The Perception Shifts
If you discount the ones with hirings, firings, and ownership changes, this might just be the weirdest Cleveland Browns offseason that I can remember. We won’t have a new person picking the players, we won’t have a new man roaming the sidelines, but this current Browns offseason feels incredibly odd to me. On just about all fronts.
One major thing that I’ve noticed is that the perception of the Browns, both with the local media and with the fan base, seems to have finally turned to complete skepticism, cynicism, and, in some cases, disdain. Again, on all fronts. For as much as the local narrative seems to be that Cleveland loves its Browns to the point of irrational support at the expense of the other two professional teams that take up residence in the city, the talk surrounding the team this offseason does not at all support that.
The Browns have essentially been killed for every single thing that has happened since the season ended with a resounding thud in Baltimore some four months ago. I’ve already written about some of it, like the inactivity during the first couple days of free agency and the minor changes with the helmet logo, and my feelings with those items haven’t changed a bit. But there are other things that I’ve yet to lend my voice to. And since I know that everyone has been clamoring for my thoughts on those other things, I present to you this column on the current state of the Cleveland Browns. Where they are now, where they may be going, and what has just happened.
New Uniforms Debut
The most pressing and recent item, as it pertains to the Browns, is obviously the long awaited unveiling of the new uniforms. I must say that I had originally planned an article solely devoted to this and to the entire event surrounding it. With the whole ceremony that was planned and the gravity of changing a uniform that had been mostly unchanged since the inception of the franchise, it seemed like an absolutely perfect opportunity to do a kind of running diary of the events of the night, and a lengthy article about my thoughts on the changes that we all had been waiting for.
That was until the jerseys just happened to leak prior to the unveiling. The luster of the entire thing seemed to fade. The buzz that I thought would be there just wasn’t. Sure, I still tuned into the broadcast and surfed the radio waves once the nine different Browns players officially unveiled the nine different uniform combinations. But there wasn’t the feeling that I thought there would be with something like this two plus years in the making.
As far as I could tell, the reaction among fans was generally positive. The majority seemed to be alright with the changes made. Not ecstatic, mind you, but alright. And there were, of course, a small portion that hated the changes. At least, that’s what I took away from the myriad of media outlets that I checked in on in the days leading up to and following the revealing of the new Browns uniforms.
As it pertained to the changes with the jerseys, I have to admit that I’m a traditionalist. I may be in the so called “lost generation” of Browns fans due to the fact that I happened to be born in the late 1980’s, but on things like this I am as old as old can be. With the exception of the “AL” that was on the sleeve for a period of time and the solid brown poopy pants bottoms that we have been wearing for selective games the past few years, I’ve had absolutely no issue with the Browns’ uniforms. In fact, I’ve loved the uniforms.
Detaching from History
I’ve always taken pride in what the professional football team in Cleveland, Ohio, has worn. That the players I watched as kid in the 1990’s were wearing pretty much the same thing that the players my grandparents watched in the 1940’s were wearing. That the simple brown and simple white jersey that Otto Graham and Jim Brown had on while they were dominating the league and cementing the foundation of our franchise, were the same simple jersey worn by everyone from Brian Sipe through Bernie Kosar through the cornucopia of disappointing players we’ve had since the rebirth.
I know that we’ve been incomprehensibly bad for the past fifteen years, but I always took solace in our history. A history that I was not around to experience, but a history that I was proud of. A history that made me fall even more in love with this team. I may have had to watch Charlie Frye and Colt McCoy, but I knew deep down that countless Hall of Fame players wore the same jersey that those stiffs were wearing. And that those players had won championships, played at an exceptionally high level, and built the foundation for the team that generations of Clevelanders would love to no end.
As silly as it may sound, I took pride in the fact that this city fought the mighty giant that is the NFL back when our team was stolen from us, and we won. We got back our name, our history, our colors, and, by extension, our jerseys. That was, and continues to be, a big deal. Something that we should all be eternally proud of, no matter how bad the current incarnation of the Browns may be. I admit, I didn’t know the gravity of the situation when I signed the “Save Our Browns” petition in the Convocation Center at Cleveland State as an eight year old. I had no concept of what was going on. I knew who Bernie Kosar was because of my dad and I knew that I always played the AFC Pro Bowl team in my Super Nintendo version of Madden football because Eric Metcalf was the kick returner. I may not have had a real clue of what the Browns were and what they meant, but I was eight. Sue me.
I would end being among the first generation of kids to grow up, in part, without the Browns in Cleveland since before the Second World War. And when that reality inevitably hit me when the team returned, there was only so much I could cling to. Winning football sure wasn’t one of those things. Every single generation before mine experienced winning Browns football at one point or another. We had Dwight Clark and Carmen Policy and about five million awful, disappointing players. But we also had the jersey. The jersey we fought for as the citizens of little old Cleveland, Ohio, and beyond. And the name, and the history, and the tradition. Those were things that we wouldn’t let be stripped from us, even while the actual team that had been a civic treasure for half a century was ostensibly playing in Baltimore.
That’s the kind of thing that we can, and should, be eternally proud of. I may have signed that petition as an unknowing eight year old, but that was an unprecedented fan movement of people of all ages. And we won. We fought the good fight against a heartless corporate entity, and we won. We got as much back as was realistically possible, and the colors were part of that. The uniforms were part of that. The team in Baltimore may have had some of our players and some of our front office, but they didn’t get to wear the brown and orange that so many great and memorable players had worn for decades on the shore of Lake Erie.
So that’s where I’m coming from with this whole new jersey thing. If you can’t tell at this point, I have always felt that there was no need to change anything. Sadly, I didn’t inherit a company that sells fossil fuels, so I guess I really have no say in the matter. From what I’ve gathered over the past couple weeks, a uniform change was one of the first items on the agenda when Jimmy Haslam took over ownership of the Browns. I may not have thought, and still think, that it was something needed, but the reality was that it was happening. And it has happened. And my overall reaction can pretty much be summed up with, “meh”.
I don’t think the new uniforms are great. I don’t the new uniforms are awful. I wish I could have a more substantive take on this, but I just don’t. They’re alright. That’s it. There are some things I like and some things I don’t. The “Cleveland” on the front and the “Browns” down the leg? I like it. The overall look of the jerseys? Not so much. The different color combinations? Somewhat interesting. The fact that we have some more brown/orange combinations? Pretty good.
All in all, I would say that the whole new uniform and logo thing was handled adequately by the team. It was completely unneeded in my opinion, but they did an adequate job. Not fantastic. Not abysmal. Adequate. For this current Browns regime, that can probably be chalked up as a win.
Tomorrow: Perception of the Browns heading into the Draft.
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