I left Ohio over ten years ago and come back rarely.
It's not that I don't like Ohio. I defend it often, I watch the Drew Carey show, I still hold a valid Ohio drivers license, and wear the brown, orange and white whenever possible. Heck, the only girls I ever liked were from here (what does that say about me?). But circumstance, and what I do when not writing these insipid articles keep me where I am.
When I graduated from high school and moved to Chicago to start college, the Browns didn't seem to matter much – I was in an NFC town. I just wasn't paying as much attention then as I had when I was younger. In a previous incarnation, I was glued to the tube watching Sam Rutigliano and Brian Sipe give people heart attacks. My move to Chicago, and the ho-hum Belichick era made me tune out. Soon enough the betrayal came and I was devastated.
It was like the marriage was fine and then I got the divorce papers in the mail. I felt guilty for not doing enough, that somehow I did something wrong, that somehow I just wasn't there and should have been. So many a dramatic scene has been written for film... mine was the same except substitution of tears with genuine shock.
I did what any fan would have done.
I left the country.
Yes, really (not exactly for those reasons though); my act of football cowardice moved me to the north of England. As fate would have it, a strange thing happened to me while I was enjoying the good pint of stout - a renewed interest in all things NFL.
But here was the problem: it was now 1999, and I needed my football fix.
I was lucky to have a nice computer, and a fast connection to the Internet. I could follow all the news, and get the radio broadcasts from the US (again, baseball loses, MLB restrictions on web casting at the time never allowed me to keep up).
It was comfort food for me. I hadn't been face-to-face with another American in a long time because for some reason Americans rarely make it north of Milton Keynes. I needed to plug back into that drug called the United States. Strangely enough, listening to the commercials made me the most homesick. Never again will ads for patio enclosures seem so alluring.
I was never an analytical football watcher. I knew if the one guy threw the ball and it was caught that was good, and if someone ran a long while, that was good as well. I never needed to know more and I rarely understood half of what the announcer was talking about, just as long as the team without the logo won, all remained at peace in the universe. Like stock market watchers, if the number for our side went up, I was happy.
This of course, depended on that all-too-important aspect of actually seeing the action as it went by, something impossible if your only understanding now comes from the radio. I felt like a blind man in hall of mirrors: what's the point? So, now, me, in a foreign country, with a computer, and a broadband connection, and needing a Browns fix – any port in a storm is what they say.
Here with only he radio to feed my craving, I actually needed to listen and understand what the heck was going on which required some imagination. To me, the sweetest irony of it all was that for all this technology the whole experience felt so old-timey. Listening to games on the radio harks back to an age that I was never part, but like a Norman Rockwell, remains in the popular conscience.
I imagined a bunch of guys at a barbershop in Cleveland who couldn't get tickets to see the game hanging out for the afternoon. If given half a chance I would've subscribed to the Saturday Post.
Nonetheless, through this experience I learned about football. I could tell (more like imagine) a 3-4 from 4-3 and knew what a post pattern was. I could tell with some accuracy the depth charts for every team in the division. Buying Madden 2000 during a short trip back to the states helped.
Now, enter Bruce.
I lived in a dorm, and because of my studies, didn't associate much. So, on Sunday evenings, and sometimes at really late hours (remember, I'm at least five hours ahead and therefore was very thankful that for those first couple of years most of the games were at 1 o'clock EST). I would play my computer-radio very loud so I could do the washing while I listened (imagination will only take you so far). One day I get a knock at the door by this somewhat large leather-clad metallica-shirt wearin' biker guy whose says in his best west-coast accent, "Dude!, are you listening to football?", and I'm like, "Duh."- a friendship could not have started on better terms.
Bruce was from Seattle, loved the Seahawks and the Mariners, and hadn't been home much since he came to England in the early 80s (a horrible time to arrive). He told many a story about a team I considered a non-entity. But he was passionate about it and soon we were taking over the dorm television that had Sky Cable. Sky played the featured FOX game in real-time and was a heck of a lot better than having to watch Monday night football on Channel 4 on Thursday nights at 2am (which is fair enough considering Rupert Murdoch owns both).
This happy marriage went on for a while, and when we got the schedule for 2002, our teams were finally going to play – bets were made, but as John Lennon once sang, "life is what happens to you while you're making other plans".
It was during the off season that I learned the British government slashed the funding made available to overseas students in the humanities and I had no other choice but to return home. My flight plan was made to take me from Glasgow to Reykjavik, Iceland and then Baltimore-Washington International just when the game was to start. I stayed a few days in Iceland for the heck of it and was to leave mid-day on September 11.
Iceland is four hours ahead, I had my bags packed when I turned on the television to check the time and see the weather, the first tower was coming down.
I wasn't coming back to the place I'd left.
"Dude, you alright?"
"Yeah, I think so.", I said.
"I was worried, I thought you were transferring in New York or something, everyone here is asking if you're alright. You won the bet. We should go see the Browns sometime."
Thing was, I never bet against the Browns and we lost. Two weeks later there was a 20-pound note in the mail.
I'm saving it for when we play again in 2003.
Some notes on things I feel will happen this season:
- In a strange twist of fate, the Baltimore Colts will play the Houston Oilers in the Relocation Bowl and the Boston Patriots will play host to the LA Raiders in the Sort-Of Relocation Bowl.
- In the spirit of the Queen city, the Bengal's team colours will be changed from the confusing orange and black to a more playful and gay-friendly rainbow. After the single largest defeat in team history, Bengal's owner Brown will be heard to say, "That was worse than Stonewall."
- Looking to add more attractions to the already festive atmosphere at Cleveland Stadium, team owner Al Lerner will ask a local carnival to add a new "Peg the Referee" game where actual referees are asked hover over a vat of lemon juice while willing fans throw five pound bags of BBs at their eyes. Lerner will later comment, "It's like a metaphor, or allegory, or something like that."
- The decision to no longer sell plastic bottles at Browns Stadium will be rendered moot during "Free Boomerang Night".