COMMENTARY | Cleveland Browns.
Put those two words together, and you get mental images of losing seasons and heartbroken fans wondering what they ever did to wrong whatever deity is out there. Suggesting that there are only five reasons why it's is difficult to follow the Browns each and every year makes about as much sense as telling somebody who is in Canada to walk across Lake Erie just so they can watch Cleveland play. The list below is merely made up of the first five things that popped into my mind as I reflected on all of the misery I've personally experienced since the mid-80s.
Top 5 reasons it's hard being a fan of the Cleveland Browns #1: Envy
Any true Browns fan who is honest with himself will tell you that one reason we are such a bitter lot is because we're jealous that every one of Cleveland's rival teams are consistently better than the Browns. Since the "New Browns" returned to the NFL in 1999, the Baltimore Ravens (the "Old Browns") and Pittsburgh Steelers have both won two Super Bowl titles. Those two franchises are seen as real contenders just about every fall. Heck, even the Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.
Cleveland, meanwhile, hasn't qualified for postseason play since 2002. The Browns are currently in the midst of what feels like their tenth rebuild of the past decade and a half. Things have gotten so gloomy that the "Wait 'till next year!" mantra has been replaced with "this team might be pretty decent two to three years down the road."
Top 5 reasons it's hard being a fan of the Cleveland Browns #2: Teases
Some football fans may not agree with this statement, but I'm confident in saying that no franchise in NFL history has teased its fans as have the Browns since the beginning of the Super Bowl era. The so-called "Kardiac Kids" of 1980, a Cleveland team that some believed was destined to win a title, saw their hopes dashed by the now infamous "Red Right 88" play. You can't even say "The Drive" or "The Fumble" in a public place while in or around Cleveland without at least one person wincing in pain.
The choke job in Pittsburgh during the 2002 playoffs is the most painful Browns memory of my lifetime. Cleveland had a 24-7 lead over the Steelers in the third quarter, and the visitors were up 33-21 halfway through the fourth. Pittsburgh rallied from behind and ultimately won 36-33, a victory that remains a gut-punch for Browns fans everywhere. Cleveland hasn't played in a postseason contest since.
Then there was the 2007 season. Derek Anderson came out of nowhere and emerged as an All-Pro quarterback, and Cleveland finished the season with an impressive 10-6 record. Blown leads in multiple games, including one at Pittsburgh, kept the Browns from making the playoffs that year, Anderson failed to live up to the hype before becoming a journeyman backup QB, and the Browns haven't since come close to having as successful a campaign.
Top 5 reasons it's hard being a fan of the Cleveland Browns #3: (False) hope
The Browns must be running in about 10,000 consecutive marathons, because they've been "headed in the right direction" according to many NFL experts since the start of the 21st century. Butch Davis, arguably the hottest coaching prospect entering the league from the NCAA back in 2001, didn't even make it two full seasons after Cleveland's playoff meltdown in Pittsburgh. Romeo Crennel, who worked under Bill Belichick at the New England Patriots as defensive coordinator, and Phil Savage, who helped build the Ravens of the 2000s along with Baltimore VP & GM Ozzie Newsome, never produced a winning product outside of the 2007 season that didn't even result in the Browns making it to the playoffs.
Perhaps the biggest flop of this new era of professional football in Cleveland began in December 2009 when the team announced that Super Bowl champion head coach and future Hall of Famer Mike Holmgren was taking over as team VP. The Browns continued to be a joke for the most part outside of a few positive draft classes, and Holmgren made a rather unceremonious exit from the franchise this past October after new owner Jimmy Haslam had (reportedly) made it clear that he wanted to take the team in a different direction.
Top 5 reasons it's hard being a fan of the Cleveland Browns #4: They stink
I'll just come right out and state the obvious. Being a Browns fan wouldn't be so hard if the team wasn't perpetually terrible. The stats really do tell you all you need to know:
One playoff appearance since 1999; a loss.
One winning campaign since the kickoff of the 2003 regular season.
Counting the current administration, the Browns have had seven head/interim head coaches since the reboot.
Following the 2007 season, Cleveland has notched an 18-46 overall record.
There's something to be said for a team being a "lovable loser." That the Browns are usually out of the playoff picture before the start of the holiday season each and every fall hardly makes them lovable. It makes them an afterthought after Thanksgiving, just one more reason to check the calendar to see when pitchers and catchers report and the next Cleveland Indians spring training gets underway.
Top 5 reasons it's hard being a fan of the Cleveland Browns #5: 1995
Being a Cleveland sports fan isn't something you do. It's part of who you are, and it's in your blood. My dad's dad was a diehard Browns and Indians fan (the Cavs weren't around back in his day). My father's siblings and their children have followed suit. Cleveland sports are passed down from generation to generation, like fine crystal or some other heirloom that has seemingly been around since the day before forever.
Outsiders will never understand the pain felt by Browns fans in '95 as then owner Art Modell went through the process of moving the team to Baltimore. It was, as cliché as it may be to some, like watching a beloved family member die a slow and painful death. That pain has only been worsened by the fact that Cleveland's local economy has never recovered from Modell's business decision.
Cleveland fans will forever be loyal to their beloved football team. With that said, it's far from an overstatement to suggest that these Browns are not the Browns of my father's youth. That team is forever dead and buried, only to be remembered in video highlights and pictures.
This franchise hasn't yet come close to living up to what was once a very proud legacy.
Zac has been covering the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the NFL for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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