To be a Cleveland Browns fan, you have to have patience and optimism. Without the two, it’s hopeless. The Browns have been like a bad soap opera lately.
Some people say, correctly, that Cleveland has not been any good since returning to the NFL in 1999. That’s true, but it’s only part of the story.
The truth is the Browns have been bad since way before the move to Baltimore in 1995. Cleveland has had just one 10-win season since 1988.
Since that season, the Browns have won seven games or less in a season 11 times, and have made just three playoff appearances.
Since 1988, the Browns have had seven head coaches, and they didn’t even have a team for three of those seasons.
But the fans keep coming back. The Browns have sold out every home game since 1999.
The Indians won 93 games in 2005 and just drew 2 million fans. The Cavaliers are only drawing because of LeBron James and the promise he brings. It’s true Cleveland went NBA-crazy last May, during the Cavs’ playoff run. But before LeBron, the Cavaliers were an afterthought.
Some say the Cavaliers were a bad team, but they certainly were no worse than the Browns have been.
Yet the Browns keep packing them in.
The fans have kept coming because Cleveland is a football city. I grew up in the Cleveland area, and even though the fans have gone nuts for the Indians and Cavs, the Browns are different. The Browns are like part of your family. A dysfunctional part, but an important part. How much do people care about the Browns? Here’s a few things I’ve seen:
• On a 1992 Sunday I attended church, and the priest finished with the usual “Go in peace to love and serve the lord.” Then he followed with: “I hope the Browns do better.”
• In 1995 I attended a Cavs game. The JumboTron was showing random fans on the screen, and there was little reaction. Then they showed a fan wearing an Andre Rison Browns’ jersey. The place erupted in boos. Rison had been critical of Cleveland fans after the Browns announced their move. Now, the poor kid had to pay the price. It was the loudest the arena got all night.
• In 2002 I served on a jury in a civil case involving the wife of a former Browns’ player. The player had since moved onto another team, and the attorney for the woman wanted to make sure none of us would hold that against her. She was serious.
These events all occurred years after the Browns’ good period in the 1980s. Then, the whole city appeared to be in orange and brown. After many difficult seasons, fans keep coming back, because they’re the Browns.
They keep coming despite not having a team for three years.
They keep coming because Charlie Frye will be as successful as Bernie Kosar or Brian Sipe. They keep coming because Kellen Winslow will stay away from bikes and live up to his promise.
You keep thinking loyalty will be rewarded. You keep thinking Tim Couch, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren will not be first-round busts. You keep thinking well-spoken con men like Butch Davis actually believe what they’re saying. But most of all, you keep thinking next year has to be better.
Cleveland was 6-10 last year under new coach Romeo Crennel. Browns’ fans know it might be a few years before the team wins big again.
So we wait. And we hope.
What choice do we have? You don’t neglect family.