There was a time where I truly loved and looked forward to going down to the Browns games. I looked forward to it all week. The vibe in and around the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium was something I will never forget. It was a true “family” event for my family.
To me, there was nothing like a sunny fall Sunday afternoon on the shores of Lake Erie. Days like yesterday were commonplace when I was a kid. Growing up, Sunday Browns Football was my religion. My father and mother both grew up on Browns football, going to the games at Old Cleveland Stadium with their fathers. In a way, The Browns home games brought my parents together. My dad’s father was a season ticket holder in 1946, he had two seats in section 37. Over the years, the family had grown and so did the popularity of the NFL. Two tickets became four, four became eight, and as my father and his two brothers started families of their own, eight became 12. My mother’s father had his two tickets in row one of section 37. My grandfathers knew each other and my dad was checking my mom out at games.
The rest, as they say, is history.
By the time I was in the picture, my uncle had four on the aisle in row three, my dad had four on the in row four, and my other uncle had four in row five, while my grandfather had two right across the way in row 4 of the next section. So we were all together. Our routine was the same every game. My Uncle would pick everyone up at our house and pile into his Suburban. My father, the single greatest sports-traffic-navigator was always the driver downtown. Usually 10 people in the car – a mix of parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. We would leave promptly at 11:30am for a 1:00pm kickoff. Everyone had their job. My mom was in charge of bringing the deli sandwiches from Davis Bakery – we all had our usual orders (I’m a turkey off the bone with mayo guy, my uncle’s staple was Corned Beef on rye with russian dressing). My dad bought the programs from our same program guy – he always asked for a sandwich. My Uncle bought the pregame hotdogs – A dog with ketchup was referred to as a “wimp dog,” the man swears by Stadium Mustard and rightfully so.
In close games, My father, always the most unselfish guy, would go down to the car before the game ended. He would drive it up to the top of the hill in the parking lot adjascent to the stadium and have a cop sit it in to stay warm while he ran back into the stadium to watch the finish. This was the 70’s and 80’s when you could actually get away with moves like this. When the game was over, we all sprinted to the car, our feet numb from the cold, and jumped into the Suburban. Dad would take over there – nobody was a better aggressive driver out of the madness of traffic after Browns games than him. To quote my uncle, nobody could “Stay Tight” quite like my father.
I didn’t know how good I had it when I was a kid. Not only was I lucky enough to have seats, but the Browns were winners. My formative years were with Bernie, Ozzie, Clay, Hanford, and Mighty Minnie.
Since the Browns have returned, I still watch go to/watch every game, read everything I can about the team, write about the team, but it isn’t the same. I loved going to the games as a family at the old stadium. There was something about that decrepit old relic on the lake; the smells, the disgusting bathrooms, hiking up the hill from the parking lot, walking into the den of fans waiting to get through the turnstiles chanting “Here we go Brownies, here we go, Woof Woof.” Now, like everything else in pro sports, its a bland new stadium with too much commercialism and I am being “wanded” before walking in.
I lived in Chicago from 1999-2006 and would come back for the home opener every year. My father passed away in November of 2004 and going to games without him was extremely hard. When the Browns came back and moved into the new stadium, the core of our family split in terms of tickets. We were down to eight with my mom and my uncle continuing on the tradition, but we no longer had the need for so many seats. Fast forward to 2012 and I am a father of two. My son is now five and loves the game of football. We now have three seats, as does my uncle. One of my oldest and closest friends now has the two next to us and we have started our own new set of traditions.
However, the only traditions that has seemed to stick with the new group are the deli sandwiches and the losing.
I don’t need to tell you how bad the era of “The New Browns” football has been. 8,000 Quarterbacks, two winning seasons, one playoff game, and very little excitement. There has been one failed regime change after another. We’ve had so little to cheer about, especially since the Pat Shurmur takeover. But I look back at yesterday’s 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and feel like we, the fans, deserved that one.
The beautifully thrown and incredibly caught bomb from Brandon Weeden to Josh Gordon.
The Josh Cribbs punt return.
The resilience of Montario Hardesty.
The triumphant return of Joe Haden.
The Sheldon Brown pick six.
The Emmanuel Stephens/Billy Winn strip sack.
The victory formation.
I lifted my son in the air to see all of the big plays as the crowd erupted. He was going crazy. I high fived my Uncle and my mother, who were both at the 1964 NFL Championship game as kids. I walked out of the stadium with my oldest friend and we talked about how great it would be if we could have this feeling on a regular basis.
We had such a great time yesterday. Everyone did. The place was as loud as it has been in years. I just can’t imagine what it would be like down there if the Browns became a regular Super Bowl contender. It was so good for me as child of the 80’s knowing my team was going to be competitive every single year. Recently my son asked me why the teams we watch always lose. I tried to explain to him that he was born into this misery just as I was, but that you have to stick with your teams win or lose. Its real easy to be a Yankees. Being and Indians or a Browns fan is a true test of character and it molds you. It teaches you how to appreciate the good times. Our highs are much higher, while our lows are much lower.
He didn’t seem to get it. Then again, he’s only five. But he did understand what sharing that winning feeling with 70,000 of your closest friends was like after yesterday.
Here’s hoping that new Jimmy Haslam regime can keep these good vibes going.
Lord knows we all deserve it.
(photo via John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)