The city of Cleveland, Ohio is known in the sports world as a die-hard football town. Cleveland fans have suffered through decades of hopelessness from the Browns, but their commitment and pride never wavers. Despite consistently losing, Cleveland fans remain famously loyal even as they leave home and settle in cities across the country.
This year the suffering has been particularly cruel. The Browns entered the season with genuine hope and playoff expectations. The Browns won seven games – more than in their previous three seasons combined. The city was on fire with excitement and embraced the young QB with the “us against the world” attitude as one of its own. Expectations from within and outside the team and the city were sky high.
As Cleveland fans, we should have known what was coming. The warning signs were there if only we would have opened our eyes. The front office hired a rookie head coach to lead a young team with a brash young QB (quarterback) and roster filled with stars clamoring for attention and recognition. Some in the media warned that it was a combustible mix, to have a personable rookie coach and egotistical stars. Cleveland fans dismissed the doubters as haters and looked forward to finally fielding a winner. Instead, the Browns have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league this season, continually falling short of expectations and failing to play to their potential.
The main theme of the Browns’ season has been undisciplined football, and a lack of focus and accountability. They have led the league in penalties, and had multiple players ejected and suspended for fighting. Their most talented player, Myles Garrett, was suspended indefinitely for ripping the helmet off of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ QB and hitting him on the head with it. Almost every week, there’s a new controversy or drama that distracts from what they claim is a singular focus on winning. Prior to last Sunday’s rematch against the rival Steelers, Coach Kitchens promised that the team would block out all the “noise” about the fight. The game was huge for the Browns playoff chances.
So what happens? The night before the game Coach Kitchens takes a picture with a fan while wearing a t-shirt reading “Pittsburgh Started It.” The picture predictably goes viral. After creating more noise around the team once again, we lost. Not only was it a loss, but it was to a backup QB and more backups on their roster. At a time when discipline and focus was imperative, the head coach created drama and distraction. Following the game, characteristic of our season, he downplayed their importance and even said he would wear the shirt again. No wonder our players, too, lack accountability.
This lack of accountability, discipline and professionalism has permeated the Browns organization for so long that it has come to define them. It is an affront to the team’s loyal fans who invest their money, pride and passion in a team that does nothing but embarrass and disappoint. That is the epitome of being a Browns fan, and a burden that is unlike the burden any other sports fan feels. It’s what is different about being a Browns fan. Although the fans are a bit further removed from the team than the actual players, our loyalty and level of care seems higher. People tell us we care too much, but it is simply what brings us together. Being a Browns fan is a true testament to one’s character and it exudes loyalty and passion, and perseverance to the highest degree.
If there’s a lesson in all this for fans like me, it’s that talent, expectations and accolades will get you nowhere without hard work, focus, and accountability. There is no shortcut to success, whether on the playing field, in the classroom, or eventually in the business world. Being a Browns fan is a good way to learn this lesson, though it sure does make for a lot of miserable fall Sunday afternoons.