Heck, it would be Rick Hunt.
I met Rick back in September 1996, during the early days of the Browns hiatus. I had fallen in with a group of Browns fans on America Online and Usenet calling themselves the BFWWN (Browns Fans Worldwide Network), and we talked about our beloved Browns every day.
These were hard-core fans. These were the true believers who couldn't leave behind their Dawgs, even when a chasm of years was lying before them.
When the team was stolen in 1995, Browns fans poured out en masse to protest. Protests via the still-young Internet were a new idea in the mid-90s, but the BFWWN helped lead the charge. Clogged up fax machines, endless emails, and tens of thousands of names on petitions helped tilt the balance to the fans, and allow Cleveland to do what no other city had ever done.
The BFWWN were a group of Browns fans who wouldn't take "No" for an answer, and, in the words of my friend Pablus, Rick Hunt was the "MVP of the BFWWN".
The team was returned, the protests died down and the waiting game began.
Eight years later, few of the hundreds of thousands of fans who will pour into Cleveland Browns Stadium will have heard of the BFWWN, or the part that Rick played. But they all owe a bit of a debt to this big man with a ready smile.
* * *
As happy as I am to be part of 3,000+ fans who have posted on the Bernies Insiders forums, I still sometimes feel a twinge of nostalgia for the dark days of 1996-7 when there were 30-40 hard core fans sending messages back and forth over low-tech AOL bulletin boards and email.
Shortly before the old Stadium was demolished, the Cleveland Browns Trust, or whatever group was trying to keep us from storming NFL headquarters at the time, held an event called "The Final Play". This was shortly before the old Stadium was to be demolished and the weekend event was designed to allow Browns fans to tromp through the Stadium one last time. Thanks to the efforts of some of our online club, we decided to get together in-person over that weekend and meet each other.
Rick and Terry Hunt came up all the way from Baltimore, where Rick was President of the Baltimore Browns Backers, and joined the group for the weekend.
Back then, being a Browns fan in Baltimore wasn't an easy thing. Art Modell was getting desperate positive spin in the local press. There was occasional taunting from Baltimore fans too young to remember the pain of the Colts departure.
I was in a constant state of peeved aggression in 1996, and I had the luxury of being surrounded by like-minded Browns fans in Cleveland. I can't imagine what it must have been like for Dawgs in Baltimore.
Fans in the Baltimore Backers signed their messages "FBEL" in those days. "From Behind Enemy Lines".
A bunch of us went down to the stadium, toured the facility, talked to each other about our memories, and went through the place one last time. We got to walk through the tunnel that led from the locker room to the field. The players who talk about that experience were right… coming out of that tightly enclosed corridor onto the playing field (crowd noise was played as you came out) was an awe-inspiring thing.
I talked to Rick a bit over The Final Play weekend. He left an impression with me which has stuck ever since.
He was a big guy, the sort you would love to have by your side in a scrap, but had a hearty laugh and a love of his Browns that radiated all around him. You could sense his passion for his team and their fans.
Rick Hunt - not guys wearing masks on the television - has always been the face of the Dawg Pound for me.
For my part, back in 1996, I had a strange hobby of running a web site called "Greedwatch.com". A lot of the stories were about Art Modell's early misadventures in Baltimore, and I tried to poke fun at our betrayers and other Stadium-extorting NFL owners.
You had to be there, I guess.
Before they left Cleveland to head back to Maryland, I gave Rick and Terry some of the only Greedwatch.com sweatshirts ever printed up. I had about eight of them, including two XXLs. Rick got one of those. I still have the other.
I figured that Rick and Terry would do me right by wearing them down in Baltimore. Rick didn't look like the type of guy a Ravens fan would want to pick a fight with.
I gave them the shirts from the trunk of my car, and said good-bye to Rick and Terry.
Later, through their friend Bob, I provided the Baltimore Backers with web space to build their site. My heart was always with all those unlucky Browns fans who suffered through three football-less years while the Ravens sucked tax money out of their wallets.
* * *
Rick died last week.
It was an accident. A young man driving a truck in the early morning hours careened off the road onto the shoulder where Rick was walking. State Route 16.
I read an article in a local paper, where Rick's restaurant employees mourned his passing. "He was comical, easygoing, a nice guy," one said.
"We really were just like family." said another, "He would always walk us out to our cars when we closed, always very protective of us."
Yeah, that sounds like Rick.
Internet Browns fans in 1996 were like an extended family as well. Rick was like the funny, tough big brother.
I don't know if there are sports bars in heaven, but if there are, I know Rick has managed to get a place between the bar and the big screen TV.
Save me a seat, brother.