Sadly, I haven’t personally witnessed a Cleveland Browns football team victory in more than 40 years.
In the early summer of 1979, my new bride and I packed the sum-total of our belongings into our 1964 Ford Falcon Futura and headed to Columbus. Our destination was the hallowed halls of a Lutheran seminary, where I was enrolled in two months of intensive “Summer Greek!”
Having been birthed in the Windy City, I was a devotee of all sports Chicago, the lone exception being that of the White Sox as my father fanned the fanaticism toward the Northsiders, the Cubs, at an early age.
Plans were for a temporary visit to the home of the Buckeyes, with seminary requiring a four-year stint whereupon I would be ordained and shipped out to some remote location such as Lost Nation, Iowa. As God would have it, “heaven” ended up not being in Iowa but in Holy Toledo! Fast forward two-score, and I’ve finally learned how to spell “O-H-I-O” and can sing along with “Hang on Sloopy” as we haven’t left the state we endearingly call home.
As a Cubs fan, I know the excruciating annual agony that can often accompany the futility of watching your team experience the “agony of defeat” year after year. Thank goodness for 2016!
But it just so happened that about five seasons ago, a good friend and member of our congregation informed me he had season tickets to the Cleveland Browns. In short order, I busted out my calendar and he his Browns schedule, and we tried to find some common turf, as it were. Pickins were somewhat slim as he had tickets to half the home games, and I thought it an ill-advised move to cancel Sunday morning services so I could attend a 1 p.m. Browns game. Annually, our goal has been to find any game on a Sunday, Monday, or Thursday night.
We’ve managed to make one home game happen together four out of the last five years. Given schedule conflicts, one year I was relegated to only an exhibition game.
This year I was more than a little excited, while enveloped in the ever-escalating hype, to take in last Sunday’s gridiron extravaganza against the L.A. Rams, who in February lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
With great anticipation, I went ahead and purchased, in advance, a quality Browns T-shirt with the team’s orange helmet logo emblazoned on the front. Enthusiastically decked out in my gray “uniform,” we arrived at our designated parking spot, a hop-skip-and-jump from the stadium entrance. Timely, we secured a shaded location about five-and-a-half hours before kickoff and fully prepared to do some hardcore, if not leisurely, tailgating.
As we scarfed down sub sandwiches, the aroma of a half-dozen marinated pork chops on the grill from our tailgating next-door neighbors wafted our way. Unfortunately, the smell was all we got to taste. Bummer!
All manner of colorfully dressed faithful paraded by our locale, most making a “pee-line” to the multiple light-blue Port-o-Potties 30 feet away. Though limited to the spectrum of brown, orange and white, some apparel was eye-catching and enviable, while others made you turn away and shudder in sheer disbelief. We’re still trying to interpret the “fashion statement” of the one fellow in bright orange short-short spandex tights.
With game time approaching, fit and green-fatigued Armed Services men and women proudly attended the grand red-white-and-blue flag spanning the field during the National Anthem.
On multiple occasions inside FirstEnergy Stadium, someone would grab a microphone and start singing about some “brownies,” but I never saw any so I got a hot pretzel with mustard instead. At various times on the enormous video boards, we’d see shots of what is lovingly known as the “Dawg Pound.” They were most certainly a colorful bunch! Dressed in growling masks and flashing lots of aggressively ferocious pearly-white fangs, their language sounded colorful too as I attempted to periodically read their lips.
One particularly passionate fan, hardly 10 seats away, was so overcome with excitement he peed in his pants, but not before first puking over himself and fans nearby. I had little interest in what color he was now wearing, but I did notice the throng of armed security with neon shirts and badges promptly ushering him out.
Comments by that crazed motley and “mutt-ly” crew were rather psychedelic especially when the Browns attempted a draw play on fourth-and-9 followed later, with a chance to tie the game, four successive failed pass plays from the Rams 5-yard line.
Much hype turned quickly to gripe as we sullenly made our way out of the stadium. For the next hour-plus, as we inched our way through the parking lot, talk-radio commentators reacted anywhere from rage to remorse, from a quizzical query over uninspired play-calling to a noteworthy acclaim for the elevated play of the backup Browns’ defensive secondary replacing the injury-ridden starters.
After an overnight in Berea, we turned to home still listening to more ad nauseam Browns analysis. At that point, I suggested to my friend that “we should go into the glue business.” He gave me a weird glance as I added, “Those guys on the radio sure know how to beat a dead horse!”
We laughed for briefly and returned to the color of the day. “Blue” had become the new “Browns!”
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org