The young man, energized both by alcohol and my Cleveland Browns license plate, stuck his head out of the window, offering his thoughts. They were (paraphrasing) as follows: "Brownssszzzah muzzaf****a! Yeah!".
Leaving me with those words, he and his companion continued their wobbly drive down Route 306 in Mentor. They appeared to have been quenching their thirst at our local Cleats(tm) Sports Bar.
I had responded to his sarcastic cheering with a sort of virtual fist bump. There we were, two Browns fans linked by joking about the losing team we shared in common.
There's nothing else to do, really. We may not have any wins, but we at least have a dark sense of humor to fill the void.* * *
I've been on the other side of this, you know.
Despite following the Indians and Browns from the time I was in third grade, my seminal experiences as a fan were in college, where I was able to get into the Ohio State student section for free, or for cheap, or whatever. This really peaked, in terms of fun and pure drunken frivolity, when I was in grad school and had long since stopped caring much about my GPA.
Even in those days, Earle Bruce's Buckeyes would pound ferociously on the Big Ten's underlings until their fateful yearly loss to Michigan. About the time we were up 42-0 against Indiana, or Northwestern, or whichever Little Eight team made the mistake of entering our stadium, the activities in the student section had become far more interesting than the battle on the field.
I didn't think much about how rough it was for fans tracking these perennial also-rans.
I remember Northwestern fans, though, following a team that was repeatedly thrashed as relentlessly the Browns were earlier today, fighting back through sheer academic snobbery. "That's alright, that's OK", they would chant, "You'll work for us someday".
Pity us poor Browns fans, though. What chant do we have to snipe back at the annually fortunate people in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, who get to enjoy near-yearly trips to the NFL playoffs? What quips do with have to answer the banal taunts as their cretin underclass descends on our forums several times a year?
Not much. Sure, we can come up with some jibes about their cities, a tough stretch in a community as racked by the recession as Cleveland has been. We'll never admit defeat to our rivals.
But it sure would be nice if the football team we fought to win back gave us a little ammo more frequently than, say, once a decade.
I give the team a couple thousands dollars I don't have every year for tickets I can't use and can't sell. Got something for me in return? Anything?
A love affair needs to go both ways, or it's just stalking. Sometimes I feel like the Browns have taken out a restraining order on their fan base.
* * *
The yinzer takeover of Cleveland continues, emboldened a little more each year by Steeler domination of the struggling Browns franchise. Steeler fans move about the community with bumper stickers on their pickup trucks. They all drive pick-up trucks, for some reason. Presumably to haul around all those Lombardi trophies.
It seemed like half the commercials during today's Browns-Ravens game would display Steeler gear, if anything. Well, Sprint NOW Network, you and your Steeler-fan infested mobile social network can just live without me, hmmmm? Bah! They have no idea how easily I'm offended.
This week on the radio show, I proposed a "Flip off a Steeler fan Week", wherein we would all be asked to flip the bird in the direction of at least one Northeast Ohio Steeler fan per day to try to make them less confident of their personal safety. It doesn't seem to have picked up much interest. Whether that's because local Browns fans are no longer inspired, or because they recognize the proposal as being so lame as to fail as "sophomoric" is uncertain at this point.
All I know is that I'm feeling increasingly alone in a world shaded black and urine. Hold me.
* * *
I am writing to let you know that I don't want to renew my subscription on 1 Oct… I have been a member since 2005 and a reader longer than that. This cancellation has nothing to do with your content or site. I have always enjoyed reading your articles. This has to do with my decision to no longer follow the Browns. I have been a fan for over 45 years (the last 27 I have lived out of state). I just can't see wasting anymore time/heartache on this franchise/ownership.
I feel like I am watching the movie Major League and the owner is losing on purpose to move the team. Maybe he can have the first team in England, since he likes it so much over there.
Please ensure my membership does not get renewed on 1 Oct because I am done caring what this team does from this day forward.
I get a lot of these. It's cool that they take the time to let me know, personally, that they appreciate our efforts chronicling a moribund franchise, and that they're pulling their financial support for our efforts simply out of disgust for the team, and not our work.
There are certainly nights I lay awake wondering why I've put so much of my life into building a good website for a bad team.
I can't blame these fans, though, any of them. I can't point my fingers and call them disloyal or "fair weather". They've been through a lot and stayed a lot longer than many other people would. They've just had enough.
I've done it, too. I walked away from the Cleveland Indians a few years ago, after seeing first-hand how they ran their organization. I got a little too close, peeked under the rug, and saw all the roaches scurrying around. I dropped the rug and fled.
I haven't watched an Indians game in three years, after a lifetime of following their trials and tribulations from low ebb to low ebb. Even with the glorious late-90s to justify three decades of dedication and money thrown in their direction, I had enough of burning my time and money for the benefit of the Indians organization. Team owner Larry "The Lump" Dolan has done little since to convince me that I made a bad decision.
I first started following the Indians in 1971. When I was in high school, I could recite every starting pitcher that been through their rotation over the anemic decade of the 70s. Even when away at college, I used to keep yearly scrapbooks, full of box scores, which I clipped out of the USA Today or the Plain Dealer. I still have a box full of press clippings from 1995 somewhere.
But, in 2007, after 36 years of near-worshipful tracking of their lame organization, I walked away, and haven't looked back. They didn't care about me, I didn't care about them. So there. Goodbye. I'd like to say that I've looked back with remorse, but, honestly, I haven't.
Who am I to tell these Browns fans to stick around for years more of this? Who am I to tell them to stay? I can't.
* * *
My friend Joe Caggiano wants to make Browns tunes for "The Next Generation". God bless 'im, he keeps going even if the team is horrible. He would rather produce a modern "Bernie Bernie" than songs about the team losing. Here's his latest.
* * *
The NFL, of course, is paying for their mistakes.
Browns fans who were with us in 1995 and 1999, when we sent out warnings about permanent damage the team and league were doing to their fan base, could now point and laugh, if only the joke were funny.
NFL teams in a number of cities will have hard times selling out their stadiums this year, with Jacksonville being a forerunner of more to come. Cleveland and Detroit will both struggle for local sellouts under the weight of losing franchises and dire economic times.
Teams took advantage of various boom cycles over the past fifteen years to load up on high-priced seating in their stadiums, pushing out blue-collar fans with PSLs and decreasing affordability by the year. Having been pushed out, those fans are less likely to return as high-priced seats go un-purchased in tougher times.
The NFL has no one to blame but themselves. They replaced fanatics with spectators and are now paying the price.
I'm guessing that those of us who saw this coming won't get an "Attaboy" from the league. What we'll get is a lockout in 2011 as teams and players spar over decreased resources and the demands of high living.
What they should be doing is cutting ticket costs across the board, keeping the games on local TV despite open seats, and adjusting to new realities like the rest of us have had to do. Do more with less, work harder even when the return is less.
But that's not how the NFL thinks. So many in the league are detached from common economic reality that they have no idea how to react.
A lockout in 2011 will be suicidal, especially here in Cleveland. Seeing it coming isn't going to make the carnage any easier to view.
* * *
This team, in this division, is still far away.
We can point to statistics, as guest writer Alex did so effectively over the weekend, to convince us that Eric Mangini's 0-3 start is prelude to better things to come. We can tell ourselves that many young QBs struggled in their first starts, and tell ourselves that we've played teams that are now a combined 9-0.
The smart thing to do is to preach patience. Teams are rarely as bad as they look when losing, and rarely as good as they look when winning. Mangini has a system, and it's going to take him a while to get the players that fit the system. If he ever does, of course: neither Mangini and Kokinis have a track record of player selection success that we can point to with any real confidence.
This fan base, however, has been through this a lot. Team supporters had to preach patience in 1999, and again in 2001, and again in 2005, and again this year.
They're tired of it, and have every right to be. More than that, though, nothing they hear in the Mangini-hostile media gives them any reason to be confident.
The vultures who hate the team's head coach – and they are not few in number - didn't know they would be able to circle so quickly. They can scarcely control their glee.
* * *
If anyoneg thinks that it takes a petition or angry calls to gleeful-at-the-despair AM radio talkers to get Randy Lerner to sell the team, they're wrong.
Lerner, if anything, takes his stewardship of the Browns very seriously. Very emotionally. He has a photo of empty bleachers in his office to remind him everyday of what Browns fans had to go through in the mid-90s, and how important this team is to their fans. I can't imagine anyone else who wants this team to succeed more than he does.
Here, in this town, we've been the butt of jokes. We've been through eras of rust, and revival, and scandal, and collapse. The real unemployment rate in Cleveland is well above the national average, our city's schools are underfunded and troubled. Young men in our streets throw their lives away on drugs, or gangs, or whatever helps them escape their gray reality.
For a lot of us, football is something that pulls our disparate town together. Something that takes us away, for a few hours at least, from the troubled times in which we live.
Randy Lerner knows how important football is to the people here. He knows how important it was to his father.
I am convinced that, if he feels he is not the right man to carry the franchise forward, he will hand it off to someone he thinks can do it better. He won't grab onto this team to stay in the limelight, or for his ego, or for whatever reason obscenely rich men insist on owning NFL franchises.
But he'll do his best to make things better, first. We owe him at least this season to try with his men in place before calling for him to leave.
Randy Lerner is not a carpetbagger. He is not an Art Modell, basking in the reflected light of fame until it becomes financially inconvenient. He's a guy who hopes he can figure out how to bring a winner to this town.
If you want to write a sign, or start a petition, or yell and scream on the radio, go ahead. Lerner won't need to be chased out with pitchforks. If you grab one, count me out.
* * *
We're not going to go anywhere. I'm not going anywhere.
If you want to stick it out with this team, we'll be here for you. Next week, and the week after, and into the off-season.
I've already heard from fans who don't sound at all like they're going to call it quits, even if I'm so often exposed to their opposite number. Good for you.
Here, we're lifers. It's in our blood. We'll keep coming back until there's nothing to come back to. Even then, as we proved in 1995, we'll keep going.
As I told another member of the OBR team a while back, "someone has to be around to turn out the lights after the last fan leaves".
In the next week or two, the media will turn their attention to the Cavaliers, and we'll be left alone to track what, if any, progress this team can make.
We hope you're still along for the ride. There's a lot of work to do.