Today was like many other football Sundays that I have sat through during my 25 years of life. Sitting in a chair after having donned my now somewhat tattered jersey, the opening kickoff commences and I cling onto the vain hope that my team will be able to pull off the unthinkable and actually win. Yes my friends, I am a Cleveland Browns fan and I have been suffering for much of my life under the delusion that my team will one day win a Super Bowl. Born in 1985 to two Cleveland-born parents I have been a Cleveland sports fan my entire life. Of Cleveland’s three professional sports teams, the Browns, the Indians, and the Cavaliers, none have caused me more emotional pain than the Cleveland Browns, or as some of my friends so cleverly stated today, the Cleveland Clowns. The Indians and Cavaliers have at least given me precious glimpses of what winning a championship could be like before having it snatched away in a manner that only Cleveland could muster.
The newest question I have found myself asking is why….. Why do I subject myself to this week after week, year after year. I am a like a battered spouse that keeps coming back no matter how many times I get punched in the lip or shoved down the stairs. I lie to myself and say that they didn’t mean to treat me like that, that it’ll be different next time, but that is abused induced delusion. In the 2007 season the Browns showed me the closest they have ever come to becoming a “real” football team. Like a spouse that showed signs of genuine change, the Browns fooled even the best of NFL analysts and sports writers. Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, and Joshua Cribbs (among others), were given Pro Bowl nods after a 10-6 season where Cleveland came up just short of making the playoffs for the second time since returning to the league in 1999. That season could be best described fever dream of epic proportions. The weight of expectations caught up with the Browns and they crashed back to Earth with a dismal 4-12 record. Yet again I stood by like the devoted fan I have always been and watch all 16 of those games, including the 12 loses that tested the resolve of my fandom week in and week out.
I sit here in my chair after watching Cleveland be drubbed by the Baltimore Ravens, the “Purple Browns” as a partner in my office so cleverly calls them by a score of 34-3, and take stock of what I have gotten out of this relationship. The answer to this question is simple. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Even when rare victories rear their head, the little voice in my head tells me that it won’t last, or that it was more because our opponents somehow played a poorer game the Browns did. Cleveland football for as long as I have remembered has never been a pretty thing. My mother, the Cleveland native, has practically staged a relationship intervention for me on numerous occasions telling me that I should “pick a better team to cheer for,” but I always crawl back to the Browns like a lost dog who can’t survive outside of the Dawg Pound.
Perhaps one day I will get shaken out of this hysterical devotion to a team and in many ways a city that has wronged me so many times in the past. Some people tell me being a Cleveland fan must be like being a Cubs fan, and I tell them that it is categorically worse in almost every way. But one can not know this pain anguish without having lived it. I will never be able to empathize with a fan from another sport cursed city. The Indians have already let me down this year and I could easily rail for hours about 1996 or 1998 and the damage those trips to the world series did to my young mind. Even the Cavaliers led by the mighty Lebron James, the man who many have said will bring Cleveland the championship it so desperately needs, have not been able to deliver. There are times that I feel like the curse of Cleveland has even found a way to poison the waters here in my native Columbus. Sure the Columbus Crew won the MLS Cup last year, but no one seems to care outside of the soccer fans that followed the game long before we had the team.
My beloved Blue Jackets have finally begun to show life after 8 painful seasons, but I have stood by and my patience was rewarded in 2008 with a trip to the playoffs. Sure we were swept out of the playoffs in 4 games by a dominant Detroit Red Wings team, but I didn’t care. My relationship with the Blue Jackets was my choice. Until 2000 Columbus and Ohio as a whole had no NHL team to speak of. I did not have to root for them. I could simply have rooted for some other team like I had as a child, but I made my choice. This is perhaps where my moment of enlightenment occurs. Much like the saying “you can’t choose your family,” I couldn’t choose that I was born into a family where Cleveland sports were destined and doomed to be a part of my life forever. For better or for worse I have inherited this broken marriage to Cleveland whether I like her or not and I will stick through the good times (if they ever come) and the bad all the same. I have been asked why I even bother wearing my Browns jersey on Sundays anymore? My answer might seem insane after this lengthy diatribe that I have written here but it is this. I’m wearing the jersey whether you actually see it or not. Cleveland is in my blood whether I like it or not.