NFL – Reflecting Back on My Years as a Cleveland Browns Fan

We moved to Cleveland from North Carolina during the summer of 1987. The following winter, my parents took me to the play Sesame Street Live. My mom told me that every father that was at the event was listening to the AFC Championship game. The Cleveland Browns were on the cusp of going in the end zone to tie the game at thirty-eight. It was late in the fourth quarter in Mile High Stadium. Earnest Byner, the running back who had a great game, was stripped of the ball when he looked like he might get in the end zone. Mom recalls hearing a huge groan that interrupted the whole children’s play. The Cleveland Browns season came to an end with what would infamously become known as “The Fumble”. At that age, I was too young to remember much from that experience. 

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As the years passed, there were Sundays when games were on at places such as Cooker’s Bar and Grill in Cleveland Heights. My passion for sports would not develop until moving to Dallas in the 1990s. Although frustration set in when Art Modell took the team to Baltimore. 

In 2000, I went to my first Browns Backers experience in Dallas. However, I remember watching the team get outclassed by a fine Oakland Raiders outfit. During middle school and high school years, my family would go to a place called Old Chicago. There was a group in one of the rooms that would watch different games, particularly for fantasy football purposes. Because there were only so many screens in the room at the time watching the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which carried out-of-market games, I remember wanting the Cleveland game on but sometimes the guy with the remote control did not always do so. Looking back on it, the team I support has not only waited decades to be good, but also easy on the eyes in terms of being fun to watch, so naturally Browns games were primarily “undercard-type” games in this gentleman’s defense.

During my freshman year of college, the team had a roller-coaster ride, going 9-7 and sneaking into the playoffs. There was a long winter break between the fall and spring semesters at Saint Edward’s University, so I came back in Dallas to watch at the restaurant. The Browns had beaten the Ravens in Baltimore the previous Sunday with a late touchdown scoring drive 14-13 to give them a chance for this opportunity to qualify as the AFC’s sixth seed. They needed to beat the Atlanta Falcons in week seventeen led by Michael Vick, stopping them at the goal line.

It gave me goosebumps seeing the highlights later when Cleveland Browns radio play-by-play voice Jim Donovan said “run, William, run!” when running back William Green was running down the sidelines to the end zone. I remember being frustrated when the Patriots beat the Dolphins, fearful that New England would take away the spot, but later in the day, was the arrival of good news. The New York Jets took it to the Green Bay Packers which put both the Browns and Jets in, leaving the Patriots on the outside of the playoffs. Entering this year, the 2002 appearance is still the only time since coming back in 1999 that there has been postseason football played by the Browns. 

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After finishing college at the end of 2006, I found a Browns Backers club in 2007 that I still attend. The first year turned out to be a lot of fun as they went 10-6 with Derek Anderson quarterbacking the team. Jamal Lewis was the running back and Braylon Edwards was the wide receiver. The first win was against the Cincinnati Bengals and Chad Johnson in a 51-45 shootout. They also won a game in the snow against the Buffalo Bills with a safety scored, along with two field goals from a kicker who played high school football in the Dallas area, Phil Dawson. It was a fun ride, but even reaching double-digit wins, it was not enough to get in the playoffs due to losing a conference-record tiebreaker with the Tennessee Titans. A week sixteen loss at Cincinnati was really where the season truly ended.

After 2007, there was lots of frustration through the years after coming back down to earth. I remember the head of the Browns Backers saying he felt “numb” since the team was losing game after game. In 2009 they had a late winning streak, but the offense was atrocious, and the Browns Backers Group was cheering just getting first downs. Every now and then there would be a dramatic win. Us fans cherish those when they come.

The NFL Throwback YouTube channel recently had Peyton Hillis’ Madden cover story, so it evoked memories of 2010. I still remember Colt McCoy quarterbacking that team when they had their way against the Patriots and Saints in back to back wins. Hillis was like a bulldozer that year. Still, there was not too much success. 2014 had the arrival of Johnny Manziel, but that experiment proved to be one that failed. Brian Hoyer did well to help get the team to a 7-4 mark, but they fell apart down the stretch. Little did we know that they would hit rock bottom in 2016 and 2017. They won just one game in that stretch.

As bad as the period was, looking back on it, there were good pieces. Myles Garrett was a former number one overall pick, and Duke Johnson was fun to watch run the ball. Joe Thomas anchored the offensive line and had a remarkable streak of playing every snap until getting injured late in his career. DeShone Kizer did not pan out as a quarterback. He was a turnover machine. Especially when the team had chances to score. Without that winless year, the organization would not have been able to get Baker Mayfield. I must admit, I thought they would go after Sam Darnold, but so far, it appears to have been the right decision. Mayfield broke Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdowns. It was more impressive because he did it in just fourteen games. 

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It’s a good feeling knowing that the Cleveland Browns are getting more attention because they have the talent to compete. It means they are relevant. Because of the pickups of Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Sheldon Richardson, etc., this season looks promising. Now they have to learn how to come together on the field. There have been lots of expectations thrown around the Browns. A Super Bowl run sounds fun to think about. Although I do not think this team is ready to take that step just yet. If they stay healthy, a good year is playing a football game after the seventeenth week of the regular season.

It would be great to see them take the AFC North division crown, but if they have to get in another way, it is not a failed year. In order to get there, I think the magic number needs to be 4-2 within the division, and they could use a good start to this campaign against the Titans and Jets. Regardless, I think this will be a fun ride, hopefully for a long time.

Are you a fan of the Cleveland Browns? Does 2019 give you a feeling of hope? Leave a comment below.

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Follow Michael on Twitter @MJBolesta2.

Works cited: YouTube NFL Throwback channel Peyton Hillis feature

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