April 17, 2014

WFNY Exclusive: Browns’ Joe Haden Talks Cleveland, Fans and Appreciation

Is it possible for the Cavaliers to actually gain fans this season?

Courtside at Quicken Loans Arena is often a who’s who among local Clevelanders, but many of those still heading down to The Q for games have been sitting in those seats for the past seven years.  One new addition this year is Browns cornerback Joe Haden who not only taking in several games this season but has been one of the team’s biggest supporters, often clad in Cavaliers gear while cheering on the Wine and Gold. If you’re ever on the lookout, Haden is the one with the “Gator Boy” pendant that can be seen from Loudville.

As if adding fans in a 12-win season was not shocking enough, the best part of Haden’s story as a Cavalier fan is that the up-and-coming defensive back had never been to an NBA game prior to being selected seventh overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. 

“I didn’t get to catch any of the games when LeBron [James] was here,” Haden tells WFNY in a recent one-on-one conversation. “He’s a really good player – I really would have liked to see him play here.”

Though Haden would not go as far as to support LeBron James’ off-court Decisions, the 21-year-old defensive back considers the two-time MVP to be an “athletic beast,” one who he watched during his time in high school with St. Vincent-St. Mary all the way through his time with the Cavs.  But as the mere mention of James’ name can turn a Clevelander’s mouth sour, the discussion quickly changed directions as the soon-to-be second-year cornerback knows just how much sports mean to his new hometown.

The image above is from the Cavaliers’ recent victory over the New York Knicks, a game that had an entire arena of fans on their feet for much of the fourth quarter.  The recent addition of Carmelo Anthony would have certainly been a reason for anyone to attend, but Haden says that he was planning on going to the Friday evening game to support the Wine and Gold well before New York’s well-publicized trade with the Denver Nuggets. 

Haden had never been to Cleveland and knew very little about the city on the lake prior to being drafted by the Browns.  What he witnessed when he got here blew him away; the passion, the support, and – most importantly -the barking.

“I knew about the Browns fans as I watched TV since they have the Dawg Pound and the barking, going crazy,” said Haden about the 70,000-plus that trudge on through perennial sub-par seasons.  “The fans have so much love and passion and they want a win so bad that you want to give it to them.”

As a rookie, Haden started out as a nickelback in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense, but was ultimately forced to take on a starting role after his teammate Eric Wright sustained an injury in Week 11.  He would go on to finish the season with 64 tackles, six interceptions – the first Browns player since 1968 to intercept a pass in four straight games – and one forced fumble.  But when it was all said and done, his team would go on to finish 5-11 for the second straight season much to the dismay of Browns faithful.

Which is why Haden, regardless of the final score on a Sunday afternoon, continues to make appearances throughout the city of Cleveland.  Whether it is sitting front row at a Cavaliers game, signing autographs during a Lake Erie Monsters game or merely making an appearance at a local establishment, the former Florida Gator understands just how much he and his peers impact the day-to-day lives of those that come out to see him.

“I want to make sure that I can get my face out there as much as possible and show the fans that I appreciate them,” said Cleveland’s new No. 23.  “We have amazing fans that come out. And just for them to show the support, the least I can do is give autographs or hold events for the fans who watch Cleveland sports.  As much as I can give back, I try.”

While being close to Eric (“E”) Wright and Sheldon Brown, Haden’s partner in crime has been none other then fellow defensive back TJ Ward who Joe credits with helping him get through the rookie roller coaster.  He describes TJ being drafted by the Browns as “a blessing,” something many fans would agree with. The two players have been seen together more often than not.  Whether at a game (Ward is high-fiving fans in the image above) or enjoying a postgame steak with their respective families at XO steak house, the two players continue to give the city of Cleveland hope for the future. 

Though it has only been one season, Haden has shown all of the qualities that truly make him a Clevelander – it is no secret that the fans in this town love players who they can relate to.  While a resident of Maryland, Haden has a condominium in downtown Cleveland. He also enjoys going to local Cleveland restarants and bars, enjoys watching sporting events outside of the NFL and – perhaps most importantly - has a work ethic that emulates that of this blue-collar town. 

Despite the issues currently surrounding the labor (dis)agreement, Haden reiterates that he just wants to play football even if it required the much-discussed 18 game schedule, calling the NFL “the best thing going.”

“Yeah, its your job, you’re getting paid, so you’re going to play hard,” says Haden. “But the fans, they do it for the love of the game, the love of the city.  Our fans recognize how hard youre playing, but if you come up short, as long as they know that you play your heart out, they appreciate that.”

That they do, Joe.  That they do.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    Kind of think somebody should do a cover of ‘sk8er boi’ about Haden and call it ‘g8er boi’.

  • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

    “Pendant” is a pretty conservative term for Haden’s accessory. You could probably get away with calling it a chandelier.

  • forrealmccoy

    Love this! Joe Haden baby! I kinda hope the browns take another DB (Peterson if he is there)

  • Brendon

    Can you imagine Haden, Ward or Peterson in the backfield for the next 10 years or so? Try to find a better DB core in the league. While I want Green, We HAVE to grab Peterson if he’s there. You can still find other good WR’s in the later rounds, but no one comes close to Peterson.

  • S-Dub

    Not to bring up old wounds or anything, but someone mention to Braylon that Mr. Haden did indeed go to Florida and was on the field when they smacked Ohio State. Yet, we love him. Go figure.

  • oribiasi

    @ Brendan — 100% agree. I love Green, he is insanely talented; but we can do ourselves in amazing solid one and make the best secondary ever seen. Peterson and Haden on the corners would make any team nervous.

  • eldaveablo

    Apart from his fashion sense (not that I am the best one to judge), I love everything about this guy. Love his talent, hard work, commitment to the city, appreciation of the fans, and the list goes on and on.

    At the time he might not have been the sexiest pick, but I’ll take this guy on my team any day.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Joe – you are saying all the right things, man…but I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to hitch my wagon to a player who says all the right things, then skips town when given the opportunity for more money or fame. Can you blame me?

    I’ll always be a Browns fan, but excuse me if I never buy another “favorite player” jersey. Been there, done that, got the jerseys with duct tape across the shoulders to prove it.

  • DK

    @BuckeyeDawg – that’s why I’ve resorted to our past players who are retired and will go down as Browns forever… Jim Brown sorts for my jersey selections

  • ClevelandGator

    As a proud University of Florida grad and transplanted lifelong Browns fan, I can understand people’s trepidation regarding UF players. I was more disappointed than anyone when my former college neighbor Gerard Warren turned out to be a first-round bust. I was torn when my alma mater faced off against the Buckeyes for the football and basketball titles. All that being said, good (Gator)Browns like Andra Davis and Joe Haden should show people that there are quality players and human beings from UF, and the ones that are true professionals would all love to play for a city that has the passion and love that we do for our team. Trust me, the only fans I’ve ever seen that rival the Browns’ for passion are those in the Swamp. I would love to see the Browns grab Will Hill or Ahmad Black (all SEC safeties) or Marcus Gilbert (4-year starter at OT) late in the draft so I can see them play with Haden every Sunday. Here’s to knocking the damn Steelers and Ravens off their high-horses next year. Go Browns!!!