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!

30311015At 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:

Click to emlarge.

Click to emlarge.

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.

6a00d8341c73fe53ef011570b75b52970bThere 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.

R4dNiCI 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!”

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 12.47.02 PMSo why am I a fan of this team?  A team that has gone 80-161 since 1999?

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?”

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 12.51.10 PMMuch 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.

maxresdefaultThe 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.

hanssolo_3222573kNow 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!”

starwarsjedi4900So 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)

Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner, second from left, speaks during a presentation on a proposed renovation to FirstEnegy Stadium with team president Alec Scheiner, left, owner Jimmy Haslam and emcee Jim Donovan, right, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, in Cleveland. The two-year modernization project, proposed for completion during the next two off-seasons, would include two new video boards nearly triple the size of the boards currently in each end zone and increasing the lower bowl’s seating capacity while improving sight-lines. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner, second from left, speaks during a presentation on a proposed renovation to FirstEnegy Stadium with team president Alec Scheiner, left, owner Jimmy Haslam and emcee Jim Donovan, right, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013.

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Redid the logo and color scheme so that it looks like a more bland version of the Cincinnati Bengals, and;
  3. 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.

  1. Actually not really given their nice Eagles win. [back]


Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians fan. Cleveland native. Graduate and fan of all things Wake Forest.

  • When this article was teased, I was genuinely excited. My
    Browns fandom-ness has often been undermined. This comes from people telling me
    I don’t really know what it is really like to be a Browns fan since I don’t
    remember The Drive or The Fumble. That I’m silly to cheer for a team I’ve never
    known to be promising. That I’m too hopeful and optimistic. That kids these
    days don’t know x, y, or z. I’m ready for my validation. I’m ready to be enough
    as a fan. I’m done proving myself through archaic knowledge of past legends. I’m
    tired of pretending I know who Brian Sipe is. I was so ready for an article
    about how Millennial fans are pretty okay.

    Then….I saw this article was about Star Wars. We realize the
    Star Wars franchise started in 1977…three years before babies were even
    eligible to be Millennials. This Star Wars theme did not resonate with me, mostly
    because I’ve never seen Star Wars (with exception to Episode 2 or something?
    But when I say that, annoying film buffs tell me it doesn’t count, so, I’ve
    never seen Star Wars, I guess.)

    Also, I have vivid memories of the browns from (at *least*
    if not sooner than) the of age five and on….I would have concerns greater than
    the Browns win/loss record for season openers if I did not have any memories
    until I was nine (or later?). Especially since I grew up in NEO with avid
    Browns fans. I have quite a few poignant memories from watching Browns games on
    Saturday, clams baking, fetching cans of Busch for my parents’ friends.

    I can get on board for the “wanting to be a part of a
    community who loves something so much.” But perhaps not to the extent expanded
    upon here. I find it hard to be wistful for times that never truly worked out.
    If people constantly pine for what’s old and supposedly lost, it takes away
    from appreciating the present. Remember, some people think ‘Merica has been
    lost and would like to bring it back to the good old days. No thanks. Never sat
    in the Municipal Stadium, and sure, I would love to have the experience for
    comparison’s sake, but I won’t let that take away from enjoying games now.
    Living eight hours away now, I would love, more than most anything else, to be
    sitting in a seat at First Energy.

    The Browns have problems. More than most franchises, but
    every franchise has them. There are things I would change about this team,
    every team, the game, the league, etc. I just feel like there’s a lot of that
    out there. It’s not hard to find negative articles, negative opinions, negative
    commentary. From the outside in. As a “newer” fan, being optimistic, and
    hopeful, and positive (while not naïve) is the best fan I can be to this team.

    This was an overall disheartening read and I’ve processed
    over a few days now. These feel like the words of someone so desperate to
    belong to the old era of the Browns fans, they’ve joined the dark side. I
    choose to be present, and I choose to look towards the future, because there’s
    always next year. This did not represent, to me, being a Millennial fan as it
    does someone who wishes they were a fan born a few decades sooner.

  • “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.”

    Yup. And how much would this really change if the team were to start winning again?

  • jpftribe

    Great post, thanks for the perspective.

    I am gen X, born in 66. I went to my first game in 74 against the 49’ers on a balmy 30 degree day in December. The immortal Ken Brown plunged across the goal line in the final two minutes of the game to account for the only scoring in a 7-0 win. I’ve been hooked ever since.
    This may sound a little get off of my lawn, I used to walk to school uphill both ways, but you aren’t missing much not having visited the old Muni Stadium. It was great only because that is where they played. It was cold, wet, horrible seats, poles in the way of every play and guys lining up to piss in the sinks.
    I remember climbing on roofs to adjust the aerials to try and get the toledo tv stations because Art couldn’t sell those last 1500 really shitty seats in the 84,000 seat stadium.

    The best thing to happen to the Browns in my lifetime was Ernie Accorsi. Sure, the Kardiac kids were awesome, but that was really one season and red right 88 was a wild card game. The Accorsi teams were well built. Accorsi really took advantage of the demise of the USFL and pulled off the supplemental pick that landed Kosar.

    Without Ernie, there was really very little to root for in my history of the Browns. SHows the importance of a real football guy running the club.

    • Petefranklin

      Ditto the Toledo channel 11 broadcasts! Muni was great, although the troughs were nightmarish for me when I was little.

  • The funny thing about this piece is that I could have written it at age 25 to the generation preceding me.

    They were the ones with a living memory of not only the 64 Champs but the dynastic 50s Paul Brown Browns. My pivotal memories were not just the drive and the fumble and RR88 but also the 72 playoff loss to the undefeated Dolphins (they held the lead in the 4th quarter). The earliest memory was of last supposedly champ-level teams in 68 and 69 who got pounded 34-0 (Colts) and 27-7 (Vikes) in the conf champ game missing out on those two SBs. The Kosar teams seemed more lucky than good with their signature OT win over the Jets in playoffs set up by a Gastineau roughing call on like 3rd/25. The Sipe teams executed but when your nickname includes the word ‘Kardiac,’ you’re a dicey proposition.

    I mean the Dynastic Browns I heard about growing up were just a rumor and Leroy Kelly was no Jim Brown. (After his first three or four years, I thought Kelly was just meh to be honest.)

    But at least I had the uniforms and stadium and Chuck Heaton and even freaking Art Modell as connective tissue. You got nothing and it really takes the unique idiocy of two carpetbagging marketing suits to fail to recognize the importance of the tradition. Only the most most arrogant TED Talk, Sloan School MBA could become so enchanted by the magic of a spreadsheet mapping demographic youth trends that he would fail to remember that it’s a lot cheaper to keep a customer than to find a new one. But they’re managing to do it, managing to alienate arguably the most devoted fan base in the world. How? By being so fucking much smarter than everyone in the room, building, city, country. And btw you must be a stoopid rube if you don’t appreciate the edgy genius of using your wordmark on your pant legs because hey — we’ve got NIKE, I repeat NIKE telling us this is huge.

    • Dan

      Leroy Kelly may not have been Jim Brown, but he is in another league than the likes of William Gay, Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty, and Trent Richardson.

      I regards to Scheiner, I feel like he picked the absolute worst team to come to and here is why. The Cleveland Browns have no logo and a generic name. If you are trying to cater to people that have no affiliation or rooting interest in the team, the worst team to do it with is the Browns. Every single other team has the ability to put their logos and names on the jerseys and make them way more attractive than anything you can put together with the Browns. That’s why when people do those mashups and alter the logos of each NFL team in some way (Star Wars, they pretty much skip over the Browns. There is just nothing to work with there. Now for people like you and me, it is endearing. But for people who can pick from basically any other team in the NFL, you are the first team to fade into the background. And nobody not from Cleveland is going to want a jersey that has “Cleveland” sprawled across it.

      There is also the fact that Scheiner and Haslam are trying to make the Cleveland Browns into a global brand without realizing that they are already a global brand. At least with the previous colors. There was not one other team in the NFL, NBA, MLB, or any soccer team that I have seen that has that Burnt Orange color. Any person in the world at least halfway interested or even able to buy athletic apparel would probably be able to recognize that Burnt Orange and associate it with Cleveland. Now they change the color to resemble other teams, and you just fade into the background.

      Oh, and the fact that if you could cobble together a couple winning seasons and then change the colors and uniforms, no one would have noticed.

      • “There is also the fact that Scheiner and Haslam are trying to make the Cleveland Browns into a global brand without realizing that they are already a global brand. ”

        [as millenials say] ^^THIS!

        And while Kelly was better than Richardson, ever, *my* memories of him are more of 30 year old Kelly running behind 35 year old Gene Hickerson… not good. I definitely remember playing Strat-o-matic Football and using Bo Scott and his 4.5 ypc more the Kelly’s 3.2 ypc.

        And what is Strat-o-matic you ask? Ahh Millenial Grasshopper…

    • Sam Gold

      “Only the most most arrogant TED-Talk-watching, Sloan-Conf-speaking, MBA-getting, groupthink-buying twerp…”

      In my best Will Ferrell as James Lipton voice, this is scrumtrulescent.

  • Alex

    Great article. I was born in 1988 and am a big Star Wars fan also so appreciate the analogy there. It’s sad, already I feel myself losing connection the team also. The team has been garbage since ’99 but at least in some sense (uniforms) they looked like the Browns we all heard about from our parents, grand-parents, and brothers. Now that they’ve changed the branding and uniforms for the (much) worse all you’re left with is the garbage. I’m still a fan, watch all the games, read blogs like this, etc., but I find myself caring less about the outcome this year.

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