WADHAMS, Mich. – There are moments in life, interludes as fleeting as a lover's first romantic whisper, that remain indelible memories woven into the fabric of our lives.
Rarely do we know it at the time. Each is unique, and sometimes shared, but it is often unrealized until the sea of time has long since raged ceaselessly onward.
For most, these brief moments are but a handful, and never to come again. Memory of them is stirred by a vision … an odd sound … a distinctive odor. Some sort of sensory stimulus instantaneously triggers recollection of that treasured, pleasurable instance we often forget, but dearly long to repeat. Then, just as quickly as it came, the memory is gone, elusively fluttering away like dandelion fuzz on a spring breeze.
Every so often, maybe not more than once in a generation, something comes along to renew that thing we thought long buried. It's as if we've stepped back in time to a place or moment seemingly lost forever.
For me, it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
The year was 1977, and George Lucas's "Star Wars" had exploded onto the cultural scene like a laser shot from Han Solo's blaster. A mere sprite of a boy, my world changed overnight into a universe of light sabers, wookies, X-wing fighters and the Force. My large imagination, like that of neighborhood chums, was instantly mainlining the fantastic.
Six year and thousands of dollars in tie-in toys later, the saga of Luke and Leia and Darth and Yoda was at an end. While still available on videocassette, the fantasy world was quickly taking a backseat to things like football and girls.
Adulthood and responsibility crept upon me. College, jobs, wives, children, pets, bills, cars … the list is endless. Star Wars, like G.I. Joe and other Gen-X childhood staples, was packed away into the recesses of my mind, only to be brought out for pop culture references at parties … and the occasional dream of promised things to come.
Then came 1999. The Artist Formerly and Again Known (For Now) as Prince told us we'd party that year. He was right. At century's end, Star Wars and the Cleveland Browns returned, a two-barreled blast from the past.
Life was good. Then reality set in. "Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace" was by far the weakest of the saga, and the Browns were a motley, pathetic collage of has-beens and never-will-be's.
Still, it was good to have a couple old friends back. I had the privilege of being there on opening night for the movie and, later, the Browns official return to the league. Those moments were electric.
I sat in a theater in Pickerington, Ohio, and was instantly sent back in time. The house lights dimmed, the Twentieth Century Fox march played … that familiar black screen with the blue letters … "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" … then BOOM! John Williams' legendary opening score. I was a kid again. The smile on my face couldn't have been chiseled away with an ax. The memories were on me like a Jamir Miller blitz.
After more than 15 years, I'd nearly forgotten the force (no pun intended) the opening of a new Star Wars film in the theater can have on a fan. Pure, unadulterated joy. Never mind the silly story, lousy child actor and hokey dialogue. Star Wars, a pillar of a generation's youth, was back. That was all that mattered.
Critics defecated on the film from a great height. They called it a flop. Percy Bysshe Shelley once called critics "a stupid and malignant race." He was right. "Phantom Menace" wasn't "Citizen Kane" but it made more than $400 million. Context, people. "Ishtar," "Condorman" and "Glitter" were flops. "Menace" was the first two hours of what will be a 12-hour tale. Don't watch the first five minutes of "Seinfeld" then tell me the show sucks.
A few months later, on a pleasant September night, I was in new Cleveland Browns Stadium. After three years in limbo, the Browns were again among the living. Through the good times and the bad, through joy and tears, the Browns had been one of the few constants in my life. Every Sunday, like clockwork, they were there for my enjoyment.
Darth B. Modell tried to take that away. But the Dark Side isn't more powerful. His evil ways profited for a time. The team's fans may have been encased in carbonite and given to Jabba, but Al "Solo" Lerner and "Chewie" Carmen Policy swooped in for the rescue.
The armored space station Darth Modell secretly constructed in Baltimore may have obliterated the Alderaan-like New York Giants, but a Rebel Alliance-esque team of underdog Browns rose up in 2001 and smited the black-clad evil-doers. Tim Couchwalker twice endeared himself to fans everywhere with his roughhewn, young Jedi-like ways in sweeping the dreaded Ravens.
Okay, that's enough over-the-top Browns/Star Wars silliness. You get the point. Let me get back on track. Where was I? Oh, yes, the 1999 season opener. The game that September night was ugly, far worse than "Phantom Menace." Pittsburgh – a city populated with the same unsavory cast as the Star Wars cantina and Jabba's palace – stomped Cleveland 43-0 that night.
Again, it didn't matter. Just to see those orange helmets emerge from the tunnel again was all the mattered. Pro football was back in Cleveland. Victory would come.
Three years later, the Browns are expected to be legitimate contenders for a playoff spot, and early word is that "Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones" is much better than the last offering. I see a trend here …
Now that the Indians have gone the way of the Old Republic, Sundays in Cleveland will again be the sole property of the Browns. And the long-sought victories, and perhaps that elusive Super Bowl berth, may just be a light saber stroke away.
Until then, let's enjoy watching both sagas unfold.
May the Browns be with you.Doc Gonzo is a former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor. Like Obi-won Kenobi on Tatooine, he now lives in a remote part of Michigan's Thumb, safe from knaves, fools, Ratbirds and the occasional Dark Side Jedi. He can be reached at email@example.com.