Millennial Browns Fans and A Galaxy Far, Far, Away
Dan Z. wrote up a piece from the millennial Browns fan point of view. Lookit: I’m 53. So I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have a living memory of the Browns that may have only started in 1999. Criminy.
Han Solo: Garbage chute. Really wonderful idea. What an incredible smell you’ve discovered!
At the time I wrote this, the Cleveland Browns were 0 and 1 after a fairly lackluster performance. For a Browns fan, this is nothing new. Since their return, the Browns are 1-16 in the first game of the season. Within that dismal stat lie some of the most unlikely events to occur on a football field. If you would like a refresher of the luck that the Browns have on the first weekend of the year, just take a look:
That was fun. My original intent for this article was to attempt to show that: a.) there is a god; and b.) he hates Browns fans.
There just cannot be any other explanation for the stream of events that have occurred in Browns openers. And all of them bad. This is not chance. This is some vindictive mother*cker with his finger on the button, waiting for you to build up your hopes so that he can mess with your brittle psyche. This is the Old Testament God, and we are Job.
The failures in the opening game of the season always hit me hard. Much harder than they should, and I started to wonder why. I am a fairly rational human being most of the time, and usually I can recognize that if my team is going to suck. But with the Browns I just can’t stay rational, and that first loss hits me like a cold bucket of water.
I think my best explanation for why these losses are so significant to me is that I am a millennial Browns fan. Let me explain.
Obi-Wan: I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.
I was born in 1986. I was 1 when the drive happened, and two when the fumble happened. As such, I cannot fully appreciate how crushing those events were for a fan. Those fans old enough to feel the pang of those events, however, can also remember times when the Browns had success, made the playoffs, and were on the cusp of Super Bowls. There was good football, and even though the fans had to commiserate in the terrible losses, they could also celebrate some great wins and the excitement of playoff football.
But I just cannot fully appreciate any of this. I was 9 when the Browns left Cleveland. That means the only real memories I have of the Browns are those of this new version, the one that has been a laughing stock for the past 15 years now.
Luke: “Ben! I can be a Jedi. Ben, tell him I’m ready!”
Well, for one, I was born and bred in Northeast Ohio and all of my five older brothers were Browns fans. But, the best way I can explain why I am a fan is in this way:
The first three Star Wars movies (episodes 4, 5, and 6) were released around the same time that the Browns had success in this league (the movies were released in theaters in 1977, 1980, and 1983 respectively). Again, I was born too late and never able to experience the movies in the theater.
Now imagine that those movies played in theaters for their original run time, but were never released to VHS or DVD in the future. That means only those alive and old enough to remember the movies could appreciate their awesomeness. Those born after the movies released would have never been able to see the movies and would have had to rely on word of mouth to learn of their awesomeness.
Those of us too young also never had the experience of seeing the movies in the theaters. Were never able to sit in wonderment with the big screen and surround sound, then leave the theater and rehash every part of the movies with our friends and family. Never wait with bated breath for the next movie to come out, knowing that though it may be different, it would still be awesome.
Obi-Wan: “Who’s the more foolish; the fool, or the fool who follows him?”
Much like this scenario, I was forced, along with many Browns fans of my generation to build our Browns fandom on the backs and memories of those who could remember better times. But those memories of going to games, the great plays, the wins and losses, made us want to become Browns fans all the more. I can still remember my brothers rehashing the games with such enthusiasm. I wanted to be part of that. The single greatest disappointment in my life is never being able to sit in Municipal Stadium and watch a Browns football game.
Going back to my Star Wars reference, imagine my excitement to be able to sit in a theater and experience a Star Wars saga unravel anew on the big screen. To be able to be a part of that experience I was told so much about. To be able to leave the theater and recount the movie with other fans. To be a part of the community that loved something so much.
C-3PO: We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.
The Browns returned in 1999. Oddly enough, the new Star Wars, Episode 1 movie was released the same year. In both instances I was extremely excited to see the return. Both promised to respect the past and build something that fans both new and old could be proud of.
With the Browns we got the same colors and name, a bland stadium, devoid of any character, a woefully underdeveloped roster, and constant turmoil and upheaval in the front office. With the three new Star Wars movies we got one dimensional characters, devoid of any of the charm and personality from the first series, a woefully underdeveloped plot, and cheap and blatant call backs to the original movies. We got disappointed more than we possibly could have imagined.
Luke Skywalker: I have a very bad feeling about this.
Now this is where I would like to bring this back to my issues with the Browns’ terrible history in season openers. You see, my generation of Browns fans does not have a Browns past. We were deprived of that when the team moved. And our present has been a sever disappointment and certainly nothing to extract joy from. So me, and I believe those of my age, pin our hopes and our fandom on the future. Every year around the start of September, my hopes irrationally swell. Maybe this is the year we climb out of the cellar. Maybe this is the year that (insert QB name here) shows that he is a franchise QB. Maybe this year we hit on (insert 1st round bust here). And every year those hopes are crushed in spectacular fashion in the very first game. And with that first loss, I am forced to turn the knob down on my optimism for the season.
Lando Calrissian: “It’s not fair! They promised me they fixed it! It’s not my fault!”
So the Browns are 0 and 1 again. Their starting QB is coming off of a concussion and still may start over the perceived much improved Johnny Manziel, which should take its usual QB controversy shape soon enough (again I wrote this after the home opener, what foresight!). The two areas we thought we could hang our hats on, the offensive line and defensive secondary, looked like the worst areas of the team the last game. And the state of the media and radio station in this town is such that everyone gets in a froth about minor roster moves at the bottom of the depth chart, marking releases of marginal players as career suicide by the front office.
So where do we go from here? Because that last paragraph was exhausting to write and think about. I am reminded of an article by Chris Thompson of Deadspin, writing about the sad state of the Washington football team, in which he states:
It’s true that fans will put up with a lot, but this is really a truth best visualized in concentric circles. The outermost circle of fans will put up with everything up to, say, the team being garbage. Somewhere inward from there are fans who will put up with the team being garbage and other manner of disappointments and indignities, but cannot abide a racist nickname. Somewhere inward from there are fans who will shrug at a racist nickname but will not be able to root for a team with as arrogant and defiant and meddlesome an owner as Washington’s. Maybe somewhere at the very center of this is some guy who would not stop rooting for his team even while everyone on the team’s payroll took turns stabbing him with an actual chef’s knife. Most fans will put up with knowing the NFL is brutal and dangerous and corrupt, but will enjoy hating and rooting against a team as gross as Dan Snyder’s. That team has crossed some imaginary line beyond which all but a small number of fans cannot follow.
Now it’s true that Washington is somehow in a worse state than the Browns.1 But the same theory applies. There is only so much that a fan can take before he realizes that it is not worth it. For me, I was deprived of the Browns in my formative years. I have no Browns past to cling to. The more recent past has been a depressing slog through 4-12 after 5-11 season, and now the Browns are passing into a state that may sever my ties to the team for good.
“For many years, the Cowboys have been a leading innovator among NFL franchises, and Alec played an integral role in this success. We are confident that his expertise will be a tremendous asset, not only for our organization but our fans as well.” – Jimmy Haslam (NOT A STAR WARS CHARACTER)
The Browns, much like the Star Wars franchise, we sold recently. With changes in ownership there is inevitably a change in the product itself, and if it is not obvious from the quote above, it is obvious in the team’s actions that the changes are aimed at only one thing; making money. To recap some of the more significant changes, the team:
- Supposed billionaire owner assisted in a full court press to reup the city sin tax, citing that a 15 year old stadium needed significant improvements, squeezing every last dime out of a city that can barely afford keeping potholes filled;
- Redid the logo and color scheme so that it looks like a more bland version of the Cincinnati Bengals, and;
- New uniforms!!!! Now they say Cleveland along the side!!!! So when you turn on the tv and see a team with colors kind of like the Bengals (instead of the distinctive burnt orange), you can figure out it is the Cleveland Browns.
Each of these moves, along with the futility of the team on the field for the past 15 years, further erodes the veneer that was placed on this team when it returned; the idea that this team is a source of civic pride. That team that played last Sunday, with those uniforms, that is Jimmy Haslam’s team. It’s not your team anymore. Sure, he will let you play with it for a little while, but for a price. But it is getting tougher and tougher for me to pony up.
- Actually not really given their nice Eagles win. [back]