When Lee Evans was playing football at Bedford High School, he spent Sundays rooting for the Browns.
So did Donte Whitner during his days roaming around the gridiron for Glenville.
But now they yearned for nothing but defeat for their favorite team growing up. Why? Because both played for the Buffalo Bills, who sat just one game behind the Browns in the AFC playoff race with a critical showdown on the horizon.
Evans was a primary receiver and Whitner a safety for the Bills, who could leapfrog over the Browns with a victory by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Most folks were stunned that two teams that had been predicted to languish near the bottom of their divisions were playing for a postseason spot with three games remaining. Evans had heard all about it.
"A lot of people have been calling me and talking about this game for a while," he told the Associated Press. "A Buffalo-Cleveland game with playoff implications. Nobody would've thought that."
Whitner had noticed a tremendous similarity in the fan bases of the two teams. He believed both to be passionate and loyal. He empathized with Browns fans that had suffered watching their team lose five times with a Super Bowl berth on the line. And he understood the pain of Bills fans who had seen their team lose four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
"I bet the fans here in Buffalo feel the same way about this organization as the Cleveland fans feel," Whitner told AP. "They feel so connected and they want them to do well. But it seems like every year they just keep falling short.
"And it's, ‘We need another player and we have a young team, and who are we going to pick in the draft?' People are really tired of that. People want to win. People want to go to the playoffs, have something to cheer about. So it's time to give them something to cheer about around here and stop waiting until next year and making up excuses. Just be a good team."
Or at least beat bad ones. All seven of the Bills' victories had been achieved against opponents with losing records. Only Seattle boasted a winning record among the Browns' victims.
But who was complaining? Certainly not Cleveland fans.
"All our fans deserve this, the city deserves this, at least to have this opportunity," said Browns wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, yet another native Clevelander. "A lot of guys deserved this opportunity we have in front of us. Deep down, I know guys have excitement. But I don't think we're to the point where we can let it out. We've got to finish the job."
The job on this Sunday would be done in conditions better suited for penguins and polar bears.
Hey, who needs yard markers, anyway?
You can always guess where the football is.
When the officials call timeout because they can't see the 50-yard-line, you know Mother Nature is being downright nasty.
Slip-sliding in a blizzard and overcoming the blustery cold, the Browns pitched an 8-0 shutout that eliminated Buffalo from the playoff race and allowed them to continue controlling their own destiny in pursuit of a postseason spot.
And they have Phil Dawson to thank for it. It seemed the only player unaffected by the elements was their veteran placekicker, who sent a 35-yard field goal through a howling wind and the uprights in the first quarter and somehow nailed a 49-yarder in the second quarter to give his team all the points they needed.
The win placed Cleveland into a tie with Pittsburgh for first place in the North Division. But though both teams rested at 9-5, the Steelers held the tiebreaker by virtue of their two head-to-head victories. The Browns could have clinched a playoff berth had Tennessee lost, but the Titans remained alive by winning at Kansas City.
The first shutout of the Bills since 2003 was achieved by conditions Bills coach Dick Jauron called the worst he'd ever experienced and a stout Browns defense. It was also the first 8-0 final in the NFL since the Chicago Cardinals blanked the Minnesota Red Jackets by that score in 1929.
Browns back Jamal Lewis didn't seem to mind. He tromped through the snow 33 times for 163 yards. And somehow Anderson managed to complete nine passes – including six to Braylon Edwards – for 124 yards.
Dawson opened the scoring with his 35-yarder. A snap that sailed over the head of Buffalo punter Brian Moorman, then purposely kicked by him into the stands for a safety rather than a touchdown, made it 5-0. The second Dawson field goal stretched it to 8-0 before a scoreless second half.
The Browns had won. Soon they were out of the cold, secure in the knowledge that they were hot on the trail of a playoff berth.
Bills running back Marshawn Lynch uttered the line of the day:
"It looked like some scene on the Discovery Channel at the North Pole," he told nfl.com.
It did. And the victorious penguins were wearing orange and brown.
When you're winning, everything seems to go your way. And the Browns had now clinched their first winning regular season since 2002 and their second since returning to Cleveland three years earlier.
The conditions? They were ideal for Lewis.
"When I heard the forecast," he said, "the offensive line and I loved it, because it called for a ground attack."
Rookie tackle Joe Thomas echoed those sentiments. And he expressed great appreciation for what Lewis achieved on this blustery afternoon.
"We was perfect for this kind of weather," Thomas said. "He kept his shoulders north and south, put his head down and just knocked guys over. He carried the pile."
Jurevicius looked forward to the game as much as Lewis did, but not for all the same reasons. As a kid who attended Lake Catholic High School, he was accustomed to playing in the snow and cold. But his anticipation was based on where the Browns stood in the standings, not on slipping and sliding on and icy field.
"When you're a kid, you dream about playing in a game like this," Jurevicius told the Associated Press. "Today was the Turkey Bowl or the Christmas Bowl in the backyard when you're wiping snow out of your eyes. This is why I came home – not for the elements – but to play in big games like this."
Though the conditions certainly played a huge role in the ineffectiveness of the Buffalo offense, so did the Cleveland defense. Veteran linebacker Willie McGinest was proud of that fact. He understood that though the postseason would not begin for three weeks, every game would now be a playoff game of sorts for the Browns.
"It's already the playoffs for us," McGinest said. "That's then way we've been looking at these games and that's what we have to keep doing."
He was right. And a game in Cincinnati the following week would again test the Browns' ability to weather the storm.