COMMENTARY | One could easily argue that no North American sports team has such a love-hate relationship with its fan base as do the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns have found memorable and even historic ways to break the hearts of the franchise's most devoted followers both on and off the field, yet we all come back each and every August hoping that the team is on the cusp of making all of the agony worth it in the end. That day hasn't come in that the Browns haven't won anything of note in nearly five decades, and it is for that reason that I routinely classify Cleveland football fans as the best in the NFL and possibly in all of American sports.
5 reasons why we love the Cleveland Browns #1: We know it could be worse
It is admittedly far from fun to watch a losing football team struggle to acquire wins year after year. That's a fact that isn't unique for Cleveland fans. Not having a team to watch at all is much, much worse, and that's a pain that fans of the Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't experienced. There have been numerous essays, articles and even books penned about the Browns leaving Cleveland for Baltimore in the mid-90s, and there's little I can add to those pieces other than this statement: Nothing, not the most mediocre professional football one can imagine, has managed to eliminate just how grateful I am that the Browns exist as a functioning NFL franchise.
5 reasons we love the Cleveland Browns #2: History
Critics and non-fans often point out that Cleveland's football history is more about moments such as "Red Right 88," "The Drive" and "The Fumble" than it is about anything else. That's not how it is for Browns fans, though. We, instead, take great delight in knowing that Jim Brown, the greatest player in the history of the NFL, wore Cleveland Brown and Orange. We remember the Kardiac Kids, listening to Nev Chandler via the radio while watching games on TV, and even those Tim Couch Hail Mary miracles. So what if those moments don't include the Lombardi Trophy? These memories are ours, and Cleveland fans cherish them regardless of where the Browns are in the standings come fall.
5 reasons we love the Cleveland Browns #3: Loyalty
The Browns have been perennial losers who have barely flirted with .500 (minus that 2007 campaign) since returning to the NFL in 1999, but they're our losers, dammit, and we Cleveland fans aren't going anywhere. People who think that's silly or who giggle at such a notion must be either too young or too uninformed as a sports fan to recall the days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a franchise that was about way more than just the guys who took the field. That team, like the current Browns, was an integral part of the community.
It's a difficult phenomenon to explain, partially because it's one that has only happened once in the past ten years, but Cleveland truly is a different city when the Browns are good. That type of atmosphere and loyalty is only seen in the world of sports. Would you really stick with your spouse if he/she broke your heart as many times and as painfully as have the Browns?
One would hope not.
5 reasons we love the Cleveland Browns #4: Family
I've never, in all of my time on this floating orb, ever encountered a Browns fan who picked the team just because he or she felt like it. That's because you don't choose the Browns. The team is handed down from generation to generation to generation. My father roots for Cleveland, as did his parents before him. Brothers and sisters gather with parents, aunts, uncles and cousins 16 Sundays out of the year to both watch the Browns in action and also as a way to ease some of the pain that comes with following what is usually a team that is out of the playoff hunt before Thanksgiving Day.
The Browns, more so than any other Cleveland sports team, create bonds among family and friends, to the point that the team is a living and breathing entity in the lives of fans. Browns fans don't use "we" and "us" when talking about the team because they have some absurd view of how pro sports really work. We do so because we feel connected to the franchise in a way that those with no ties to Cleveland sports will never understand.
5 reasons we love the Cleveland Browns #5: Hope
"Hope is a dangerous thing," taught Hollywood in one very famous scene. Who knows more about that than Cleveland sports fans? The hope isn't that I'll one day see the Browns win a Super Bowl before they let me down one final time. It's that I'll be able to do so with my Cleveland family, either in the city while surrounded by thousands of fellow Browns fans, or in a living room with members of my actual family who have also been waiting and waiting and waiting (and waiting) for that blessed day to come.
The laws of averages and also the thought of there being a merciful deity somewhere in the universe leads me to believe that Cleveland football fans will have their day at some point down the road. That one magical February Sunday night will make this entire ride, and all of the pain that has come with it, well worth the trip. "The Cleveland Browns are Super Bowl champions."
Too bad we'll never get to hear Nev say that sentence.
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