The Super Bowl? In Cleveland, we’re still all about the Browns, record 7-8-1. Baker Mayfield, the team’s backup quarterback and Number 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, got the call midseason and saved us. Shake and bake. The Browns are no longer the Clowns. My cousin George said, “I tell out-of-towners if and when the Browns start to turn it around, you will not have experienced anything like it.” Nothing less than the playoffs for the Browns next year.
I’ve had problems with Cleveland Browns fans. I’m a landlord, and tenants sometimes hold noisy Browns parties. Beer usually has something to do with it. When the Browns won their first game in almost two years (beating the New York Jets, 21-17, in September), some renters got louder than usual. Bud Light ran a promotion that featured locked beer fridges at local bars. If the Browns won a game, the fridges would remotely unlock. Free beer.
A tenant once called me during a Browns game: “They’re literally stomping in the apartment above. I’m having palpitations right now. I’m calling the police. Your manager won’t do anything. I’m having a heart attack. If I die, it’s on your head.” Then he called me a few days later to complain about a slow tub drain.
My former neighbor, Chris, missed the hubbub this season—the Browns reawakening —because he moved to Connecticut for work. If he had still been in Cleveland, he said, he would have gone downtown for a Bud Light. He now lives in Fairfield, an upscale suburb near New York. “Here everyone assumes you are from someplace else,” he said. “The first question here is ‘Where are you from?’ In Cleveland, it’s ‘Where did you go to high school?’”
I went to Charles F. Brush High. (A rival of Thomas Edison, Brush invented the arc light.) I have lived in Cleveland my whole life. The online booklet for my recent high school reunion contained reminiscences about Cleveland sports. A plumbing-supply store owner wrote, “Here we go Brownies, here we go (they need a lot of help!)” An optometrist wrote, “I would like a long and healthy retirement and maybe one day to see the Indians win. The Browns, of course, just won, 54 years ago.”
That would be 1964. The Indians’ last championship: 1948. The Cavaliers won the NBA title in 2016, with LeBron James. They didn’t even exist until 1970. The Browns are, by far, Cleveland’s most beloved sports team. This is football country, with the Pro Football Hall of Fame just 60 miles away. The Browns are named after Paul Brown, their first coach, a football mastermind from nearby Massillon.
Oddly, my dad didn’t care about the Browns, though he was born and bred here, like me. An Ohio State graduate and Buckeyes fan, he was lukewarm to many things Cleveland. He pushed California on me. He told me to move to there. To instill California love, he took the family on a cross-country road trip—Route 66, Pontiac Catalina, no A/C, 1962—when I was in junior high. An ex-Clevelander, a childhood friend of my father’s, lived in Los Angeles and had a ping-pong table on his patio. Outdoor ping-pong—that was impressive to us Midwesterners.
Right after the Browns beat the Jets in September, I was talking football in a restaurant with Mike, a New York architect and Jets fan. He said he’s a Jets fan because he hates the Giants. “But I’m mostly a Cowboys fan,” he added. “I’m from Fort Worth.” He has lived in New York for 31 years, but he’s done some work in Cleveland. “0-16 (Cleveland’s record before the Jets game), you have to have a little empathy for that,” he said. “I know Cleveland; it’s not bad.”
He’s right. It’s not bad in Cleveland. It’s even warming up some. Have a beer. Super Bowl 2020: can’t wait.
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