Cleveland Browns fans are a special breed.
Do I mean that as a compliment or an insult?
Allow me to explain.
I believe the Cleveland Browns fan base is one of the most devoted of all those in the NFL and has been for over 75 years. The Browns have been interwoven into the fabric of the city ever since they announced Paul Brown would be their first coach in 1945. Brown was already a legend in Northeast Ohio, having enjoyed great success as head coach of the Massillon High School Tigers, then winning a national championship at nearby Ohio State.
When the new Cleveland franchise in the All-American Football Conference hired Brown away from the Buckeyes and gave him complete control over football matters, the fans turned out in droves. Dan Reeves, the owner of the Cleveland Rams, saw the writing on the wall for his team. Despite having won the 1945 NFL championship, he moved his poorly supported team to Los Angeles. Cleveland quickly became a Browns town and to a great extent still is.
Fans quickly became fiercely loyal to the Browns, especially connecting with players who had local ties. When Bernie Kosar maneuvered to put himself in a position to come to, instead of leave, Cleveland, he became a beloved icon and still is to this day, nearly 30 years after he last donned the orange and brown. Head coach Bill Belichick, despite leading the Browns to the playoffs in 1994, became a pariah for cutting Kosar. Don’t mess with the locals in Cleveland.
The fans have always shown up for the Browns, in frigid weather with the wind blowing off Lake Erie, in a crumbling stadium and though a painful rebirth in 1999 which cratered with an 0-16 record in 2017. When the original franchise played its final home game in 1995, fans brought tools (saws, wrenches, etc.) and took out entire rows of seats as souvenirs. I’ve always respected that.
That does not make the team above criticism, frustration, or anger-far from it. As you can see from pieces written on this very site, Browns supporters let their players, coaches and the front office have it when they believe they are being let down, which has happened all too often since the rebirth. This is a prime example of the principle that the opposite of love does not hate, it is indifference. One thing no one can ever justly accuse Browns fans of being is indifferent.
There are other indictments that can be made about Browns fans, though, especially at the stadium. The Dawg Pound, born in the mid-1980s, includes some of the more rabid (sorry, couldn’t help myself) fans anywhere. That can be good. It can also be dangerous, especially late in games when alcohol has been flowing for several hours.
The classic example of this is “BottleGate” in 2001 when the end zone in front of the Dawg Pound was littered with beer bottles thrown in anger after some very poor officiating. Thanks to BottleGate, we learned that NFL referees are not authorized to stop a game early and most stadiums went to selling beer in cups, not bottles and cut off sales well before the end of a game.
Deep passion can easily cross the line and does not require alcohol to do so. The Browns’ acquisition of Deshaun Watson amidst sexual misconduct allegations has brought out the worst in some fans who have defended him by targeting his accusers in some lewd and crude ways. While fans have hardly been unanimous about circling the wagons around Watson, I also have not noticed any empty seats so far at First Energy Stadium either.
I was attracted to write about the Browns for Cleveland Sports Talk because of their rich history and the fans have been a huge part of that-not always in the best way but always a part of the story.
The roots of Browns fandom run incredibly deep, even after those roots were ripped up and replanted with the seasons of general malaise that followed. For a city that has had some rough times, it’s very important to have something to rally around, that unites rather than divides.
In Cleveland, that is the Browns.
Maybe one day the city can unite at a parade celebrating a Super Bowl championship. We saw the city go nuts when Lebron James brought an NBA championship home, but this would mean even more.
One day, the Browns faithful may be rewarded for their diehard loyalty. Until then, well, that’s why they call it faith-belief in things unseen.
I can’t think of any fanbase that has demonstrated more faith than Browns Nation, and for that this writer salutes you.