Holy Crap, Why Do I Love The Cleveland Browns?

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I was born into this.

My dad was born in Cleveland, raised a Browns fan. I can remember hearing stories from my grandfather about what it was like to watch Browns games through the “pot cloud” in the Dawg Pound in the ’70s. I’m always questioning my love for this wretched team. I don’t have a perfect answer, but I suspect that it’s hereditary.

I was not born in Cleveland. I was born in Cincinnati but spent the bulk of my childhood years in Nashville. I was fortunate enough to discover the game of football to the tune of Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans. My first taste of professional sports was Steve McNair, Eddie George, Keith Bulluck, and Frank Wycheck. I was spoiled. In January 2003, the Titans made the AFC Championship game. They lost, but hey: Football is fun!

Despite living in Nashville, I still remember the Browns being on TV in our house whenever possible. The first game I remember watching was on December 16, 2001. This game, in particular, was so special they gave it a name: Bottlegate.

I have vivid memories of my dad—over and over—saying, “Only in Cleveland. Only in Cleveland. Only in Cleveland.” That phrase, which I would later learn is one of Cleveland’s unofficial slogans, buried itself in my 9-year-old brain and stayed there, waiting. Just over two years later, my family moved to Cleveland, and I learned Only In Cleveland up close.

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I’m waist-deep in my 11th season as a Browns fan, and I can say definitively: This team sucks.

Since becoming a Browns fan, I’ve beheld 51 wins and 109 losses. That means that on any given autumn Sunday, I have a roughly 32% chance of happiness and a 68% chance of seeing something horrific. The Browns are the Leonardo da Vinci of failure. It probably goes without saying, but that 51–109 record since 2004 is worst in the NFL. I’m a die hard for the absolute worst team you could be a die-hard for. It’s disheartening watching your favorite team get outscored by a thousand points.

(I want to pause right here for a brief moment. You may have made the mistake of thinking that last sentence was hyperbole. I assure you it is not. Since I started watching this team, opponents have outscored them by 951 points. This is a real stat. Welcome to Cleveland.)

I’ve never seen my Browns in the playoffs. In fact, the entire concept seems foreign to me. The pinnacle of my fanhood was a 10–6 season in 2007 orchestrated by Romeo Crennel, Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr., and the ghost of Jamal Lewis. Perhaps the only thing sadder than that is the fact that my second best season as a fan is last year’s 7–9 turd by Brian Hoyer.

Despite all this, or maybe—in some twisted way—because of it, this professional trash heap of an organization enjoys universal acclaim from every sucker born north of Columbus. By my rough calculations, the Browns’ lakefront “Factory of Sadness” has filled just under 95% of its seats in the last decade. Save two or three organizations, this level of sick, pathetic devotion is something the rest of the NFL wishes it could bottle. Some pervert ranked all 178 losses since 1999. That is devotion you can’t buy. People in Cleveland go nuts for this garbage like you wouldn’t believe. There are much more successful teams with fans that don’t even approach this level of passion. I didn’t even know television blackouts existed until I came to Cincinnati for school and the Bengals weren’t on TV.

All this devotion pours in for a team that was stolen from Cleveland by owner Art Modell and the NFL in 1995, only to be replaced by a husk of an organization in 1999 while the real team and all its players won a Super Bowl. Imagine your parents sending the family dog away to live with strangers in a random city. After years of pleading, they succumb to your begging and replace him with a rabid raccoon, which you are so grateful for that you let it sleep in bed with you and chew on your face. One day you turn on the TV, and there’s Fido winning Best In Show on CBS.

I’m not sure if there’s a sports parallel for Stockholm syndrome, but the Browns seem to be a shining example. Despite being sent through hell and back every season, I can’t imagine a world in which I’m not a Cleveland Browns fan. Why on earth would I want to root for the anyone else? Where is the heart in that? I watch this team lose all season, every season and by the time August rolls back around I’m questioning why anyone would want to be anything other than a Browns fan.

There’s a perverse poetry to it. If our chronically incompetent front office ever accidentally puts a winning team on the field and we’re able to win a Super Bowl, come to the championship party to witness the entire city of Cleveland breaking loose from the mainland and sliding into Lake Erie, never to be seen again. A ticker tape parade in Cleveland would probably qualify as a natural disaster that might destroy the city entirely.

I wear my Browns jersey around Cincinnati like a combination badge of honor/dunce cap. It usually leads to someone asking me, “WHY?” The question brings to mind the movie Fever Pitch. Jimmy Fallon’s character gets asked the “WHY?” question in regards to his (then-cursed) Red Sox:

“I like being part of something that’s bigger than me, than I. It’s good for your soul to invest in something you can’t control.”

And I think there’s truth in that. It’s completely illogical to become this emotionally invested in a team that does nothing but bring frustration. But it’s worth it for the occasional triumph we all experience together. And so every Sunday we all come back for more, somehow never callousing to this maddening football team. But I think in a weird way that’s normal and healthy.

Or maybe it’s not, and we’re all just nuts.