This is the first of a series of really heartfelt, personal and family-oriented columns in this space in the weeks to come – themes that I think will ring true with most of you as well – but if that is not your cup of tea, then you probably ought to find something else to drink, and somewhere else to drink it.
And I would respect that totally.
Whatever the case, right after Browns defensive back Terrance Mitchell intercepted a Sam Darnold pass in the final seconds to close out a 21-17 nationally televised victory over the New York Jets last Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium to end Cleveland’s miserable losing streak dating back a whopping 635 days, the cameras panned to the crowd to all the fans in the stands hugging and high-fiving each other. And with that, I thought of my dad and immediately got emotional.
I know what that win meant, all the countless things it meant – for the Browns and their fans. They all count as just one in the standings, but a victory like that counts a whole lot more. It provides the loyal Browns fans, who fought so hard to get their team back almost 24 years ago, with the audacity of hope.
My dad was a big Browns fan. Because of him, and because I wanted to be just like my dad, my hero, I followed the Browns, too. In fact, the last thing we ever did together before he died, was watch a Browns game together. It was a fitting way for us to go out.
When the original Browns left for Baltimore following the 1995 season, and it was decided that an expansion team with the Browns name, history and colors would return in its place to begin play in 1999, the NFL created what was called the Browns Trust to take care of all the "team’s" business in the three years the club did not play on the field.
The two people who made up the Browns Trust brought in all of the media people who covered the team to get to know us and pick our brains about the Browns and what they meant to us. I told them the hospital story, and they turned it into a radio commercial when the Browns began selling personal seat licenses and tickets.
I never intended for that to happen, but it was pretty cool.
Covering the Browns for all these years – I still write for a website – has been tough as I battled my love of the team, through my dad, with the task of being objective and not subjective. I did a good job of it, so much so that Mike Lombardi, in 1995 in his first stint with the Browns, was so upset with a story I did about the financially struggling Browns being unable to pay quarterback Vinny Testaverde the bonus money due to him, that he kept poking his fat finger into my chest as backed me up against a display case in the souvenir shop of the hotel in which the team and media members were staying in San Diego; so much so that former team president Mike Holmgren glared at me during each and every press conference because I called him out on the fact he worked only about four hours a day; so much so that Brian Daboll, whom I called the worst offensive coordinator in Browns history, asked me during a presser if I would take a second look at him; and so much that I called former Browns head coach Eric Mangini not just a bad coach but a bad human being as well for the way he treated team employees.
My dad’s Browns were one of the greatest teams in the history of pro football, playing in 10 straight league championship games, winning seven of them, and sending a parade of players – and one very special coach from Massillon named Paul Brown – into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
When he passed the Browns to me, they moved out of town, and when they returned in 1999 to begin what is called the expansion era, they started losing with the same frequency that they used to win. Talk about dropping the ball. With each defeat in the expansion era, and especially the ones since what had been the last win on Christmas Eve 2016, I kept feeling lower and lower, sinking into a hole. It was past being a nightmare. It was just unreal. It was so bad that it was almost as if it were not happening. The losing numbed everybody.
So when it finally quit happening last Thursday night and I saw on the faces of those fans the joy that it gave them, I felt relieved.
Now they’ve got to do it again late Sunday afternoon and evening against the Oakland Raiders. And if they can, then the hope – and the hugging and high-fiving – will continue.