. The interaction with Browns fans from all over the world was awesome.
One member on a fourm suggested I try joining a Browns Backers club. Browns Backers? "What is that" I thought. After several minutes of research I remember yelling out loud for joy. Every Sunday I could watch the Browns with other fans in my area. This had to be the coolest thing since internet porn.
For the next nine seasons, the Southern New England Browns Backers became my extended family. At first it started off in a small hole-in-the-wall bar named Bar One. Bar One had a Browns Viewing area about the size of a one car garage. We were crammed in there like sardines in a can. But even with the terrible food, poor sound and small televisions, it was my home sweet home. Eventually the Backers moved into a nicer facility named Gilo's right down the street. The Southern New England Browns Backers usually average 40 Browns fans and more if they are doing well. It is the direction of the Southern New England Browns Backers that untapped all of my Browns Energy and made me become the fanatical fan I am today.
The members of Southern New England are a loud boisterous group. They get all decked out and, well, they go all out. One member in particular Steve Weiner. His positive energy was always poured out in a rhyme. Anyone that has met Steve will always remember his sayings. For instance against the Rat Birds, the saying and chant is "What's the word? Kill the Bird". His creativity has helped inspire me.
Anytime the S.N.E.B.B. make their annual club trip to Cleveland, it seems like the circus is in town. At the stadium rally, our club is easily the loudest and most noticeable. One year we, we won, every trivia question award, best dressed and bark off. The best thing about the club trip is we all sit in the lower pound. It is a great pleasure to see other pound regulars thank us for our enthusiasm and energy through out the game. Our famous saying, "Where do we got em? Right where we want them !" is our battle cry and often duplicated by other fans.
The S.N.E.B.B. was and always will be a great experience but I wanted more.
Every Monday after a Browns Game I would dread the 11 hour drive home. Spending half my day in hillbilly Pennsylvania was not exactly my cup of tea. The thought of leaving "Mecca" and returning to a state where sports is not really a big deal made me sick. Something had to happen.
It was mid-August and was looking over the Browns schedule for the season. Sept 20, Oct 4,Oct 11,Oct 20 …… all days I needed off from work to travel home. It was about 5:30PM and decided to go on a bike ride. As I am biking these trails that I had ridden all summer, ideas started going through my head.
Once I got back and put my burnt orange mountain bike away I just decided to do it.
Just move already.
So it began.
Originally I wanted to move for the 2007 season. That was my first year of season tickets. I just received my degree. The company I was working for, Kichler Lighting in East Hartford, Connecticut, was based out of Independence. How perfect. But with the economy slumping a transfer never happened. Every game, I dreaded the fourth quarter.
As soon as the game clock hit zero, I knew I had to go back to Connecticut the next day. I grabbed a bottle of water and drove to my father's house that night. I needed to tell him something.
My father was home resting after cutting the lawn and watching some baseball. After laughing as Dice K hit the 103 pitch count in the fifth,I broke the news. Dad had nothing but a smile on his face. He just said "For real?"
After reassuring him this was the real deal, we both worked on a plan. I started out calling out landlords for rentals in the area. That is a story within itself. It was late August and I had to put my two weeks notice in for work. It was a Friday and I remember talking to my boss and it went something like this.
Me: "Boss, it has been fun here and thank you for the opportunity, but my time here has come to an end. I am going to Cleveland."
Boss: "Um... OK.. You say that every year"
Me: "I am not coming back."
Boss "You say that all the time"
Me: "My last day is September 10th". (I wanted to be home for the opener).
I proceeded to tell everyone in the warehouse I was moving. No one took me seriously.
So, once I got home, I made a list on what I was going to bring. It was rather short: Money, clothes, season tickets and a few pillows is all I could fit In a Nissan Sentra . Everything else was left behind.
The next day, I purchased a booster pack. Just in case the Sentra wouldn't start, I could jump it on my own. The following week, I purchased two spare full size rims and brand new tires. I couldn't imagine getting a flat and driving on a donut for 9 hours. So, I got spares. If I had more than two flats, I was just out of luck.
The Nissan has been to Cleveland numerous times and has a ton of miles on it. Almost everything in the car has been replaced. My friend Steak-Umm - a member of the infamous Section 537 - did a tune up with brakes two days before I was leaving. He dropped the car off when he was finished.
The next morning the Sentra would not start. But why? It has a new alternator, battery, starter... you name it. It was a day before the big move and the car would not even start! What the hell! I was supposed to be moving in shortly and the car wont even start?
So, after a day of tests, Steak-Umm concluded I had a draw. Something was drawing energy. Keep in mind this is a Sentra E, for no options. No radio that worked... no power accessories... nothing. Without a wiring diagram, he just began to pull fuses to see what could be causing this. He pulled a fuse and the battery stayed constant. Putting the fuse back in you would see the meter drop. Steak-Umm told me he did not know what could be causing this, but I can drive the car without this fuse in. I just wouldn't have interior lights, lights or a chime. It already has nothing, so what the heck.... As long as it will make it... sure.
The day of the move was rather memorable. I had to sign my lease at 4:30 Friday the 17th. I left Thursday at about 11am. Car was packed to the absolute max. Suitcases and clothes. All I could see was five inches out of my back window. My seat was all the way forward with the back in the straight-up position. It felt like sitting in an electric chair. With no interior lights, no radio, no power options and a top speed of 54 mph I knew this would be a long, miserable trip.
I decided on taking 90 all the way to Cleveland. I was just not in the mood for playing with "dances with deer" and other absurd things you find when you take 84 to 81 to 80 to 480 in hillbilly land. You know it is bad when you can still buy "Slippery When Wet" on cassette at a local Pennsylvania rest stop. So living on a prayer, I started off and would make it to Cleveland, dead or Alive.
First few hours of the trip went by without event. The roads were empty and I was cruising along at a good speed of 49-52 MPH. But then it started to rain, and my fortunes took a dive.
My Nissan is a good car. It is usually reliable and, well, it is what it is.
What it isn't is a highway car. When your car is screaming at 50 miles per hour and getting passed by parked vans….you know you are going nowhere fast. The defrost option was about as reliable as and healthy as Courtney Brown was on the field. A slight rain was happening about 7:00PM and I was getting nervous. The rear defrost was making noises and not working, the windshield wipers were not keeping up as the rain piled on. Mix this in with heavy traffic and road work and you know I was in trouble. The two lane road became one due to construction. Seeing it was raining and could barely see, my speed dropped to almost 40 miles and hour!
I looked in the rearview and it was an endless line of cars and trucks being bottlenecked behind me. Horns were being beeped and there was nothing I could physically could do. I remember pulling into a rest station near Rochester, and this guy was yelling at me. Being as calm as I am, I just told him, listen, this is as fast as it goes. Fatigued, hungry and overtired, my night of driving was over. I made it my goal to get near Buffalo and sleep over night. That is exactly what I did.
I checked into a Super Motel 8 and got some sleep. My body , sitting all day in that upright position, was killing me. Mix that in with no music, no power steering, no comfort features, and I was begging for the pillow. The front desk woke me with a courtesy call as I knew I would be in a hibernation mode. After eating like a savage and a shower the journey continued.
I left after the morning rush hour and within the hour New York State Police pulled me over. "License and registration please", mentioned the officer. "The reason why I am pulling you over is that you are going extremely slow for a highway. Just wanted to see if you were ok".
I told him the car was hurting and it was going at its max speed. The cop began looking around my car. "What is in here? Where are you going?" he asked.
I simply told him just clothes and essentials for moving to Ohio. I said I was moving to Ohio because I love the Browns.
"Come again? You telling the truth?"
"Yes, sir", I said. "That is the truth".
The statey quickly shook his head and gave me my stuff back. What a waste of 40 minutes.
I was putting along when I finally made the Ohio border. A weird feeling passed through my body as I beeped my horn across the state line. It was becoming a reality. Arrival at my apartment was 4:00PM Friday the 17th of September. My landlord came over to give me the lease and read the rules. She was in shock as she finally got to meet me.
Some fan that wants to move for his team.
It was so nice to see the lady that actually gave me a chance to live there. I signed over a check and got the keys. She said "Thank you, and have a great weekend".
I moved what few belongings I brought with me and looked at the time. It would be less than 12 hours before my friends from Connecticut would arrive for the season opener.
Glancing around my empty apartment, I chuckled.
"I don't have S!$%", I thought to myself.
But this is the happiest I have been in a long, long time. Home Sweet Home.