It’s been nearly a week since the Cleveland Browns made their blockbuster trade for superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Fans spent that Wednesday night and the following days in a state of jubilation, celebrating their first bona fide sports celebrity since LeBron James. Even in such a short period, media personalities and casual fans alike have fallen behind the NFL franchise, using the addition of Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon, and a cast of depth-adding talent as fodder for excitement. In a matter of seconds, a gang of photoshopped pictures appeared online, displaying the new talent in color rush brown and orange. It’s something we as fans aren’t used to. For the first time in a generation, people want to be one of us.
I get it. Allowing these fair weather folks to enter into the fold may be a daunting task. Seeing someone become invested just as things are looking up is like watching the boss’s nephew get the desk with the window on their first day. No one likes a person who gets the reward without the work. Whether you chose to entertain these people is up to you. I can understand the frustration of watching a kid who’s used the “my uncle is from New England” excuse during the past two decades now claim Browns fandom. But for those willing to participate, here is a guide to surviving these conversations.
Talking about talent
So there you are, enjoying the first signs of spring when you see a smiling face staring at your Browns hoodie. The stranger gives you a look and heads your way. You can tell by their pace that they mean business. You notice that they have no bags under their eyes. No wrinkles carved by frowns or other signs of suffering. They’re a bandwagon fan, and they can’t wait to talk to you about their new team.
It’s natural for a newcomer to begin with recent events and work their way back, usually as far as they can. They’ll ask you about Odell and carry on about Mayfield. The good thing about having a heavy roster is there are plenty of talking points. My suggestion is to treat this dialogue like an aging rock star’s playlist: just play the hits, man. Digging too deep won’t do any good. Chances are this person won’t know about the risks associated with starting Austin Corbett at right guard in place of newly departed Kevin Zeitler. Even if they do remember Pro Bowl rookie Denzel Ward, they will almost certainly be unaware of his issues with concussions. It would be useless to discuss the hole Jabrill Peppers left at strong safety. And on and on and on.
The best thing to do is acknowledge what inevitably led them to the dance. Yes, Baker is the quarterback we’ve been waiting for. Sure, Nick Chubb is a hell of a back. You’re right, Jarvis and Odell were best friends in college. The general idea is to keep things simple. Discussing the depth at outside linebacker might confuse them and make things awkward, and you don’t need any more of that.
Looking Forward to Football
This one can be tough. It’s easy for someone who’s been spared decades of pain to automatically assume there will be a Lombardi trophy at the end of the rainbow. For those of us who’ve had the pleasure of watching an endless slush of disastrous seasons, we are a little more measured in our approaches. Sure, things have looked more promising than they have in a long, long time, but we’ve had hopes before. A Browns fan looks at hope like Red does inside the walls of Shawshank Prison: it can be a dangerous thing.
Having a person preach enthusiastically about a winning year with no prior understanding of failure may evoke feelings of discomfort and nausea. Enthusiasm can be a wonderful thing, but not at the expense of logical thinking and a sprinkle of Cleveland pessimism. After all, it’s easier to push something away before it has the chance to let you down. It’s a kind of region-wide attachment disorder, one that will take results to cure and nothing else. The unfortunate news is they’ll have to learn this on their own. For now, it’s up to us to stomach their unfiltered optimism. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.
Dressing like a Fan
Get ready, because here comes the arrogance. My advice to a newly ordained supporter is to dress like what they are. If Odell brought you to the team, represent him by choosing to buy his jersey. If you develop an affinity for Baker, or Chubb, or whoever, then let that be reflected in what you wear on Sundays.
The last thing we need is someone wearing a throwback Otto Graham jersey they just bought for one hundred and fifty dollars on Fanatics when they can’t name Cleveland’s head coach. If you find something hanging on a Salvation Army rack, great. If you have a cousin pass down his worn-out Brady Quinn threads, fantastic. But it can be difficult to see a person speak passionately about Peyton Hillis’s career when the closest they came to him at the time was a copy of Madden.
If a bandwagoner insists on trying to blend in with the more tenured crowd, just know that a good rule of thumb during the pre-Baker era was to be hesitant when buying a quarterback’s jersey. Honorable exception goes to Tim Couch and Johnny Football, of course.
Keep it short. Keep it simple. This is a point of emphasis I’ve struggled with countless times. The best way to describe it is to tell them the truth: it’s just different. Putting our passion into words is something even Shakespeare would stutter his way through. It doesn’t make sense, and that’s something I’m proud of. Why after so much suffering do we continue to fill FirstEnergy Stadium? Because it’s different. The best thing to do is to encourage them to see it for themselves. Get to the Muni Lot on a Sunday morning and take it in. People watch in Public Square in November when things become serious. There is an energy that Browns culture brings to those who stick in there year after year. As for history? That will come with time. There’s always YouTube videos or articles such as this that can help inform. For them, their history is just beginning, and that’s something I’m very, very jealous of.
The good news is, when a team wins, their fanbase grows. There is a reason why the Pittsburg Steelers’ Twitter account has three times as many followers as the Browns. It’s because they’ve been an easy team to root for. That’s something that many of us have never experienced in our lifetime, and seeing a horde of bandwagons rushing towards their TVs this fall is just further proof that we’re on the right path. Love them or hate them, they are a permanent fixture in this strange new world of anticipation and success, and as long as they don’t buy all the game tickets before I get mine, that’s something I can live with.