I was out in the city a couple weeks back, in a cozy cocktail joint, and the conversation turned to Christmas. In the bar the decorations were up, the music was playing and the spirit was in the air. It was still just early December, but that feeling was about. There was a familiar chill that inspired feelings of frost and snow, cocoa and marshmallows, nostalgia and ham. From the stereo came wishes of Feliz Navidad and images of a hearthful of chestnuts.
Given those circumstances, of course the conversation turned to Christmas.
We shared our favorite traditions and memories, smiling as we recalled each. The texture of the cookies, the warmth of the fire, the silliness of the dog’s unfortunate holiday outfit. I told the story of when I was about 10 and determined to learn the truth about Santa. I decided to sleep in the living room that Christmas Eve, feigning sleep long enough to discover the identity of who was really leaving presents under the tree. (To the kids: Santa is much thinner in person.)
They were all these lovely stories, the sort I hope everyone has to tell. The sort that holiday ideals are founded on, that Ray Charles wrote songs about. There’s a decent chance the tales aren’t actually true, memories being rose-colored and all, but they’re certainly warm. They’re fond. They’re earnest. They’re of the season.
And not one of them has anything to do with the Cleveland Browns.
Why would they? The Browns in December—scoring three points in a snowstorm is supposed to evoke good feelings? There’s been plenty of laughter at the Browns in December, sure, but it’s been more cynical than happy. It’s far removed from any notion of holiday cheer. The memory of some ill-fated coach’s last hurrah isn’t the sort of thing you bring around the fireplace.
This December in Berea is different.
But this December in Berea is different. There’s optimism—legitimate, well-founded optimism—broader and deeper than I can ever remember. The Browns have proper talent, several players who look to be true franchise-changers. By now this idea has been written and spoken hither and yon, but I feel it can’t be overstated.
The Browns have had individual stars in the relatively recent past—your Joe Thomases, Josh Cribbses, your Joe Hadens—but rarely have they had them at the same time. Aside from the bizarre cosmic occurrence known as the 2007 season, when Braylon Edwards’s and Kellen Winslow’s stars aligned, I can’t remember a time the Browns had so many players with Pro Bowl potential.
Now they have—or at least seem to have; never stop knocking on wood, Browns fans—young stars, and they have them at the game’s most important positions. Again, this point has been made on numerous occasions. But folks, let me make it again: THE BROWNS ARE LEGITIMATELY PROMISING! THEY HAVE REAL PLAYERS! THEY COULD BE CONTENDERS FOR YEARS TO COME!
Sorry for the caps, but I’d yell it through your screen if I could. Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward—by all accounts, these guys are the real deal. So are Nick Chubb and Larry Ogunjobi, Joe Schobert and Genard Avery. Same for the interior line trio of Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins and David Njoku are raw, but so is sushi. Damarious Randall has been a revelation as safety, and Jabrill Peppers’s performance should win over even the buckiest of nuts.
Most every player of note is under contract for next year, and many are signed through 2020. It almost inspires enough confidence to buy a jersey.
I just can’t get over it. This is what a team is supposed to look like when it has a bevy of high draft picks and heaps of cap space. This is what we’ve been waiting for. If the Browns aren’t good already, we can at the very least say with great confidence that they are on the right track. You needn’t contort your mind to recognize that there’s some level of cohesive thinking afoot.
Now it’s the fans’ turn to keep the conversation going
(This would be the paragraph where I remind you that the Haslams still own the team and they will ultimately decide who the next head coach is. Jimmy and Dee are matchbook carriers leaving a trail of gasoline. But it’s the holidays! Let’s focus on the good.)
A month ago, my best friend and I made plans to go to this Sunday’s game against the Bengals. We expected to attend a sleepy nothing of a contest, the sort where the announced attendance looked to double the actual. It still would have been fun, but the stakes would have been nil.
Our playoff hopes are all but gone,* but I’m as excited for this game as any I’ve ever been to. The Browns have a chance to win their third straight game and the fourth out of their last five. They have a chance to keep alive hopes of a winning season, both at home and in general. They have a chance to compile more evidence suggesting something real is happening.
*I’m not the least bit bothered by the Browns not making the playoffs. They won one game in two years. We all would’ve gotten whiplash.
Baker called on the city to sell out the stadium, and so it has. Now it’s the fans’ turn to keep the conversation going, to prove that we’re half as good as we say we are. I can’t wait to see what that looks like, sounds like and feels like. I ache in anticipation of the vibes in the Muni Lot. I crave the newest batch of T-shirt designs. I look forward to leaving my voice in the stadium.
At risk of sounding like a guy en route to his first acid trip, I hope for a transcendental experience. I hope the reality can approximate my expectations. I hope this team can shoulder the ambitions and fears of all who support them. I hope the experience of watching this team play the stupid Bengals in late December becomes a story more than, remember how much that sucked?
I hope this becomes the first in a long line of Cleveland Browns winters that betters the fall that came before it. I hope the Browns provide memories that people feel compelled to share with their loved ones around the holidays. I hope you all find yourselves warm and safe this December. And I hope the Browns, despite their most deeply rooted characteristics, can make you feel a little warmer.