Why I Stay

That’s me there in the grey hoodie in the second row. Seat 13...Section 129...where I’ve sat for 17 seasons of inexcusably lousy football. Barely visible to my left, bundled against the cold, is my dear wife Cindy, who has missed a grand total of one home game since they opened the place in 1999. Me, a handful more than that. The more I looked at that cellphone shot off my TV, the more it was worth 1000 words.

Those four guys in front of us pounding the padding (the reason the CBS TV camera happened to catch us during the Steelers game last weekend) bought their tickets online from some of our more cold-averse friends, who own the seats. We had never seen them before, and no doubt won’t again. Such is the nature of StubHub.

But they at least look excited and “into it”, as contrasted with the grim visages worn by the season ticket holders behind them. (My buddy Jack, to my right, puts on an especially good upside-down smile for the occasion)  At least these guys weren’t waving those ugly yellow towels like approximately 40% of the crowd assembled there in Cleveland for the Browns 2015 farewell exhibition. These four guys were clearly glad to be there, regardless of the score or the home team record.

The cynicism of the Browns season ticket holder may be well-earned these days, but I want to feel like that again..(okay, minus the padding-pounding). It’s one of the reasons I stay.

Because I’m an Idiot

Hundreds of years from now, anthropologists will study the bizarre behavior of Cleveland Browns season ticket holders, trying to make sense of their inexplicable loyalty to a franchise that is serially bumbling and inept...and that’s on its good days. For now, one finds head-scratching bemusement...a touch of sympathy...and, from some corners of the non-ticket-buying public, nasty name-calling. We are derided as “those idiots”...”masochists”...”suckers” who continue to prop up this utterly failing enterprise with their hard-earned dollars.

Set aside for the moment the lame logic of people who think that, if only the season ticket holders would withdraw their support, (presumably forcing the team to play for empty seats?), the franchise would somehow miraculously be forced to become competent. Consider instead that all of the nasty names above...and more...are the way we refer to ourselves at the stadium, when blocked field goals are returned for touchdowns with zero seconds remaining on the clock.

The point is that these characterizations of Browns ticket holders are fair ones...or at least arguable ones...but they are a lot easier to take coming from the guy next to you at Browns Stadium than from some numbskull talk radio caller who never bought a ticket in his life...and who by the way, would support the Indians too if the Dolans weren’t so cheap.

Row, Jimmy, Row

Speaking of owners, this new guy hasn’t made things any easier for those of us desperate to keep hope alive. Jimmy Haslam owns two primary business enterprises. One of them recently owned up to screwing over its paying customers. The other is a chain of truck stops. This hope thing ain’t easy.

On days when I’m looking at the glass as half-full, I remind myself that I can’t blame Haslam for Carmine Policy and Dwight Clark. Or for Mike Holmgren...or for interchangeable names like Crennell, Shurmur, Chud and Mangini either. I derive some small encouragement from hearing that, while the 2015 season was circling the drain, Jimmy was conducting a listening tour of sports franchises, as a way to divine the “best practices” of successful teams. The fact that as a result, he hired a baseball man to advise him hardly discourages me. In fact, it’s right in keeping with the theme of the 2015 season (“You Can’t Make This Shit Up”)

Bottom line: If the first 14 seasons of paying to watch this comedy act didn’t send me running for the hills, there’s no apparent reason why the last three should...Ray Farmer notwithstanding. I cannot be made to believe that there’s something in the water in Berea that makes this team terrible even when they clean house from the owner on down and start over with a whole new regime. I will not submit to the notion of a curse. (Have at it, amateur anthropologists.)

Get Off My Lawn

I’m sure part of it is that I’m older. (Not old enough for Medicare, mind you, but I do get the discount at golf courses.)  I remember when it was really good. Like winning the NFL Championship on my 12th birthday good. My childhood heroes wore the orange hat. And it is the orange hat that commands my loyalty today, not the millionaires wearing it, or the billionaires behind it.

With age can come perspective, if not always patience. When you’re waiting and hoping for a professional sports championship in your hometown, Father Time can have a way of sapping a fan of patience rather than supplementing it. (The ubiquitous “Just Once, Before I Die” t-shirt being the best evidence) And I do realize that the bar for Browns fans has been lowered to the point that it is simple competitiveness, not necessarily championships, that they crave these days.

My own perspective has evolved in the 28 years since I bought my season tickets in 1988, at the height of the Kosar Era, when it looked as if this team might continue to be good for a long time  (so, I’m not the guy to go to for stock tips). Today, I want that championship for today’s 12 year-olds, not for myself. That, and for the psyche of my city.

And although I know the 12 year-olds aren’t necessarily watching, part of me wants to be an example for them of what a fan looks like. He doesn’t boo the home team or yell “you suck” at them. He shows up in a blizzard. He stays alert when fans 30 rows behind him are throwing beer bottles, and think they can make it to the field when they can really only make it to about the second row. He knows any team can have a tough half-century. In fact, you only have to go south a few blocks on E. 9th St. to find another one.

Okay, It’s Just Stubbornness
We’re all creatures of habit to some degree, and heading up to the lakefront on Sundays in the fall is just what we’ve become accustomed to doing for a few decades. But following a practiced routine can’t be all there is to it.

It is common among Browns fans to feel the dread that, should they ever give up their season tickets, and the Browns then finally turn it around, they will have nothing to show for their years of loyalty, and all the misery that came along with it. Having been there through all the tribulations will make the final victory all the sweeter. We tell ourselves these fairy tales as we trudge down Lakeside Avenue in the sleetstorm.

I suppose that if it were that easy to effect a Browns turnaround, I’d cancel my tickets tomorrow. It’s not, of course, and I’ll admit that there is some of that sense of what I have “invested” in this franchise every year when it comes time to write another check to them. And by what I have invested, I don’t mean the money.

If this fanhood thing were voluntary, I’d have quit it long ago.

In It Together

Some of the folks down there with us in Section 129 have come and gone over the years, but a core group remains...and those people are a big factor in why we stay. We kid each other as we part company for the offseason every January that we’re either going to quit this thing...or get a big “L” tattooed on our foreheads as a mark of our lot in life.

These are people that we have come to know and like, and we would miss them if we “quit this thing”. When you think about it, how many of your friends...even your good you spend three hours with, eight times a year...since the Clinton administration?  Not many, I’d guess. So there is a sense of obligation to those people...and I’d like to think that feeling is reciprocated by many of them. We’ve been through a lot together, and not all of it was ugly.

No “Loser” tattoos just yet.
Helmets in the Dugout

The typical reaction when I tell people I’ve been a Browns season ticket holder since 1988 is “Oh, I’m so sorry”. But I know it doesn’t have to be like that.

Much has changed, of course, since I started attending games with my dad in the 60’s. One very vivid memory is of the moments just before the teams took the field. At Municipal Stadium, the locker rooms were accessed through the baseball dugouts, and the pre-game excitement would peak when the crowd was able to see dozens of orange helmets massing in the dugout as our Browns prepared to enter the arena. When they emerged...bedlam.

Today we have inflatable helmets, fake smoke and flame throwers to announce the arrival of the home team to the field...but nothing remotely resembling the same excitement. No doubt I’m romanticizing some 50 year-old memories here, and I’m under no illusion that the old scene at Muny could ever be replicated. But I’d like to get something like that feeling again.

It’s why I stay.

I’m considering counseling.

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About Dan Wismar

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