McBride: Now is Not the Time

Fourteen years later, the pain Art Modell started is still tearing Browns fans apart. As fans battle about whether or not to boycott the kickoff next Monday, OBR publisher Barry McBride urges fans to show their support for the struggling franchise.

It's been fourteen years.

Fourteen years.

A rumor that had filled us with dread and rage was confirmed on November 6,1995. We stood by, impotently, while Parris Glendenning, John Moag, an uncomfortable Al Lerner and others were paraded before cameras to herald the return of football to Baltimore and the sudden prosperity of the previously cash-strapped Art Modell.

That fans in Cleveland were stabbed in the back to compensate for the financial incompetence and filial devotion of the previous Browns owner was a side note at the time.

It didn't take long for Browns fans to put that "side note" front-and-center and do something unprecedented - so badly expose and embarrass the NFL that the city was promised a new franchise in just three years time.

You say you want a revolution? We had one, right here.

It was a revolt without any gray, at least to those of us wearing orange and brown. The sports world's most loyal fans, done genuine harm thanks of the vanity of a man who couldn't bear to step away from the spotlight. Good guys, bad guys. Fans victimized by greed. The lines were very clear.

Fourteen years.

And with every blow-out, every snide remark by a national writer, every reboot of the franchise, we still feel the pain Art Modell created in November of 1995.

* * *

I have not wanted to comment on the proposed protest led by Browns fan Mike Randall for a number of reasons. Among other things, I've never liked publicly disagreeing with other Browns fans. I've always felt we were part of the same team, and needed to speak with as united a voice as possible.

Plus, I and my friends here on the OBR depend on the kindness and support of Browns fans in order to exist. Since about a third of Browns fans are in favor of the boycott, it's just bad business to present opinions with which a large portion of your customer base may violently disagree.

But it's more important, I guess, to be honest.

So, I will be: I ain't with ya on this.

Mike did me the favor of reaching out to me as he started hitting various media outlets to promote his plan. I told him that he needed to be specific in his objectives and that I didn't feel a protest yielding empty chairs for an evening game played by a hopeless 1-7 team was something measurable. Those chairs don't need any help to be empty.

It's not that I think you're bad fans for suggesting it. You're frustrated and, unlike me, you don't have a web site or magazine you can use as a soapbox. I can understand the anger.

What started as an expression of anger somehow mutated into stadium atmosphere items (too much security, ring of honor). Somewhere, fans got a bit of a bait-and-switch. This was about a perpetually incompetent Browns team. Now it's about being able to swear in the Dawg Pound?

I'm on board with making some changes at the Stadium. These are things I agitated for back in 1999, to the extent that ex-Team President Carmen Policy felt the need to mis-lead the media about his email skills and call me a "singular source of complaint". It was a badge I wore with honor.

But you need to call this thing off. What started as an exercise in fan catharsis has turned into, well, I'm not sure what. Any good it can do, debatable at best, is already done.

* * *

I know something about rabble rousing in the name of Cleveland football. In between the media furies of 1995's public revolt and the 1999 return, there were smaller protests you probably never heard about.

On email lists. message boards and services like AOL and Prodigy, a small group of hard-core fans kept talking Browns, poking fun at the Ravens immediate failures, and debating the ethics of franchise theft with folks from the eastern seaboard.

It was back then that I got sucked into a world that later came to consume my career, my free time, and a not inconsiderable portion of my income.

Inspired by those fans still burning the torch in 1996, and some using web knowledge picked up on the job, I started up a Cleveland Browns website. But it wasn't called the OBR, Bernie's Insiders, or even BrownsTNG.com. It was called Greedwatch.

A few old-timers still remember it, but may not remember that the site actually had a purpose, which was to demand "Expansion NOW!", and poke at the NFL's use of Cleveland as a blackmailing tool for existing owners who wanted new stadiums.

Remember being strung along in 1996, 1997, 1998? Each owner who wanted a palatial new edifice, whether it be in Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, or elsewhere could point to Cleveland and hint: "Give me what I want, or I'm pulling out and heading to Ohio".

Each week or month that the NFL owners took advantage of Cleveland's empty spot was another week or month that the new Browns didn't have to build a winning program.

Those of us hanging around then wanted an expansion team and ownership team declared as early as 1997. I remember the "Expansion Now" buttons, the plans to try to get attention. But there weren't many of us, and most had tired of the shouting and fans crying on television.

We could have used some newspaper, TV, or ESPN exposure for our cause. But the issue was too complicated, too hard to explain. It was much more complicated than "we hate having our team be a laughingstock". ESPN didn't care. The Plain Dealer didn't care. AM radio didn't care. Simple issues, expressible in twenty words or less, are their stock in trade.

If you've read Terry Pluto's False Start, you know how this turned out: Cleveland was held open until the last minute. A management team wasn't put in place until very late.

With little time to prepare, the Browns motherlode of 1999 draft picks was squandered and the course was set for a decade of ineptitude. The delay kept Cleveland from what it really deserved - an expansion team with time to get the right general manager and scouts in place.

But some owners got their brand new Stadiums. They glitter in beaten-up cities, beside seacoasts and rivers.

It's forgotten by most, but twelve years ago, an important fan protest that didn't get national or local attention and we still pay the price.

You say you want a revolution? That one came and went, and no one cared.

* * *

Winning in the NFL, last I heard, is hard.

The NFL has the best players, and brightest football minds, all concentrated in a tightly focused zone of intense competition.

Teams can make good decision after good decision, and still fail, because someone else made better ones. Random events, injuries, the bounces of an oblong ball, all pay a role in who wins and who loses on pro sports most competitive arena.

If you can make good choices and still lose, what happens when you make bad ones? What if you can't get the right people?

In this league, you're doomed.

The good news is that the league is structured to allow down teams to bounce back, but, even then, it requires time, hard work, and smart decisions.

The Browns started off ten steps behind in 1999 and have made enough wrong decisions that they have never caught up. The product on the field is horrible and no amount of righteous anger is going to change that. It only changes with time, intelligent decisions, the right organization, and the right people.

Maybe I'm out of touch with new management philosophies, but I'm not aware of any trendy books telling me that people make better decisions when you're yelling at them.

* * *

Once again, a Cleveland Browns news story reveals more about the media than it does anything else.

The media was able to produce ton of stories featuring a handful of fans who want to protest the team's continued struggles.

Not once that I'm aware of did the ESPNs of the world make an effort to find out how many Browns fans actually supported it. They got their story, took their pictures, moved on to the next fracas, probably involving Brett Favre.

Turns out, according to polls and emails we've asked for here, that only about a third of fans think the "boycott" is a good idea. The rest don't, for a variety of reasons.

Thanks to the media doing a horrible job of ferreting out the truth (again), we now have anti-boycott sites springing up to get the message out.

Personally, I'm not crazy about Browns fans turning on each other in a time of stress and frustration for all of us. Let's not smack the heck out of each other. It's another reason we would be well served to call off the boycott.

* * *

I've been lucky to avoid the sort of abuse that has been hurled at other fans who have tried to take their love of the Browns into the public eye. I've read a lot of people slamming Browns fans who dress up and get on camera. Personally, I don't mind these folks at all. Bone Lady is a pretty cool person, for instance. It's nice to have them at the Stadium as part of the atmosphere, in my opinion. It's part of following the Browns.

In my case, for the first seven years I wrote about the Cleveland Browns, I refused to let anyone know my real name. Among other things, I didn't want my trolling on Usenet to somehow find its way back to hit my consulting career.

More than that, though, I've never been comfortable in the spotlight. I don't mind radio, don't mind writing, but I loathe television, mostly because I'm not one to be confused with George Clooney, other than having a mutual ability to paralyze goats with my face. Having people look at me ain't my thang. I don't want to be noticed.

Nothing against folks who are more extroverted. We're just wired differently.

Still, no one told me that being camera-shy meant that I didn't care about the Cleveland Browns. Not everyone wants to be on camera, or even seen in public. Some folks are mortified by it.

Like a lot of people, I once confused Randy Lerner's hiding in the shadows with a lack of interest in his team. But nothing could be further from the truth. Lerner wants to do whatever he can to bring a winner to Cleveland, as bad or as badly as any of us want to see the franchise restored to luster.

He just hasn't figured out how.

For that, he can be criticized. But not spurned. Not hated. Not protested.

If you turn your back on this franchise, you're not turning your back on Art Modell, or greedy NFL owners intent on exploiting your misfortune.

Those guys, heck, they deserved what they got, and more.

I have no trouble hurling rotten tomatoes and bushels of sneering mockery at people who took advantage of the loyalty and devotion of Cleveland Browns fans.

Randy Lerner is not in that group.

Evil earns my hatred and wrath. Well-meaning failure does not. And so much indignation and sneering commentary has been directed at this front office and coach that my heart just isn't warmed by joining in.

This "protest" doesn't remind me at all of 1995, 1997, or even fan agitation about signs and overblown security back in 1999. There's no one working against us, just people who are struggling to put together an organization that doesn't stink.

The product on the field is awful, but the people running the franchise aren't stupid. They know that fans are fed up and walking away. They know the legacy is being tarnished. We've been writing about it here for ten years, and the Browns front office has consumed it all.

Even the media gets it. We don't need a "boycott" to make that point.

The team will be pushing whatever buttons they can, most aggressively a few months from now. The media and fans will opine on which buttons to push, in the case of the former, ad nauseum.

Lerner, Kosar, and others don't need folks standing behind them with pitchforks yelling "Push the buttons faster!" It may soothe our egos and ease our frustration to feel like we're catalysts, but it's truly not needed at this point.

Save your anger for targets who deserve it. The world is flush with them.

You will have a great example of one on Monday night, as a franchise that sprung to life fourteen years ago in the most deceitful of ways comes to town. You can't ask for a more appropriate opponent for your derision.

In my opinion, it's time to call off the "boycott". Please give this team the vocal support it needs, even in the worst of times.


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