I’m have been going to Browns games since I was five. From 1981 to the present, I have been trekking down to the Lakefront year after year and since the era of “The New” Browns, I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been all that fun. Dare I say not worth the trouble? I wouldn’t go that far, but Browns fans don’t need reminding that since the return to the NFL, its been dark days at Cleveland Browns Stadium for the most part.
I was lucky as a kid to grow up with a father who lived and breathed Browns Football, and had season tickets to boot. As a kid, he and his brothers went to games with their father, a Hungarian immigrant. By the time my father had his two sons, we all went together. Our routine was the same every game. My Uncle would pick everyone up at our house and pile into his Suburban. My father was always the driver downtown. Usually 10 people in the car – a mix of parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. We never missed a game, rain, sleet, snow – it didn’t matter. I was raised to know that all weather is football weather.
Once the team left, it just wasn’t going to be the same. And it hasn’t been.
Sure, there have been a few high-water marks – the “Run William Run” game in 2002, DA’s coming out party against Cincinnati in 2007, the Bills blizzard game in 2007, The Monday Night blowout of the Giants in 2008, and the Steelers win last season – but the overall experience of Browns home games since 1999 has been sub-par to say the least.
This may be a bold statement, but I’ll make it anyways – yesterday’s 34-14 beatdown of the New England Patriots ranks as the finest performance by a Browns team in front of their home fans since the return in ’99.
I cannot remember enjoying myself as much as I did yesterday at any other time in the last 12 years inside that Stadium.
It was such a complete performance. From the opening kick to the final gun, the Browns dominated one of the best teams in the NFL in all three phases. Eric Mangini bested his mentor Bill Belichick, who many in this town still cannot stand. Brian Daboll, a former Belichick assistant, called perhaps his best game as the Browns offensive coordinator. Every key play he dialed up worked to perfection. Rob Ryan, a guy who will be a Head Coach in this league soon, had his group hold Tom Brady’s offense to seven points over the first three quarters. Brad Seely’s decision to pooch kick away from Pats kick returner Brandon Tate (two TD’s this year) was genius. Not only did it keep Tate from beating them, but the Browns recovered a first quarter muff and turned it into points.
While all of this was going down on the field, we all were having a ball in the stands. I cannot remember seeing a Browns crowd this giddy for three straight hours. The game seemingly featured play after exciting play that wowed us all, and we all begged for more. It started with Peyton Hillis’s first quarter hurdle job of Patriots DB James Sanders. But there was so much more for us to love:
- The two forced turnovers, including the one yard line strip by Abe Elam just before the end of the first half.
- The “Brownie” play – the TD run by Chansi Stuckey
- Colt McCoy hitting three different receivers on the dead run on three different third down plays, continuing long drives.
- McCoy’s amazing TD run – perhaps the biggest highlight of them all.
- Hillis’s game-sealing 35 yard TD run to ice the game.
I’m not even including watching Joe Thomas knock over Daboll with a flying chest bump or Mangini’s well deserved Gatorade shower he received from Brett Ratliff and Blake Costanzo. I defy you to find me a home game with more memorable moments in all three fazes of the game against a better opponent.
You can’t. And being there made it so much better. Walking out of the Stadium felt like a win after a playoff game. Everyone cheering, high-fiving strangers. We deserved this. It was the same feeling many Cavs fans told me they had after leaving the opening night emotional win over Boston.
24 hours earlier, depending on where you were in Cleveland, you were in the midst of blizzard-like conditions. It was cold, wet, and miserable. Yesterday the Football Gods were smiling on us in Cleveland. The sun was out, it was a 50 degrees, and a perfect day for a game down on the Lakefront.
Nobody (except maybe Vegas) outside of the Browns locker room gave them much of a chance to pull this one out, and they did anyways. And we all loved it.
I can’t wait to get back there in six days to see what more we can see against The New York Jets and the most hated ex-Brown of them all, Braylon Edwards.
photo via Plain Dealer/Scott Shaw