Browns, WWW

A New Hope, An NFL Fandom Story: While We’re Waiting

Cleveland Browns Baltimore Ravens Baker Mayfield

One thing that no one has ever accused me of being is a casual sports fan.  As a 14-year-old kid, before Game 2 of the 1995 world series, I burned an Atlanta Braves hat, put the ashes into a plastic bottle shaped like a bear and placed it on top of the television.  No adults were involved in the ceremony. I cheered the Cavs in their terrible baby-blues and rooted for Bobby Sura. I went to countless Cleveland Crunch games and cheered on Hector Marinaro. I was wearing scarlet and grey before I could form full sentences.

But for some unknown reason, I did not grow up a Browns fan. In fact, though I was glued to my 13-inch black and white TV watching the NFL every Sunday, I had no concrete team affiliation in my early years. I have no explanation for this, coming from a family that knows no other team than the Browns. In 1993, by sheer chance while playing Tecmo Super Bowl with my cousin (we played in full-season mode and alternated playing our weekly games), I stumbled upon a team I’d never seen play, whose players I’d never heard of. After playing a few games with them they became my Tecmo-Bowl team, permanently. Brett Favre to Sterling Sharpe was my bread-and-butter, even though I had no idea how to pronounce Brett’s last name, and I never would get to see Sterling Sharpe play in an NFL game.

By the time I saw the Green Bay Packers play for the first time a year (and hundreds of Tecmo-Bowl games) later in 1994, Sharpe had suffered his career ending neck injury and would never play in the NFL again. But I did see Brett Favre play, and once I did there was no going back.  I was sure at age 13 that he was the best quarterback that had ever lived and you could not have convinced me otherwise. I loved the way he played the game and how he made me feel as a fan every Sunday. I subscribed to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  I lived and died in every brutal postseason defeat after 1996. Over the next 14 years, I would not miss a single snap of Packers football.

My helmet signed by Brett Favre and Bart Starr. Had to dig into the closet to find this. I left it dusty for effect.

When the Browns returned in 1999, I began to sense a strange and persistent feeling in my gut that grew stronger by the year. It was a pull toward the home team that I can’t explain. It made sense in some respects, as I’d never cheered for any other non-Ohio based team, but I was a DIE HARD Packers fan. That was an organization that knew what they were doing. The Packers had a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The team was owned by the city and could never abandon the fans. There was no reason for me to “switch” teams. Nevertheless, as time went on I started watching more Browns games, joined a Browns message board, began forming strong opinions on who they should take in the draft.

Eventually, I gave in.

By 2008, Brett’s exit from the team offered a natural break toward the hometown team that had been pulling at my sleeve for nearly eight years. I turned in my Green Bay fan card and officially donned the Orange and Brown for the first time in my life, and there was no turning back. Hard as it may be to believe, there were no second thoughts as Green Bay suited up their second of back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks and won another championship on their way to the next decade of stability regardless of any questionable front office and coaching decisions.1

Once I chose the Browns, I was all in with the same effort and energy I’d always put into cheering and following my teams. And so here I have been, with you for all of the last decade. Every failed General Manager, every failed Head Coach, every failed Quarterback. Every year being swept up in the waves of offseason optimism, only to crash into the rocks of regular season reality.

Which brings me to today. It’s November 16, 2018 and it was a tweet from Ryan Burns a few weeks ago that brought on a rush of nostalgia and triggered an afternoon of contemplation that led me to sharing my NFL fandom story with you today. I realized that the feeling that I have towards this Browns team and in particular its quarterback, is familiar…..it’s old family to me. That feeling, particularly to lifelong Browns fans that are of my age or younger, is one that is not likely familiar.

Baker Mayfield is the quarterback you have been waiting for. You are moving forward towards a new NFL fan experience that will render your last 19 seasons of fandom moot. You may find that you view the roster differently.  You may find that your teams’ offensive players are better than you previously thought. You may begin to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. You may begin waking up on Sunday’s with an otherwise unexplained sense of excitement and hope. It is entirely possible that you will get into your car on Monday morning and instinctively turn on the radio seeking out national opinion of your Cleveland Browns.

Do not panic as these feelings arise. This is what its like to have not just a quarterback, but the quarterback.  The one that gives your team a chance to win—every single Sunday—all the way through to January.

This is not a drill; this is real, and you can and should grab onto it with both arms and enjoy it for everything that it is and can be. I can’t promise you championships. I can’t tell you that there won’t be days that hurt. I can only say for sure that this is what we have been waiting for. Take nothing for granted, you know as well as I that it doesn’t come often or easily.

I can tell you one thing: I won’t miss a single snap.

  1. Editor’s Note: This sentence really hammers home how unfair fandom can be. []