CLEVELAND — It was 51 degrees and raining here Thursday, and the line outside the NFL Draft Experience at FirstEnergy Stadium was more than 300 people deep. The entrance was not yet open, and Zach Pisani was among a legion of Browns fans wearing team jerseys but no jackets.
“That’s Cleveland, Ohio for you,’’ Pisani said. “That’s football weather, baby.’’
As the line waiting swelled several hours before the first round of the draft, a man in orange-and-brown shouted, “Let’s go, Brownies!"
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“Woof! Woof,’’ the Browns fans replied with gusto.
The ritualistic cheer brought a smile to the face of Robert Jasper. He said he’d flown in from Los Angeles, where he works as a school custodian.
“I put in for vacation for this draft the day they announced the draft was going to be here,’’ said Jasper, who was sporting Browns gear and explained that he adopted the team as his own in 1976, when he was in junior high school.
“Because they were good then,’’ he said. “Now they’re good again.’’
A bus of Browns fans had their own draft experience in a parking lot. About a dozen of them congregated inside a Browns-themed bus playing cards and listening to music.
A few others set up a tent for tailgating. Though the group planned to check out the NFL’s setup at the Browns’ stadium, they hoped to watch the draft inside the bus, provide they could get a satellite signal.
“We’ve been doing this for well more than 10 years,’’ said Scott Nunnari, who owns the bus. “We like tradition."
In a sea of orange and brown, there was a smattering of other colors — a New England Patriots jerseys, a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey, a Seattle Seahawks jersey and perhaps all 32 teams if you looked long enough.
Wearing Baltimore Ravens jerseys, Bill Clark and his son Chase said they flew in for the event and were first in line at the entrance before it opened at noon.
Chase Clark, 18, is a freshman at the University of Maryland and skipped his English 101 and calculus class to be at the event.
“Playing hooky,’’ his father said.
Bill Clark, 67, proudly pointed to his camouflage-style Ravens pants. He was getting no compliments from Browns fans, many who still harbor resentment for Art Modell, the late owner of the Browns, moving the Browns to Baltimore in 1996.
Four years later, Cleveland had a new team — but still no love for Baltimore, reported the Clarks.
“Watching all the Cleveland fans hate us here is a bonus,’’ Chase Clark said.
Nearby, Lisa Fort, a emergency room physician from New Orleans, was one of a dozen New Orleans Saints fans flown in by the Saints. They were getting no dirty looks from the Browns fans.
Fort said the Saints fans are healthcare workers and were chosen by the Saints to sit in the draft’s inner circle, reserved for a select group of fans who are vaccinated and representing each of the league’s 32 teams.
The privileged treatment did not sit well with Damon Appel and Brett Bohl, who carried signs protesting face masks and the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The NFL is discriminating here, right?’’ Appel said. “You have to have the vaccine in order to be in the inner circle. And then also if you work for them, you can’t be near the team unless you’re vaccinated.’’
Bohl, who along with Appel, also was calling for the impeachment of Ohio Gov. DeWine, said “forces try to divide us.’’
“Beacuse if you’re a Browns fan or a Buckeyes fan or a Bills fan, there’s people that voted for Trump and people that voted for Biden,’’ he added. “But we got way more in common than our differences. So that’s our core message."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2021 NFL Draft: Browns and other fans descend on Cleveland