I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m a die-hard Cleveland Browns’ fan.
There, I’ve finally admitted this closely guarded secret to someone other than a really close friend.
I don’t believe it’s a crime and it’s probably not an addiction. But I’m not completely convinced. I’ve been told if a drug addict has any hope of recovery, one of the first things he has to do is admit the problem. He has to own it. So just in case, I’ve checked that box.
I’ve been a huge Browns’ fan for over 50 years. I really never gave much thought as to how it happened. But as I sit here trying to analyze which team to hang my hat on for Super Bowl LIII, I’m long overdue to explain to myself how this curious and frustrating fandom came to pass.
It all started with my dad (I knew I’d end up blaming somebody). Ironically, to understand how I came to love the Brownies, I’ll have to start with a baseball story.
Like millions of little boys across America, my dad was my hero. He was a big St. Louis Cardinals fan and we used to listen to the Cardinal games at night on the radio.
By the time I started listening in 1964, Stan Musial had retired the year before. Dad was a big Musial fan and if Stan the Man and the Cards were good enough for my dad, they would be my team forever as well.
We lived half way across the country from St. Louis, in the small town of Pulaski (just north of Syracuse) in upstate New York. At about 9 p.m., if we positioned the transistor radio just right, we could pick up KMOX all the way from St. Louis and listen to the vibrant voices of Jack Buck and Harry Caray. That’s right, the same Harry Caray who used to bark out “Holy Cow” and “Cubs win, Cubs win” like his hair was on fire.
Long before his Cubs gig, Caray was calling games for the Redbirds along with Buck. To this day, I don’t believe there has been a better broadcasting duo. Basically, those two guys captivated me and molded me into a rabid baseball fan.
So I’m 11 years old and the Cardinals win the World Series. They nipped the Yankees in seven games and Bob Gibson gets three of the four Ws. My dad and I are on top of the world. And, not only do the Cards claim the title of World Champs, I got to collect anywhere from a nickel to 50-cent bets from a handful of sixth-grade chumps. The majority of the kids in upstate New York were Yankee fans. Buck and Caray had me excited, the Cardinals were flying high, and the elementary patsies seemed like easy pickins’.
Looking back, it really stuns me that my gambling urges started at such at any early age. I had no idea that at a later stage in my life, nickels and dimes would take on a whole new meaning.
I was ready for the football season now, especially since I was on a gambling roll. There was a slight problem to overcome though – Dad wasn’t as avid a football fan. But I had to have a team. This was too much fun.
Dad did like the Cleveland Browns and if he liked them, then damn it, I was going to love them!
As it turned out, I was in the right place at the right time, or so it seemed. The Browns had a great team that season. When the neighborhood buddies played the passing game in the street, I was tossing passes as Frank Ryan. When I was on the receiving end of the passes I was Gary Collins. I would sprint home, pretending to run like Jim Brown or Leroy Kelly. But in truth, the moves were closer to the speed of Bernie Kosar.
Cleveland skunked the Baltimore Colts 27-0 to claim the 1964 NFL championship. It was exhilarating, but I thought my new found gaming pleasures were going to be derailed. There were no pigeons to dupe for the big game. There were no Colts fans in my class. All the kids were New York Giants’ lovers. The football gods had prevailed earlier in the season though, as my buddies were willing to bet a couple of regular season games. The Browns smashed their arch rivals twice that season and I got to collect a couple more quarters. Big stakes for an 11-year old.
The Browns held the legend, Johnny Unitas, to 95 yards and picked him off twice in the season finale. Collins caught 3 touchdowns and ESPN later named the Browns' victory as the second-greatest NFL postseason upset. Cleveland was a double-digit underdog. The only upset ranked higher was the Joe Namath predicted upset over the Colts in Super Bowl III.
I really feel a certain tinge of glee when I think of those two huge games that Baltimore blew. That’s because a little over 30 years later that city would end up stealing my beloved Brownies away from Cleveland.
Thankfully, they didn’t get to take the Browns’ name with them. Just think, I could have been a Baltimore Ravens fan and had one Super Bowl already tucked neatly under my belt. But oh no, feeling that type of grandeur is not for me. I hear Super Bowls are overrated and anyway, I had some serious suffering to get to.
So I went on rooting for the Cardinals and Browns my entire life. The Cardinals have blessed me with several World Series appearances and titles to brag about. The Browns have blessed me with, well, nothing. They’ve never won another major championship.
There have been close calls. But “The Drive” by John Elway and “The Fumble” by Earnest Byner dashed any dreams I had of Cleveland getting to a Super Bowl.
John Dorsey has put together the best Browns’ roster in over 30 years. Baker Mayfield gives Browns fans something we haven’t had in about 20 years – hope. I do hope and pray the Browns will someday make it to a Super Bowl.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Jack Sheehan for his confession piece a few weeks ago. His confession on the crime of mooning gave me the courage to admit my dirty little secret.
I don’t think it reaches criminal status. If it is a crime, it’s provided a much more torturous and gut-wrenching sentence than I deserved. It brings back memories of those young dupes I chuckled at as I collected their dimes and quarters 50 years ago.
But then I went on to claim the Cleveland Browns as my special team for life. And now I think to myself, who was the real pigeon?
Last week: 1-1
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