Loyalty Treads on Thin Ice

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The kick was airborne for a second until Browns’ fans hopes of actually winning a game were shattered.

With three seconds remaining, the Browns were tied 30-30 with the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium Nov. 30 — their first Monday Night Football appearance in six years.

The 51-yard field goal attempt was blocked, of course, and because it was the Browns, returned 64 yards for a touchdown, a Baltimore win and yet another reason why young residents of Cleveland may abandon their parents’ loyalty to a once-beloved organization.

The Cleveland Browns had found another way to lose a football game, something Browns fans sadly have grown accustomed to since the team was re-created in 1999.

Cleveland has been to the playoffs only once in the past 16 years. The past seasons have seen bad draft picks, 24 different starting quarterbacks and relentlessly disappointing Sundays for Browns fans.

The franchise faces a dangerous problem because of their continuous losing. They might just lose the attention of a younger, high school generation.

Shaker Heights High School students have seen only one playoff appearance in their lifetimes, after season after season of humiliation.

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, whose children are teenagers, recognizes the risk.

“My kids, yourself, aren’t seeing a winning tradition that’s expected, and I wonder how that’s going to affect your generation,” Kosar said in a telephone interview. He emphasized the importance of Browns fans caring for the organization by relating a story about Art Modell, owner of the original Browns.

Before Kosar’s first playoff game as a Brown, Modell told him, “I don’t care if [fans] love me or hate me. As long as [they] care.”

It seems inevitable that young Browns fans might lose interest in the team.

Art Modell said, ‘I don’t care if [fans] love me. As long as [they] care.”

— Bernie Kosar

At this point in the season, the Browns sit on a record of 3-10 with no hope of making the playoffs. The team has a revolving-door position at quarterback with Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel and Austin Davis having all started at one point.

“It’s groundhog day in Cleveland. And it kills me cause I was born and raised there,” said former Brown Mike Golic, now an ESPN commentator. “But right now, if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan, the thing you have to hang your head the most about is the fact that we are again back to square one.”

The Browns have a porous defense that is struggling this year, especially with stopping running backs, which is ironic because the Browns defense is the highest paid defense in the league.

“[Fans] shouldn’t quit on the team, but it would make sense if they were to quit on them,” sophomore Nate Cowan said.

Mike Polk, the comedian made popular by his “Factory of Sadness” rant on the Browns, said this Browns season is different than the other losing seasons.

“There is a sense of hopelessness surrounding the team this year the likes of which I have never seen,” Polk said in an email interview.

He also blamed the fans for this situation. “We don’t punish the team the way that they deserve to be punished. The way that forces change. We just keep supporting this terrible product regardless of what they parade out there. If you’re any business owner and you are putting out a lazy, inferior product, using bad ingredients and cheap, incompetent management… where is the motivation to change?” Polk said.

Social Studies teacher Brian Berger is a Browns fan forcing a change in the franchise. Berger said he is not going to renew his season tickets this year.

“It is wasting money,” he said, noting that the cost of his tickets have doubled this year and that it’s not worth wasting his whole Sunday watching a team play so poorly. He said his Browns experience recently is “just disappointing.”

Season tickets cost $19-$85 per home game last season, but the Browns boosted the prices to $25-$110 this season, according to cleveland.com.

According to ESPN, this boost, along with the team’s performance, has caused the average attendance for a Browns game to drop almost 1,000 people per game.

Yet many Browns fans still haven’t given up on their team.

People old and young alike still go to the games and turn on CBS Sports to watch and cheer on their Browns.Browns fans are known for sticking by their team through the pain and disappointment of any loss.

According to cleveland.com, “Fans continue to sell out FirstEnergy Stadium. Watching a team that hasn’t rewarded them with a winning season since 2007 and a playoff appearance since 2002.”

Like other optimistic Browns fans, Shaker students still give the team their support each week.

“Just loyal, it’s who we are,” said sophomore Ben Greenberg, “We are the best fans in the league.”

While the older generation did experience an era in which the Browns had success with players such as Kosar, Brian Sipe, Ozzie Newsome and Hanford Dixon, the younger generation has experienced disappointing season after disappointing season. The veteran Browns fans experienced the golden years of the franchise.

They witnessed the Kardiac Kids coming back again and again, only to have their season end in the devastating Red Right 88 interception, thrown by Sipe. They witnessed the Browns advancing to the AFC championship year after year, only to have their dreams crushed by the Denver Broncos in games gloomily nicknamed “The Fumble” and “The Drive.”

Like the team’s fans in this era, they experienced disappointment, too, but at least they got to see the Browns succeed and get to the playoffs frequently. Students have grown up watching the Browns so many close games, constantly finding ways to blow it at the end.

This ongoing theme of failure is why the Cleveland Browns’ popularity might just be in jeopardy.

“There will always be loyal Browns fans, but in this generation there could be a decline,” said Greenberg.

Yet, while many might give up on the Browns just because of their lack of success, maybe supporting a team isn’t about winning at all.The Browns are a tradition in many Shaker households.

Junior Wyatt Eisen said he is very resentful of his parents for raising him to support the Browns.

“I hate my parents for making me a Browns fan,” he said

I hate my parents for making me a Browns fan.”

— Wyatt Eisen

However, Eisen said being raised as a Browns fan, along with needing to support his hometown team, is reason enough to remain a Browns supporter.

Sophomore Torrey Roper said, “I watch the Browns passionately every Sunday.” Roper almost broke his TV one time after a loss.

He said he cheers on the team because he will never abandon his hometown city by supporting another team. He said proudly,“CLE ‘til I die.”

In a telephone interview, Plain Dealer sportswriter Terry Pluto said the reason that fans stick with the team is tradition.

“It’s a family thing. It’s almost generational,” Pluto said.

Older Browns fans pass on their memories of Jim Brown, Paul Brown and other Browns legends to the younger fans, giving them hope that the Browns’ luck might change.

Veteran Browns fan Margaret Watson stated in an email that she remembers Kosar, The Drive and The Fumble.

“My parents were huge Browns fans. My mother still watches every Sunday. They were season ticket holders when the Browns were winning with Otto Graham and Jim Brown. I still believe we can get back to that,” she said.

Fans’ continued interest in the Browns is truly extraordinary.

The franchise has had almost no success since they came back to Cleveland in 1999, after Modell moved the original Browns to Baltimore, creating the Baltimore Ravens. The NFL created a new Browns franchise, and some joke that it is cursed.

Pluto said the constant failure does not seem to impact fans. He believes the franchise’s fanbase has stayed strong is because “the NFL has a way of selling hope.”

The NFL draft is just one example of this hope. Every year, the Browns have a chance to draft players whose arrival will have a big impact on the team. Yet year after year the Browns have made the wrong picks, selecting draft busts such as Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn.

Nevertheless, fans still tune in every year for the draft, always hoping to land that star player that will lead the Browns out of the abyss.

 


Being A Fan Is More Than Winning

I myself have a deep emotional connection with the Browns.

My dad has been a season ticket holder for almost 15 years and I have grown up cheering on our loveable losers. I went to my first game before I entered kindergarten, not even knowing my ABCs.

As soon as I saw a game in Cleveland Browns Stadium, at the age of 5, I fell in love.

There’s nothing like being around thousands of fans cheering on the team, ridiculing the team, and eventually being disappointed with the almost inevitable conclusion of a loss.

I learned players’ names, the team’s history and about football itself.

While most kids liked to play with Legos and video games, I wanted to talk football.

The Browns will always stick with me no matter where I end up living when I’m older, or how poorly the team continues to perform each season.

We Browns fans identify ourselves as a tough group, showing optimism every year no matter what.

We celebrate the same team and commit ourselves to supporting one of the worst teams in the NFL year after year.

“It’s a lot more than just supporting a winning team,” sports psychologist Jack J. Leysk said.

Being a fan gives us an identity and membership in a large group of people who share the same passion. The connection with others and shared passion are very strong and enduring.

“This includes the sharing of disappointments as well as the successes.”

And besides, the losses now will make a future Brown’s Super Bowl win taste that much sweeter

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