If you read the Orange and Brown Report, by now you are well aware that the Browns are hosting the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. You also know that this is a critical battle on which the playoff dreams of the 2007 season hinge. You know that if the Browns win, they will continue to control their destiny as far as the postseason goes, and they could even clinch if things break just right. You also know that if the Browns lose, they will have an uphill climb to achieve postseason play. You've read the words "big game" numerous times in regard to this matchup.
All of the facts and hyperbole about this game are true. But rather than write about the matchups or strategy or personnel decisions, allow me to interject a less-than-objective take on this game. Lost in most of the hype is what this very important game represents to a loyal, yet beleaguered fanbase.
My earliest memories of the Browns start after the Golden Era that started in 1946 and went through the days before the AFL-NFL merger. Let's consider for a moment what the fans of the Cleveland Browns have endured since then. Mike Phipps. Red-Right 88. Paul McDonald. The Drive. The Fumble. The Forward Lateral. Mike Oliphant. The 1990 team. Bill Belichick. The ouster of Bernie Kosar. The Betrayal. The Move. Three years without the Browns. The return of the team under circumstances that hamstrung the franchise. Carmen Policy. Dwight Clark. Tim Couch. Courtney Brown. Butch Davis. Gerard Warren. William Green.
Sure, the 2002 season provided a pleasant surprise. The Browns bucked the odds by winning five of their last seven games, some with very lucky circumstances to sneak into the playoffs when everything fell just right. There was a Hail Mary play in Jacksonville. A last minute drive in Baltimore. A home victory over the Falcons. Consider the heroes of those games: Couch, Quincy Morgan, Jamel White, Mark Campbell, Green, Kelly Holcomb, Earl Holmes. All are just distant memories now.
To me, the last successful run for the Browns ended at a game in San Francisco in 1990. A veteran Browns team that was used to winning consistently lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the 49ers. The Browns fell to 2-6. The team completely collapsed and wasn't even competitive in another game that year. The era of the Browns of the late 1980s was over. Other than the 1994 playoff season, a team many fans never embraced because of Kosar's banishment, and the 2002 team, there has been little to be excited about since that fateful day by the bay.
Cleveland native Joe Jurevicius understands. All week he has talked about the fans. All season, any time he has scored, he has saluted the fans. He's given every thing he has this year, and he is the embodiment of what it means to be a Browns fan. He is living every fan's dream. He knows that ultimately, the fans are what it is all about, despite an era of PSLs and stadium naming deals and TV coverage nobody can receive.
I have written about the Cleveland Browns online since 1993, before the advent of the World Wide Web. Before today's sports media overload that gives us much more information about our teams than we would have ever thought possible 20 years ago. When out of town fans poured over reports from those of us in Ohio fortunate enough to have information from newspapers and local TV. For those of you who have stayed loyal to your team through so many bad breaks and poor management decisions, I salute each and every one of you. We are all desperate to taste success after far too many years of heartbreak.
So as we head into a game for which we have waited for many a long time, take a moment to think about the events that have brought us here to week 14 of the 2007 season. Treasure the memories of the games this season that have gotten us to this point. The special performances of Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Joshua Cribbs, Eric Steinbach, Joe Thomas, Robaire Smith, and each of the players who have thrilled us thus far. Think of those family and friends that have shared these games with you and how your common love of the Browns brought you closer together. This is why so many of us fought so hard to save the Browns.
This team is young. It is learning to win. It would not be a tremendous surprise, especially considering the ghosts of Cleveland sports teams past, to see them not fulfill this season of dreams.
But if any fans deserve the consummation of a fairy tale scenario, it's the fans of the Cleveland Browns.