Of 32 teams in the National Football League, four have never made it to the Super Bowl. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans are expansion teams of fairly recent vintage. The Detroit Lions are, well, the Detroit Lions. And then there are the Cleveland Browns, one of the league's most storied franchises, who haven't won an NFL championship since 1964.
The Bernie Kosar-led Browns of the eighties made it to three AFC championship games, only to lose to John Elway's Denver Broncos every time, usually in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable. A few years later, the team moved to Baltimore — leaving the old name and history behind — and promptly won a Super Bowl as the Baltimore Ravens. An expansion team was christened the Cleveland Browns in 2002, and has made it to the playoffs exactly once.
My Chicago Bears haven't won it all since 1986, but at least I remember it. I'm also a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Newcastle United, so I know a little something about rooting for tortured teams, but even I have trouble understanding how Clevelanders can put up with this.
The city's economic decline, and the woes of its other professional sports teams, make the pain even worse. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908, but at least Chicago fans could take solace in Michael Jordan and the Bulls dynasty, or the Blackhawks' recent Stanley Cup win. The good people of Cleveland, by contrast, got to watch LeBron James take his talents to South Beach on national television.
Still, tens of thousands pack the new Browns' stadium for every home game, so something must keep the long-suffering fans coming back for more. In Things I've Learned From Watching the Browns, Ohio sportswriter Terry Pluto attempts to figure out why.
Pluto shares credit as author with "hundreds of Browns fans," who sent him their stories about cheering for the team and, if they're lucky, meeting and befriending the players. They describe watching the games with long-deceased relatives, braving the vicious cold at decrepit old Municipal Stadium, meeting Browns players at church not long after the day's game ended, joining the most rabid fans in the wild "Dawg Pound," and in one case, getting married in a Browns-themed ceremony.