Browns fans buy in despite marginal record
Observers have long been fascinated by the hold the Cleveland Browns have had on the sports fans of Northeast Ohio. This, in spite of being one of the most poorly run franchises in the history of the NFL for a two-decade stretch.
For most of my life, and being a baseball purist at heart, I have dismissed that notion as the result of the Indians being one of the worst-run baseball franchises in the history of MLB from the late 1950s up into the 1990s. The Cavs didn't join the party until 1970-71, and they were often one of the worst-run franchises in the history of the NBA, especially during the Ted Stepien era.
So the Browns, my argument went, were the darlings of Cleveland only because they had virtually no competition for the sports dollar in this city. The Browns, by virtue of playing occasionally very good football with many mediocre seasons thrown in, were the city's only shot at winning a championship and hence, grabbed most of the local sports headlines.
Things changed dramatically in the '90s after Uncle Art shuffled the football team off to Baltimore, while the Cavs were trying their darnedest to become favorites to draft a kid who had the talent of, oh say, and I'm just spitballin' here, LeBron James.
Anyway, the Indians – finally – became really, really good for the better part of a decade. A couple of trips to the World Series and a slew of Central Division titles resulted in a string of consecutive home sellouts that stood until 2008. The results, I felt, supported my long-held belief that the Tribe – when competitive – were just as worthy of the fan's sports dollars as the Browns. Sure, the Browns were on hiatus and the Cavs stunk, but the Indians crowds were so huge on a consistent basis that I maintained the Indians were just as big a draw for the sports buck as the Browns.
That view has now changed. I know a guy – just for grins, let's call him Jeff – who sells sports items ("vintage" sports items, to be precise) online as a part-time venture. Jeff reported recently that Browns merchandise (which Jeff swears he thought to be radioactive because no one would touch it for years) began to sell after the Browns tied the Steelers. That's right, after they T-I-E-D the Steelers.
Jeff then wondered (aloud, but to no one in particular) what might happen if the Browns actually beat another NFL team. He found out after the Browns pulled off that stunning Thursday night comeback against the Jets. Suddenly, the same stuff he was seriously considering donating to the Little Sisters of the Poor suddenly became the most popular stuff he's offered, resulting in the biggest spike in sales since the Indians announced they were saying adios to Chief Wahoo and everyone suddenly wanted Wahoo gear.
Because of deadline constraints, this was written before the Browns took on the Raiders in Oakland. Thus, assuming the Browns won again might be putting the proverbial (merchandise) cart before the horse, but suddenly Jeff is checking the nether regions of his inventory to find more Browns stuff lest the impossible happen, and they actually win consecutive games.
And when the subject turns to close calls, let's just say that greedy you-know-what is happy he never made that trip to visit the Little Sisters.
Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits. My forte is humor and horror...What a combo!