Growing up the son of a Cleveland Browns season ticket holder, I was lucky. One of my earliest memories as a child watching my father kick my favorite toy across our living room after Minnesota’s Ahmad Rashad catch a Hail Mary from QB Tommy Kramer on the last play of the game on a freezing Minneapolis afternoon in December of 1980.
I was four years old.
I was six when my father took me to my first game. It was October 2, 1983. The Browns lost to the Seattle Seahawks 24-9. I vividly remember Seattle Defensive Lineman Jacob Green picking off a Brian Sipe pass and rumbling a long way for a touchdown as we began our walk out of the stadium. That’s the only thing I remember about the game itself to be honest with you; the walk out of the stadium after the Seahawks had salted the game away with the pick six.
I still have the ticket stub.
From the age of six on, I was lucky enough to be able to go down to the old Stadium on the lakefront with my entire family. My dad had four tickets for each home Sunday. My uncle had four of his own the row right above us. My other uncle had four in the row below us. We all drove down together in my Uncle’s big suburban. My father was the driver since he was the more aggressive of the two brothers. My mom brought deli sandwiches for the family. My uncle bought the hot dogs, my father the programs. We sat in section 37, row four, on the aisle. We sat the same way every game – my father on the aisle, then my mother, my brother, and me. Some of the greatest memories of my life can be traced back to those Sunday’s in the 80’s and 90’s when my family had their ritual Sundays with the Browns. If it was a close game at the end, my dad, ever the unselfish and ingenious man, would run to the car parked in the lot next to the stadium, drive the car up to the top of the hill, tell a cop what he was doing, double park, and run back into the stadium to see the finish from the end zone. When the game ended, we’d all sprint to the car, and my dad would be waiting right there at the top of the hill for us.
Yesterday was a very special day for me. I was able to take my four year old son to his first Browns game. He watches the road games with me on television and I always bring him home a program for him from each home game I go to. He has learned the players names and numbers and loves playing football in my front yard, my living room, my basement, anywhere he can. So when I was able to get an extra ticket from my uncle, he was beyond ecstatic. He dressed in his Brown Colt McCoy jersey and spent breakfast and the car ride down reading the rosters of both teams in the newspaper.
On the way down to the game, we talked about his favorite players (Greg Little and Joe Haden), about the opponent Jacksonville Jaguars, and about the food he wanted to eat at the game (pizza and a soft pretzel). It was three of us – my mother, my son, and me. Ironically, there was an empty seat next to us. Almost as if it was planned that way.
Many of my readers know my father’s story. We were extremely close. In October of 2004 he was diagnosed with tonsillar cancer, which we were told was a very treatable form of the disease. A month later, he died due to complications from his treatment. My dad loved the Browns and he loved taking his family to games. The home opener in 2005, the year after he passed, was extremely emotional. It was the first Browns home game I had ever been to without him. As they sang the National anthem, I held the hands of both my mother and my uncle (my dad’s brother), and we all couldn’t fight back the tears. I remember it like it was yesterday.
My father raised me on sports. The reason I am so passionate about them are because of how he brought me up. I am doing the exact same thing with my son and he has taken to them like a fish to water. So my son’s maiden voyage to Cleveland Browns Stadium yesterday was bittersweet. As much as I enjoyed it, not having my father there to watch his grandson love the atmosphere was tough. But what I will remember from yesterday as long as I live, was the pure joy and excitement in the eyes of my son from the second we approached the stadium. From the car, he saw all the fans in Browns jerseys like him, and he knew this was for him. Walking to our seats, I could see the exuberance in his eyes. The smile he had melted me.
Throughout the game, he asked football questions, got up to cheer when the Browns made a big play (especially the two TD’s and the Jordan Norwood long catch and run), and even got in some barking. He cried once though – when his favorite player Greg Little dropped a sure TD right in his hands. I had to explain to him that these things happen in the game and you’ve got to move on to the next play. But all he wanted was to see his guy score a touchdown.
As the game came down to the end, he didn’t understand how Phil Dawson’s fourth quarter field goal was ruled no good. Try explaining that one to a four year old. The Jags would take over with three minutes left and my mother and I went into our usual “should we leave, we don’t want to be here if we blow it” routine and my son calmly turned to us and said “I don’t want to leave. We need to stay until the game is over.” So we did. The Jaguars moved closer and closer to ending the game on a miserable note for all of us, and as they did, we made the move towards the open end of the stadium’s exit. I put him on my shoulders and we watch the end of the game from there. With eight seconds left I told him “one more play, then we run out of here.” He was on board. But one play turned into two.
That got him even more excited.
When Blaine Gabbert’s pass into the endzone was broken up by D’Qwell Jackson and the clock hit all zeroes, my son went NUTS. He was so jacked. We ran out and he yelled over and over “we won! we won!” To him, it might as well have been the Super Bowl. He must have said five times in the car “that was so cool.” My mom and I couldn’t help but smile along.
While the game was an innocuous 14-10 Browns win between two teams going nowhere, it was I day that I will never forget. I hope that my father was somewhere watching the grandson he never met rooting on the team he loved so much. I know how much he would have loved being there with us yesterday.
(photo via John Kuntz/PD)