There was a time when being a Browns fan in Rochester meant you were on top of the football world. It was all good. Every game was on local television, the Browns had the biggest stars in the game and they won, boy did they win. We may as well have been in Cleveland. We even had the weekly Touchdown Club show complete with the Brownie Elf!
That was in an era (the 1950s and ‘60s to be exact) when NFL teams made their own television deals. The Browns had the Rochester market.
How times have changed! In case you didn't know it, today Rochester is a suburb of Buffalo—at least that's what the local media (or should I say the Buffalo Bills western division marketing department) would have you believe.
But from those early roots, the devotion of Rochester Browns fans to their team continues in spite of the obstacles. This was never more evident than Saturday night at the Photo City Browns Backer Brownsfest in Rochester, NY featuring fine Browns Safety Sean Jones and Kick Returner deluxe Joshua Cribs.
"I have been a Browns fan my whole life, it was passed on to me by my dad," said Steve Dwyer, a long-time Photo City Browns Backer. Today Steve is passing on the passion to his seven year old son, Clayton Logan. Is that name a coincidence? Dad Steve had a couple of favorite players he rooted for on the Browns, Clay Matthews and Dave Logan. But Steve just liked the names of course; no connection to the Browns, hmmm….The passion runs deep in these parts.
"I love going to Cleveland except we have to go through Buffalo," Photo City President Jim Lee joked. Jim lauded the intelligence of his backers club, which boasts 325 members, making it the fifth largest club in America. He said his members are really into the draft.
Jim has his own thoughts on the draft and thinks the Browns first pick should be Adrian Peterson. "I want Adrian Peterson in the worst way, he is definitely a stud," Jim explained.
Jim had a lot of company regarding his thoughts on the Oklahoma running back, as Jones, Cribbs and surprise guest Antonio Perkins all think he should be the Browns first pick. "I definitely want my boy from Oklahoma," Perkins added. All were quick to say, however, that they have high hopes for new free agent runningback Jamal Lewis.
Some changes may be in the offing for the Browns offense this year. Cribbs, in particular, expressed excitement about working with offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski. The Kent State gradf is optimistic Browns fans are going to see his talents utilized as a regular part of the offense in a manner that goes beyond gadget plays.
"I want to be used as a multi-purpose back, screens, catching the ball out of the backfield, in the slot… sort of how Reggie Bush is used," Cribbs said.
It looks like the Browns may have a hole to fill in the punt return role. Cribbs offered that, if the season started today, he would be number one on the depth chart for that spot and is confident in his ability to do the job.
One has to wonder, though how much of Cribbs is there to go around?
"Will they use me as a special teams guru this year or more offense, because more offense means less on special teams? " Cribbs asked.
Perhaps Perkins, a stellar punt returner at Oklahoma, can step up and be a candidate for that role. The third-year vet says he is willing to show the coaches he can be an effective returner if he is called upon. But even Perkins admits that it is Cribbs' job at this point.
Defensive continuity was the theme of the day for Brownsfest guest Sean Jones. Jones stated that just being able to work in the same system for three consecutive seasons is a good thing for his unit. "What we need to do better this year is stop the run; if we stop the run I know we will be able to stop the pass."
Another piece of the puzzle on defense could include the return of cornerback Gary Baxter. Baxter is attempting an unprecedented comeback from two torn patellar tendons. Jones confirmed that Baxter is back working out at the Browns complex in Berea and is aiming for a return to the field by week one.
While the Browns continue to put the pieces together for the upcoming season, fans of the Brown and Orange in Rochester continue their efforts to follow the team while residing in enemy territory.
"It is tough being a Browns fan in Rochester. We don't get any coverage, the Browns are never on," said Howard Brenner, who helped found the Photo City Browns Backers in 1991. To get news on the Browns, Brenner visits the OBR, reads the Cleveland newspapers on line and watches the NFL Network. On gameday, Howard and will go to one of the local watering holes with approximately 75 of his closest friends.
Bruce Ricigliano, co-owner of the Victor Village Inn, a noted Browns sports bar just outside of Rochester, features the NFL ticket and the Browns can be found on virtually every television set. "We have noticed in this area that there are quite a few Browns fans," Ricigliano said. "We had close to 75 people in for the first game" but with the losing the number tailed off a bit.
Another Quinn backer was Jennifer Angell, who resides in Cleveland but drove to Rochester to visit her brother and attend the Brownsfest. "I like Brady Quinn just because he has heart and wants to play for this team. But I don't want them to pull another Tim Couch." She said she would like to see a veteran quarterback brought in for mentoring purposes.
Regardless off who is quarterbacking the Browns, Angell, who is a Browns season ticket holder, said it is awesome following the Browns as a Cleveland native, "you have the support of the whole city."
That is something that Browns fans living in Rochester have to do without. They definitely do not enjoy the support of the local area.
Mike King of Rochester understands that geography doesn't work in the favor of local Browns fans, but he said before advent of the internet it was really hard to get news on the Browns. With outlets such as the OBR, Mike says he can keep up with his favorite team. "I don't even read the local papers anymore," Mike added.
To King, the most important thing is to see the Browns win. He doesn't miss a game as he is an NFL ticket subscriber.
Let's just hope that Phil Savage, Romeo Crennel and company can prove to be as resourceful and determined as their devoted fans in Rochester have been through all of these years.