Opinion: Browns fans, a love and hate relationship

Ray Strickland

Why am I a Cleveland Browns fan? Better yet, why is anyone a Cleveland Browns fan?

An obvious answer could be because I’m a kid born and raised in Northeast Ohio, and all I ever knew was the Browns.

But honestly, I have no clue.

As they sit tied for last place (1-3) of the National Football League’s AFC North Division this season, I begin to ask myself more and more: “Why do I continue to root for this team?”

Come on, most Cleveland Browns fans ask themselves that very question.

The city of Cleveland hasn’t seen a title in any major sport since 1964. Even worse, no Cleveland fan younger than 50 knows what it’s like to root for a champion.

After ’64, the next 51 years can be remembered as such: The drive, the fumble, the shot, the move and the decision. Those painful moments in Cleveland sports history resonates with both old and young Cleveland Fans.

Despite a history of mediocrity, the Browns continue to dominate sports talk in the city, even with hometown hero LeBron James back in town.

Browns fans can be often heard saying, “We need a better quarterback. It hurts to be a Browns fan. It’s all about hope. Management doesn’t know what it’s doing. We’ll get them next year.”

Virtually after week eight of the NFL season, the Browns are at the bottom of the division standings, embarking on another disastrous offseason full of underperforming draft picks and over-paid free agents.

Nonetheless, every Sunday and occasional Monday or Thursday, FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland is consistently filled with 60,000 plus fans.

But why?

When I visited the Barley House in Akron a couple of weeks ago, I talked to a number of Browns fans, asking them how they’d think the season will go.

One fan wearing a Johnny Manziel jersey said the team will go 4-12, adding “I hope they can go 5-11.”

His buddy, who is also a Browns fan, sitting beside him predicted a 5-11, 6-10 record for the Browns this season.

For the record, the last time the Browns won their division was in the late 1980s, and it wasn’t even called the AFC North. It was the AFC Central and Bernie Kosar who led the team at quarterback. So, I wasn’t surprised by the predictions.

Plagued with quarterback problems since the team came back to Cleveland, most of the fans I talked to still harbored hope for their beloved Browns.

The fans I talked to used words like heartache, resilient and passionate to describe themselves and other Browns fans.

In Cleveland, that’s what it’s all about. Fight, determination, hard work and passion. Like LeBron said in his “I’m Coming Home” letter featured in Sports Illustrated, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given, everything is earned.”

My expectations of the Browns are all the same. I never expect them to win the division or make the playoffs, but I still “hope” they do and “wish” they can.

And just like everyone else, I’m disappointed and heartbroken week after week and season after season.

“Being a Browns fan is like being in a marriage,” said 64-year-old Pat Sumrada in an interview with Emily Kaplan on the MMQB with Peter King. “Sometimes you hate your partner, sometimes they drive you nuts. But you need to stick with them, unconditionally, because that’s the vow you made.”

That’s the relationship most people have with their Browns. It’s a love and hate relationship. But no matter how much fans hate them, an unrelenting amount of love will always be there.

The Browns hierarchy just can’t seem to get it right. The organization is always covered in controversy and management changes quarterbacks and head coaches more than they change socks.

Last month, the fan base launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy the team.

The “Billion Dollar Browns” group plans to raise $1 billion to buy the team, in an effort to have a more “direct impact on the direction and management of the team.”

The group is part of a growing faction of fans upset with how the franchise is being handled.

Even with the lack of success, passion has never been absent within a Browns fan. The love for the team has never wavered and the dream (no matter how crazy it sounds) of winning a Super Bowl still exist.

If you are a Browns fan, we can be excited about 2014 pick Johnny Manziel, rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton and what looks to be a promising future. But, like any excitement with the Browns, it will all dissolve by week eight of the NFL season.

Ray Strickland is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].