A Browns Fans' Thanksgiving

Even in the midst of one of their worst seasons in history, Browns fans can give thanks for the many blessings that have come their way over the years. Steve King offers his thoughts...

If this hasn't been the most miserable and stomach-turning Browns season ever, then it's right there in the conversation.

But today's not the time to go into all the things that are wrong with this team. Today is Thanksgiving, a time to give thanks – not complaints – about all that we have. That goes for outside of football, of course, and in the game as well.

Browns fans, especially the older ones who remember – vividly – black-and-white TV, record players and party lines, have a lot for which to be thankful. And youngsters, be aware that a party line has to do with telephones. It's not the line outside a hot spot on a Saturday night.

Whatever. But this Browns fan is thankful for:

*Seeing Jim Brown play. He wasn't just the best running back ever, but rather the best football player ever, at any position. Strong, fast and indestructible, he was, as one opponent said so well, the closest thing to Superman there's ever been on a football field.

*Hearing the quips, comments and stories of former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano. Now 77 years young and still sharp as a tack, he knows football and discusses it in a way that makes you laugh. He could do stand-up.

*Watching games in Cleveland Stadium. The toilets flooded constantly, the seats weren't wide enough and many were stuck behind posts, and the grass had to be painted to make it look green, but that place had personality second to none. You knew you were someplace where many great men had gone before you. You could almost see, hear and feel all those ghosts.

*Hearing Gib Shanley, Nev Chandler and Jim Donovan call games. What a great lineage of radio play-by-play announcers the Browns have had for nearly the last 50 years. The fact fans back in the day had to listen to the home games on the radio because of the TV blackout rule, wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Sitting around the radio with your dad on Sunday afternoons in the fall provided the kinds of memories that cable and satellite TV, 500-plus stations and NFL Ticket can never do.

*Meeting a lot of the great players from the Browns' early teams. As good as they were on the field, they are – or were -- better men off it. My dad had told me that, and he was right – as usual

*Seeing the 1964 NFL Championship Game on TV at my great aunt's house on the Ohio River in coal country. I can still remember where I sat in her house – on the living room carpet in front of the TV -- and what she served for supper – turkey and all the trimmings. Christmas came two days late that year – thankfully.

*The fact that the last thing my dad, my best friend. and I ever did together in the hospital room before he died was watch a Browns game on TV. That was fitting. The Browns were always our détente, our demilitarized zone, our 38th parallel when I was a loud-mouthed, opinionated punk growing up and beyond.

*Watching the 1986 AFC divisional playoff game against the New York Jets and actually being physically exhausted when the game was over and the Browns had won 23-20 in overtime.

*Seeing the Kardiac Kids. The 1980 season they provided the fans was, without any question at all, the most exciting in Browns history. I can still hear Gib Shanley saying to his color analyst when the game got close in the fourth quarter, which it always did, "Buckle your seat belt, Jim Mueller, here we go again."

*Knowing Doug Dieken. The longtime Browns left tackle turned longtime color analyst on the Browns Radio Network is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Ditto for retired Browns Alumni Director Dino Lucarelli.

*Meeting Joe "Turkey" Jones and hearing his homespun stories about spiking Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw in 1976.

*Seeing Don Cockroft kick a field goal in the waning seconds in the rain, mud and snow to beat the Steelers 26-24 in 1972 in one of the three greatest Browns games I ever saw. The others were the 1964 title game, and the 1988 regular-season finale when the Browns rallied behind the unretired Don Strock and came back from a 23-7 third-quarter deficit to defeat the Houston Oilers 28-23 and make the playoffs as a wild card.

*Meeting some of the fans who fought the big boys to get their team back after it had been wrongfully ripped out of their grasp in 1995. No fans had ever done that, or ever will again. It was – and is – unprecedented. These truly are the best fans in the world.

*Seeing the Browns play at home back in the day in those all-white uniforms, including the striped socks, with the Stadium lights being reflected on the side of those plain orange helmets. It doesn't get any better than that.

*Watching Phil Dawson kick. He practices at a place located on Lou Groza Boulevard and is a great tie back to "The Toe" and the old days, with Don Cockroft, Matt Bahr and Matt Stover in between. Talk about a run of outstanding kickers.

*Seeing Joshua Cribbs play. With his long mane hanging out the bottom of the back of his helmet, he hardly looks like a throwback player at first glance. But when see him perform, with the way he plays every down as if it's his last, you realize his toughness, dedication and class would have allowed him to fit in, in any era.

*Seeing Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Bobby Mitchell push Gene Hickerson out onto the stage at Fawcett Stadium in his wheelchair as the former offensive guard finally got inducted into the Hall of Fame. He had helped paved the way to greatness for them, and now they were doing the same for him.

*Stealing an undershirt out of my dresser drawer as a kid, taking a brown Magic Marker and drawing a big No. 32, 86, 42, 13 or 48 on it and being Jim Brown, Gary Collins, Paul Warfield, Frank Ryan or Ernie Green in backyard football games with my buddies, all of whom had done the same thing. The guy with first dibs got to be Brown. We didn't need authentic jerseys from the sporting goods store. We had better than that.

*Fastening together bamboo poles brought home from my buddy's dad, who owned a carpet shop (they would wrap the rolls of carpet around the poles), to build an H-style goal post. We'd drive the contraption into the soft fall ground as solidly as we could and pretend like we were Lou Groza kicking field goals.

*Getting as a birthday gift an electric football game including the Browns and New York Giants and painstakingly putting the right number on the front and back of each player's jersey.

*Going to the salvage store with my dad and buying an entire box – 24 packs, containing five cards each – of football cards and hoping you got a bunch of Browns. Ditto for when we went to the home of my buddy's grandmother, who would go get her big black pocketbook, reach in and get some change for us so we could go down to the variety store at the main corner in her little town and both buy a box of cards.

*Sitting on the back porch and using a big spoon out of my mom's kitchen utensils drawer as a microphone so I could pretend I was Gib Shanley announcing a Browns game. "The Browns come out of the huddle. Warfield split seven to the left, Collins flanked eight to the right, Brewer tight at right end. Ryan barking out the signals. Ryan to throw. He's looooking, he's looooking, and he throws …"

*Telling my AAU girls basketball team about Paul Warfield more than 2½ decades after he retired, mentioning to them they should be just like him and always have the same positive disposition on the court as he did on the football field, never letting the opposition know when they've got you rattled.

*Going with my dad to the Rubber Bowl in Akron in 1964 to see my first Browns game in person, a 42-7 "exhibition" victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in which Frank Ryan threw a 99-yard TD pass to Clifton "Sticks" McNeil.

*And finally, having the privilege to live a lifelong dream and cover the Browns for 20 years, being able to go to places I never thought I'd get to go to, and had only seen on TV, meeting people I never thought I'd get to meet, and getting behind the closed locker room doors I never thought I'd get behind. I've gotten much better than what I've deserved, for which I am truly, truly thankful not just today, on Thanksgiving, but every day.

And Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.


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