This season marks year number 16 for me as a Browns season ticket holder. It all started back in 1999 with the Browns’ return. Just a bright-eyed kid reaping the benefits of being his father’s only son and therefore earning a seat next to pops at each and every Browns home game. Admittedly, I was not there for the first game back as the Steelers drubbed the Browns 43-0. My dad must have known he couldn’t bring me into the world as a Browns fan with such a traumatizing experience. Instead, my first game was Week 5 against Cincinnati. I was given my first real introduction into the ill-fated fanhood I’d forever be a part of as Akili Smith found Carl Pickens with two seconds left in the back corner of the end zone we were sitting in, giving the Bengals the win and the blonde haired boy a bitter taste that he would become far too accustomed to.
Over the years, the faces and voices surrounding the seats my dad and I called home became more and more familiar. Like the first note on the piano of “Benny and Jets”, I would recognize the scratchy voice of the bald headed, scruff sporting, middle aged man sitting behind me in an instant. And with any positive play, my dad and I would wait to hear the couple to my left let out a bellowing cry of “That’s what I’m talking about!” Not to forget that with every Browns’ first down, my eyes immediately turn to the Southeast corner of the stadium to take part in the customary “move those chains” first down arm dance.
After spending some time away from the stadium while at college, and a stint working and living in Texas, I returned to Cleveland a year and a half ago with the news that my dad was signing over his seats to his one and only son. When I casually dropped this bit of information to my mom on one of our weekly phone calls, her voice began to crack, letting me know tears were filling her eyes as she told me my dad had initially bought the tickets with the dream of one day passing them down to me.
My story, I’m sure, is one of many. Just another reason on the list of why football, sports, and fanhood are in a word, awesome.
I made my first trip to the newly renovated FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday to watch the Browns’ last effort to get themselves ready for the regular season and do the same myself. Traveling with one of my buddies, a foreigner to my home in the third row of the end zone opposite the Dawg Pound, we made our way down to the seats just before kickoff. I began chewing his ear off on all the intricacies of the seats which I loved, feeling as he if he was the Drew Barrymore to my Jimmy Fallon in the movie Fever Pitch. As we entered our row I dapped up and embraced another 20-something, my seat neighbor for the better part of the last decade and a half. He, like me, began sitting in these seats alongside his father and was now the owner himself.
As good as it felt to be back home in my familiar spot, it felt even better to watch Hoyer lead the Browns offense down the field. After an anemic first three games, it didn’t matter who was lining up for Chicago, all that mattered was that we finally looked like an actual NFL team. High fives flew, first down signs were thrown, and the realization that Andrew Hawkins is the tiniest man on the planet all added up to a fun first quarter. Then, it was Johnny time.
For the rest of the first half, Manziel would do things that both reinforced his detractors and supporters. A fumble while getting sacked and some wobbly ducks thrown from the pocket were contrasted by a textbook run and slide, a third down conversion that can only be described as Manziel like, and a pin point TD throw on the run. After the touchdown, the end zone crowd began chanting “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!”, a tune that will surely ring in fans ears this season whether it is warranted or not.
As excited as I was to chant the first name of Mr. Football, it reminded of years past when similar crowds echoed out likewise cries.
“Kelly! Kelly! Kelly!”
“Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!”
“Brady! Brady! Brady!”
Few things are sexier than the allure a backup quarterback. And few things cause as much friction among a fan base like a backup quarterback. By the end of the second quarter, two season ticket holders with whom I’ve become familiar with over the years were at each other’s throats in a drunken argument that stemmed from the QB they were backing. These two, who I’ve fist bumped and hugged over the years, were so deep in the argument that one threatened to take the other outside and “drop him with a rear naked choke which he had done to others thousands of times.”
Because of my proximity, and my experience playing peacemaker late night with my college friends, I had no choice but to step in and remind them that:
A) This is preseason.
B) We’re rooting for the same team.
C) In the words of Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro, EVERYBODY LOVE EVERYBODY.
As the whistle blew for half time, emotions cooled off, and our section began to file out. One half of preseason football was enough for me and for most on the crowd. Another year of Browns football was just over a week away. The ups, the downs, the tailgates, the drunk arguments — the beautiful, mess that is a season spent at
Cleveland Browns FirstEnergy Stadium.
On our way out of the stadium we came across a couple. The man, wearing “Manziel” on his back, and the woman wearing “Hoyer”.
Despite the differences that fill the 70,000 plus that will fill that stadium each week, at the end of the day, we’re all in this misery and hope filled ride together. Members of peculiar, twisted, dangerously optimistic group called Browns fans.
(Photos: Ryan Jones/WFNY)