Being a fan of the Cleveland Browns is hard. Years of ineptitude on the field, in the front office and with ownership have left fans both angry and frustrated. One group of Browns fans that have always weathered the storm are Browns Backers. It isn’t that the fans who pay good money to attend games and tailgate every Sunday around First Energy Stadium are less frustrated, but try being a Browns fan in another city. It’s even more challenging when living in a city of another NFL team. It’s easy now, with all the digital options, to watch games from afar. It is possible to pay for NFL Game Pass or other streaming services. There’s also the option of finding an illegal website that streams games for free. But what’s the fun in watching the games alone at home? Wouldn’t it be better to watch Browns games with a large crowd of like-minded individuals? Of course, it would be, and that’s how Browns Backer clubs were first formed.
No one knows who formed the first club. The most reliable information to go off of is that two gentlemen on both sides of the United States had the same great idea at the same time. In 1981, both in Rochester N.Y and Southern California, groups of Browns fans were tired of not being able to watch the Browns on television. Both individuals thought if they could convince a local bar or restaurant to show Browns games, they could promise the establishment a large crowd every Sunday to watch the games. They both must have been very convincing because it worked. As Browns fans in other large cities started to get the same idea, it came to the attention of the Cleveland Browns. The team saw a great opportunity to have these clubs be affiliated with the Browns and to create a network of clubs throughout the U.S. It was the only smart move the Modells ever made.
Currently, there are 363 clubs in every major city and 15 countries. There are approximately 305,000 card-carrying members. Besides major cities, there are numerous clubs located on military bases throughout the world. There’s even a club at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. This proves the point that Browns fans will travel to the ends of the earth to watch Browns games. Some of the clubs are small and may just be a group of guys getting together to drink beer and watch the game. All of the larger clubs are very organized. They have their own t-shirts, which they sell or raffle off. Browns Backer clubs also give back to the local communities. They’ll collect food for local food banks, pet supplies for an animal shelter, toys for Toys For Tots and much more. The Cleveland Browns encourage all clubs to support local charities. Clubs elect a president and have a vice president, treasurer and other board members to help with club activities. In Nashville, the vast majority of the Browns signage, banners and flags are hung prior to game time and stored away after the game is over.
Recounting a personal experience with the club even in Nashville: I was subscribing to a magazine called “Browns News Illustrated.” It was started by a gentleman named Frank Derry. It catered to out of town Browns fans with game recaps, team news, feature articles and had a section for Browns Backer news. Prior to the second game in 1988, there was an announcement in the magazine that a club was being formed in Nashville TN. I looked at my wife and said “should we go?” She told me, “are you kidding me? you’ve been waiting for this.” She tells people she’s a Browns fan by default and it’s my fault. I was fortunate to become the club’s second president and served for over 15 years. The Middle Tennessee Browns Backers started with about 20 Browns fans and now has over 200 members.
The unique thing about Browns fans, if traveling during football season, the first thing to check is where the nearest Browns Backer club is located. My wife grew up in Tampa and when we visit family during football season, we go to the Cleveland Browns Fan Club of Tampa Bay. We take Middle Tennessee Browns Backers swag to swap. There’s nothing like watching Browns games with other Clevelanders. The best part about having a club in another NFL city is when the Browns come to town. The clubs will have a Saturday night party and a Sunday tailgate. It’s like taking the Muni Lot on the road. It was always awesome to see a sea of Browns fans in a parking lot full of confused Titans fans. You could actually see the “who the hell are all these people?” looks on their faces.
Over the years, as a president of a club, I’ve had opportunities through Browns Backers Worldwide to meet a lot of great people, both fans and former players. Because of Browns Backer events, I was able to attend a Browns training camp with VIP access. My wife and I traveled to quite a few road games, including the 1999 game in New Orleans when the Browns won their first game in the expansion era. At that game, I was sitting next to the president of the Rochester club and when she said, “well only four seconds left, I guess we lost another one.” I replied, “there’s still four seconds left, we can still win this.” Your welcome Browns fans, it was all me. At the 2002 Browns/Saints game, I sat next to the president of the London club and had to teach him how to high five. “No, don’t put your hand in front of your face.” Browns Backers have always been a comfort for me as well as other out of town fans. We’ve made great friends over the years and we never miss the first game of the season at “the bar.” Hopefully, in this complicated year of Covid-19, Browns Backer bars will be able to accommodate Browns Backers clubs. Going to watch the games is a little bit of heaven, or Cleveland, which is the same thing, right?