Before the advent of Uber, there were few things in life so futile and soul crushing as trying to hail a cab in Manhattan on a weekday afternoon while running on a tight schedule. Much like grief, there are stages to the process.
First comes rage. At everyone in general and no one in particular—the smug drivers. clients who absolutely needed to meet at 3 p.m. on a Monday, and the carefree teens clutching oversized shopping bags with high pitched giggles grating like fingernails running down a chalkboard. Your watch ticks mercilessly around the dial, you struggle desperately not to peek, and the cold hand of disbelief and panic grips you firmly at the throat. Remember that meeting that took months to schedule? The one that represents the next rung in your career? The one circled in bold red on your calendar? Yeah, sorry—not happening.
Self-recrimination and disgust is next, invariably. That third snooze of your alarm clock looms large and you wonder about the wisdom of the then innocuous quick stop at Starbucks. The stark finality of missed opportunity hits like a ton of bricks, followed immediately by a wave of exhaustion so deep you nearly keel over. All of this is exacerbated by the feeling—true or not—that everyone else on that teeming street corner somehow found a way forward. Only you were left behind, with the waving hands of a lunatic and encased in shoes of dried cement.
For years this was the state of being a Browns fan. We wanted the future so badly. The drafts came and went, and we tried to convince ourselves that we had our man. The cab slowed as it came around the corner, we gathered our things with a sigh of relief, and hastened towards the curb. As we neared the door, we were suddenly jostled out of the way and someone else—it’s always someone else—settled in our seat and made off with our destiny. Franchises rose, franchises fell, the cycle of life whirred all around us. Yet Cleveland remained running in place, forever the spectator paying admission, never the gladiators others paid to see. We went unclaimed and rejected, the 19th kid on the sandlot, unwelcome to even be stuck in right field.
We will look back at 2018 as the year that everything changed. The year the taxi stopped for this town and no other. A cabbie named Baker, smaller than most but with more swagger than all, rolled up right beside us. Instead of looking askance at the hopeless amount of baggage strewn about and gunning his motor in search of an easier fare, he rolled down his window with an easy smile. We reached for the handle and this time the door finally swung open. Wide open. The linoleum seats we sank into seemed to be made of the most luxurious leather and our chauffeur commenced ferrying us towards long yearned for destinations. People left behind whine about his attitude and endless confidence, but for the first time we are not among them. We are the ones who got picked up.
Think back to that Thursday night in September. Remember Baker running onto the field, assuming the mantle, and piloting the most electric field goal drive in the history of this once proud organization. It was the moment we all knew that the unyielding steel barricades so famously dubbed by Mike Polk as the Factory of Sadness had begun to sag under the weight of its impossible burden, its complete collapse inevitable. When, not if.
There is still much work ahead. Decisions of great importance await this off-season. A coach needs naming and depth needs adding. Yet instead of rage there is energy. We are no longer Frank Costanza shouting “serenity now!’’ We possess it. Panic and disbelief has been replaced by hope and fervent optimism. The overwhelming exhaustion has dissipated. The city of Cleveland is wide awake and in the most positive form I can recall is impatiently Waiting for Next Year.
No, Baker Mayfield is not perfect in the perfect sense of the word. Perhaps he is not tall enough for some and for others his attitude is too churlish. But the long downtrodden Browns fan seeks not perfection nor flawlessness. We are the band of rebels, the outcasts of football society looking for a man to lead us back in, to reclaim our rightful place at the table. A man with guts and a brass set. Someone who relishes the opportunity to build something from what was for far too long nothing, to give us the winning football team we so richly deserve.
I get a feeling that there is a time not too far off that Baker Mayfield will stake his claim as the most important athlete to ever dwell in Northeast Ohio. The future is his to own. We are ready to crown him as our new King. Let us hope he rules with grace and valor. An emperor who delivers contests attached to roman numerals which make icons of those who emerge victorious. The ride has just begun and much is left to be unveiled, but our view is from inside the taxi. Finally, and for years to come.