If I say Kansas to you, it’s probably images of corn and wheat fields, tornadoes and thoughts of the movie Wizard of OZ and Dorothy’s dog Toto! When I moved out to Wichita, Kansas back in 1992, I was familiar with the landscape and such because I had visited my Aunt Kay and Uncle Tom and my cool cousins out there since the early 1980’s. But when I moved, coming from Ohio, I wasn’t really prepared for a location in the country that was far more open and grander with that majestic blue sky and thus I felt far from home. I also was a huge Cleveland sports fan and the idea that I was not going to be able to watch my beloved Cleveland Browns or Cleveland Indians regularly was very much disheartening.
So, when I discovered that Wichita had a Browns Backer Club in town my life forever changed for the better. This weekend the Browns and the Kansas City Chiefs do battle on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Arrowhead is actually in the state of Missouri, as is most of Kansas City. But part of Kansas City is in Kansas. As you make your way down Interstate 35 traveling southwest, you’ll eventually run into Wichita, a three-hour drive from Arrowhead.
The Browns fans of Wichita are right up there with being the most dedicated bunch of crazy and diehard fans you’ll find. They call themselves the OZ Chapter in Wichita, very appropriate for the region, and they gather every Sunday during Browns seasons to cheer on their beloved Brownies. These fans in the middle of the country, might be 1000 miles from Cleveland and have even dodged a few tornadoes, danced around hailstones the size of baseballs and learned to live through heatwaves in summers where the temperatures can be over 100 degrees for 50 straight days (I was there that one summer of 2003 and it was like living in an oven), but all of that won’t stop them for coming back to Quincy’s Sports Bar and Grill on the west side of Wichita every September to go through the season with their team, our team, America’s team, the Cleveland Browns.
I had the chance to talk to many of these Browns fans in Wichita recently with the big Browns and Chiefs game being right around the corner. Many of these fans were raised in Ohio and grew up Browns fans and then moved to Kansas. Some in the group just became fans because “Who can’t love the Browns?” Living in the heart of the Chiefs fan base has never been easy for these loyal Kansas Browns Backers and with the upcoming game on Sunday, the Oz Chapter group has had to take on an even more protective approach to defending the greatest team around, our Browns!
I started attending games at Quincy’s Sports Bar and Grill with my fellow Backers after the Browns came back as a new team in 1999. Quincy’s has a whole section of its bar dedicated to the Browns. The Backers have decorated the room in the back with numerous photos and Browns souvenirs. But it’s more than just the location that makes this group special. It’s the fact that today, in the heart of the prairie, there are thirty to fifty Browns fans that come out, on any given Sunday, to scream, yell and cry brown and orange. As a Browns fan you understand the grit and pain you must endure every season. These fans living on the prairie take that loyalty to an exceptional level. Here are some thoughts from various members of the Oz Chapter sharing in their own words what being a Browns fan means to them and how this game Sunday against the Chiefs is more than just a game.
Pete Janzen, member since 2003 and former Ohio resident, discusses how he first learned of the OZ Chapter in Wichita:
“I went to the biggest sports bar in town to watch it there and I had all my Browns stuff on. Some guy at the bar says, “Why aren’t you at Quincy’s with the Dawg Pound?” I had to look up where Quincy’s even was, but I drove right over there and was stunned to find a big room full of rabid Browns fans. I was welcomed like a long-lost brother. That was most of 20 years ago and I have been going there ever since. It’s a super loyal group of fans that has changed a lot over the years but still has at least five of the people that were there that first day I met them. It’s been a lot of lean years, but the Wichita Chapter has remained strong even through all of those horrible draft picks, the bizarre events that only can happen to the Browns, the Jackson years and all the other hard times that we all know so well. When we watched the game last Sunday it was a major purging of demons and the wild excitement in the room was hard to describe…”
Pete went on to say later:
“I’ve still got the Browns coat that I bought in the 1990s and still wear it to most games, at least when it is cold enough to put it on. I got a Chubb jersey for Christmas and it was the best damn Christmas present I’ve gotten for years. I’ve got Browns stuff all over my office too. I live in the heart of Chiefs country and I hope we kick their asses on Sunday. GO BROWNS!!!”
Rob Kooser, another member of the Browns Backers in Wichita talked about what it feels like with so many Chiefs fans nearby:
“…It’s ROUGH!!! Living in Chief’s country is annoying in itself (if you’re highly competitive as I am). Having to watch and hear Chiefs’ success over the years reminds me of the tough journey the Browns have had to overcome to get to this point…Another frustrating part of being a Browns fan in Kansas is that the Chiefs are doing so well. Us Browns fans can’t get that local support to cheer us on. Typically, fans like to see underdog stories. If we were not in Chiefs Country, we probably would have a lot more folks cheering alongside of us. A vast majority of fans in this area will still be rooting against the Browns this weekend, whereas anywhere else across the Nation there might be a ton of fans rooting us on for the upset! Regardless, this has been a very fun ride and we are just warming up! The Browns will be competing for the next few years and it finally feels great to be relevant!!”
And then there’s the Oz Chapter President Josh Remacle, who has never lived in Ohio but became a fan regardless. He shared this:
“My grandfather was a Browns fan and honestly nobody really knows why? When he passed away in 2004, I picked up the torch…”
Josh went on to share where that love for the Browns really took hold:
“December of 2009 was the first time I saw the Browns in person, at Arrowhead against the Chiefs. Any Browns historian will recall we won that game, 41-34, after Josh Cribbs returned two kicks for touchdowns and Jerome Harrison rushed for 286 yards and three touchdowns. I left that stadium knowing I’d never love another team like I did the Browns.”
And finally, there those former Browns Backers of Wichita, who also hold fond memories of this most dedicated group.
Jillian Van Wagnen is one of those former Backers and she couldn’t say enough of the group from Wichita. She had just moved to Wichita years ago and her story is like many others when chatting about the loyal fan base:
“Moving somewhere new by yourself can be intimidating and scary. When I moved to Wichita in September 2012, I moved into a house with someone I connected with off Craigslist (She ended up being awesome!), I had no friends and my family was 15 hours away. Welcome to adulthood!
It was my first Sunday in Wichita and I was anxiously waiting for our rookie class to take the field! Our leader, Pat Shurmur, was going to lead our rookie class that included Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon to the promise land and end our playoff drought. Like every year, all Browns fans are optimistic, energetic and all in.
Game time was minutes away and I turned on the TV and no game. Insert induced panic! Originally from Cleveland, this was never a problem. During my time in Athens, Ohio, I had a Browns backers bar that I frequently went to connect with “my people!”
I immediately googled Brown Backers bars near me hoping that in a place of uncertainty that I could find Browns fans like me! Not optimistic at all, I STRUCK GOLD! It was 20 minutes away. I immediately jumped into the car and drove to the Wichita Browns Backers bar.
I walked in and the rest is history. I immediately fit in, like I was downtown on East 4th Street watching the game. I was welcomed with fist pumps and “Here We Go Brownies” chants! There was even a dog there who was our mascot before Swagger was a thing… To this day, I proudly wear my Wichita Browns Backers Bar shirt as a reminder that no matter how far away I am from home, I will always have Cleveland Browns fans to lean on. Whether you’re 15 hours away or 20 minutes away, Browns fans will always have each other’s backs. We have a subconscious connection with riding the highs and lows together, but always optimistic that “This is the year!” As we approach this weekend’s divisional matchup against the Chiefs, we can all agree on one thing, we will all bark together from afar and know inside our hearts, that “This is OUR year!”
As these current and former Wichita Browns Backers have shared so well, it doesn’t matter where you are today, as a Browns fan that connection to the team and to its fans, is a bond like no other. When I’ve debated this loyalty with other rival NFL fan bases, they don’t quite get it. But we Browns fans do and on Sunday we’ll all be holding are collective breath, pacing the room, ready to watch their team win or lose because we love that orange and brown.
I had the privilege for several seasons to be the leader of the OZ Chapter Browns Backers. That connection with them helped me as I lived so far from Ohio and it reminded me all the time of how people are tied together by a desire to belong to something bigger than themselves. I hope that while you’re cheering Sunday, remember this group in the heart of Kansas! And if you’re ever traveling through Wichita on any given Sunday, remember to stop by Quincy’s Sports Bar and Grill! You’ve got a Browns home there! Woof Woof!!