For those of you that belly-ache and complain about your sports teams, just pause for a moment and be thankful that you are not a Cleveland Browns fan.
Several years ago my mother turned to me in a moment of heart-break and said, “I just don’t see how you can cheer and support this team. All they do is break your heart. You get no return on your investment of love.” She WAS and IS exactly right.
Yesterday the Cleveland Browns took another big step into the realm if irrelevancy. This “new” regime traded the 2012 #3 overall pick Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 1st-round pick. The move fits nicely in the pantheon of either horrible decisions, or heart-breaking developments for a fan base that has been loyal and mis-treated.
The last time the Cleveland Browns won a championship of any kind was in 1964. They won an NFL Championship. But, since then it has been nothing but disaster. Dating back to 1980 the devastation on the football field, and even off, has been not only painful but debilitating. There have been losses that leave Browns fans speechless for weeks because it simply is just so hard to believe. Here is the litany of loss that was re-emphasized with yesterday’s trading of a fan favorite.
1) Red Right 88– The Browns trail the Oakland Raiders 12-10 in the waning moments of a playoff game played in sub-zero temperatures. The Cardiac Browns had staged numerous rallies during the 80′ season and had been given that moniker again. Sitting in field goal range with the clock winding down the Browns were ready to kick the winning field goal until head coach Sam Rutigliano decided to try a pass play called “Red Right 88” to hit All-Pro Ozzie Newsome in the corner of the end zone. The play was doomed from the start as quarterback Brian Sipe momentarily slipped on the icy field as he took the snap. Raider defensive back Mike Davis would intercept the pass. Ending the game, ending the season and beginning a stretch of misery that still lasts today.
2) THE DRIVE- The Cleveland Browns were one of the best teams in football. With second year quarterback and Ohio native Bernie Kosar leading the way and suffocating defense that was physical, mean and nasty. The Browns were hosting the AFC Championship game against the John Elway led Denver Broncos. With the score tied at 13-13 with just over 5 minutes remaining, Kosar hit possession receiver Brian Brennan on a fly pattern right. Brennan caught the ball and made a stop and go move, causing All-Pro defensive back Dennis Smith to trip and fall. Brennan scampered into the end zone giving Cleveland a 20-13 with 5:02 remaining and sending 80 thousand rabid Dawg Pound Browns fans at Municipal Stadium into a frenzy. What would follow would be an excruciating drive keeping Cleveland from the Super Bowl. Elway would lead the Broncos on a 98 yard drive in 4 1/2 minutes converting numerous 3rd-and longs against the Browns topped ranked NFL defense. The Broncos eventually win the game in overtime, delivering a dagger to the hearts of the loyal Browns fan base. The Drive ranks as one of the penultimate clutch moments in the history of the NFL.
3) THE FUMBLE– Once again it was the Browns and Broncos playing for the AFC Championship. Only this time the game was played in Denver. The Browns were an explosive offense with Kosar at quarterback, Cleveland had multiple threats on the outside. Receivers Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne and Brian Brennan complimented the strong running attack of Ernest Byner and bulldozing back Kevin Mack. Ozzie Newsome rounded out the weaponry. The Browns again had a top notch defense and were looking to repay the favor from 1986 to John Elway and the Broncos. The problem for Cleveland is this time Denver jumped out to an early lead and by mid-way through the 3rd quarter the game was all but lost. Trailing 31-7 the Browns and their fans were destined for another long off-season. But, like a shot of adrenaline the Browns staged a furious rally. Scoring at will and riding the legs of Ernest Byner the Browns climbed within 31-24 by early in the 4th quarter. After Slaughter caught a Kosar pass mid-way through the 4th, the Browns had tied the Broncos scoring 24 unanswered points. Every Browns fan felt this would be the ultimate pay-back for THE DRIVE. But, it was not to be. Elway led the Broncos on a touchdown drive that culminated with a Sammny Winder scamper. With just over 5 minutes to go, now Kosar had his chance to answer Elway’s drive and he did just that. With precision Kosar orchestrated a masterful drive, utilizing Newsome, Brennan and Byner the Browns drove the ball to the Bronco 7 yard line and faced a 2nd-5. On a draw play, Kosar would hand the ball off to the amazing Byner who drove right/cut left and surged toward the end zone. But, when Byner cut left, the ball left his side and it hung like low-lying fruit. Reserver corner man for Denver Jeremiah Castille who was playing one-on-one coverage against Slaughter, noticed the Browns receiver become a spectator. Realizing the play was not designed for Slaughter, Castille cheated from his corner spot and when he saw Byner cut, unbeknownst to the Browns back, Castille punched the ball free. Those of us watching on television saw Byner fall into the end zone. For a moment we allowed ourselves the joy of the tying score, but then the sobering and devasting reality set in. Byner had fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line and Denver had recovered the ball. The lasting image for Browns had Byner sitting on his helmet in the waning moments while Kosar comes up to him and pats him on the back. Broncos win game and go to their second straight Super Bowl.
4) THIRD TIME NOT THE CHARM– In 1989 the Browns and Broncos would meet again for the AFC Championship in Denver. Yet, this time there was no drama. Denver beat Cleveland 37-21. Once again being the ultimate road-block in Cleveland’s championship pursuit.
5) THE BETRAYAL– There was no doubt the Browns played in an old and antiquated stadium. Municipal Stadium was not cozy and it didn’t just need a face-lift, the Browns needed a new place to play. Owner Art Modell, who was beloved in Cleveland, had threatened the city that he would move the team if the Cleveland didn’t build him a new stadium. At this time stadiums were popping up all over the country as municipalities actively recruited professional franchises. One of the city’s looking for a team was Baltimore who had seen their beloved Colts moved to Indinapolis in the dead of night in the 80’s. Baltimore had a stadium in place and came after the Browns and Modell HARD. No one in Cleveland thought Modell would actually move the Browns, believing he was playing a game with chicken with Cleveland city leaders. Instead, of playing any more games, Modell signed an agreement with Baltimore officials to move the Browns at the end of the 1995 season. It was ultimate betrayal by the Ohio native, over-night Modell became the most hated man in Cleveland. A fan base that had been selling out games for decades was now betrayed in the most deplorable of fashions. If Browns fans could take any good news from this was that the NFL allowed Cleveland to keep their history. The league promised Cleveland an expansion franchise once a stadium was built. The bad news, Baltimore almost immediatley became a contender and won a Super Bowl five years after leaving Cleveland. The ultimate insult. The Browns favorite son, Ozzie Newsome was the Ravens General Manager and had a penchant for building a winner. Modell past away during the 2012 season. And as every NFL stadium held a moment of silence for Modell, the Browns refused to do so fearing the response from still bitter fans.
6) NORTHCUTT DROPS IT- The Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 and were an awful team. Bad personnel decisions hampered this franchise, yet they managed to get into the playoffs in 2002 with a surprising campaign. In their playoff match-up they took on their nemesis the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mid-way through the 4th quarter Cleveland held a 12-point lead and looked primed for an upset. Behind a record passing performance by back-up quarterback Kelly Holcombe the Browns looked like they would advance to the second round. Not so fast.
The Steelers would score to cut the deficit to five. Then with the Browns one first down away from being able to run out the clock. Holcombe threw an out pattern pass to Dennis Northcutt. He had first down yardage if he caught the ball……He didn’t. He dropped it. You know the rest of the story. The Browns would punt, Pittsburgh behind Tommy Maddox would drive down the field and score the game winning touchdown with under one minute left. Affectionately called The Drop.
Since 2002 the Cleveland Browns haven’t even really sniffed the playoffs. They did have a 10-6 season in 2008 but missed the post-season on a tie-breaker. Over the past decade the Browns have been plagued by some of the most horrific player personnel decisions that a franchise has had to endure. Whether it is picking the wrong guy, or having the wrong people in decision roles, the Browns have been a woeful organization. Current Browns President Joe Banner is the fourth man in charge of the organization over the last six years. His decision yesterday to trade the 2012 first round draft pick, Trent Richardson, signals another long rebuilding process….in what has been an organization that has been in perpetual rebuild mode. Patience has completely worn thin with a fan base that is constantly told things will be different only to experience more frustration.
There are fans of teams that say they have it hard. Raider fans, 49er fans, Chargers fans. They are always constantly whining about how tough they have it. I have nothing to say to you. I will never feel sorry or bad for the fan bases of teams that have actually been to Super Bowls, that actually have someone with some football acumen running their organizations. I just don’t have time to hear your whining about how “tough” you have it as a fan. Its simply not true. You actually have it pretty good. You have hope. Being a Browns fan means you are devoid of hope. There is simply no hope for a better future. For the last 33 years this team has done nothing but take from their fans. They take the support, love and adoration and then break you as a fan in the most heart-wrenching of ways.
So, what does a Browns fan do now ? We sit and we wait, like we always do. Patience ? We have a ton of it. Toughness ? You bet. Browns fans are not soft. We take the ridicule, the bows, the arrows and keep coming back for more. Try living a football existence where you know you will be perpetually disappointed. Just try it, I doubt you have the mettle.