Sports with Shook: New season, same old Browns

Nick Shook

The sun rises on a September morning, and festivities begin in preparation for the greatest Sunday of the year — NFL kickoff Sunday, a holiday for football fans across the United States.

Hope is at an all-time high for 32 franchises across the league as a new season brings new opportunities for every team.

As a 13-year season ticket holder, this day has a special place in my heart, so there was nowhere else on earth I would be than at Cleveland Browns Stadium to see the Browns take on the Philadelphia Eagles.

Arriving in Cleveland, passionate throngs of orange and brown clad fanatics are seen migrating toward the stadium on the lakefront. Freshly pressed Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson jerseys dot the crowds on the way down to the stadium. Chants of “Here we go Brownies, here we go” fill the air. The Browns are merely moments away from beginning the 2012 season.

Security lines fill the pavement outside of the stadium, which is where I found myself with fellow Kent State journalism student Austin Moore minutes before kickoff. Standing in a sea of thousands, I see plenty of Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin and throwback Randall Cunningham jerseys on the backs of Eagles fans. However, these same security lines tend to take pretty long to get through, and I can hear the stadium roar as the Browns take the field.

I see the coin toss take place on the scoreboard as I remain outside of the stadium, holding my car keys in hand while I wait to get scanned by security personnel.

The game begins, and I’m nearing the gate. The Eagles take the ball first, and as I walk down the tunnel to my home of section 149, Vick leads Phildelphia to midfield. I reach the top of the stairs and find myself stuck behind a confused kid on the stairs when running back LeSean McCoy fumbles. The Browns recover on the first big play of 2012.

I reach my third row seat as the Browns take the field, but the offense fails to move the ball.

A familiar face behind me slaps me on the shoulder and shakes my hand in greeting.

“Glad to see you back — hope you’re ready to go this year,” he said.

He was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Family Guy character Cleveland Brown wearing a Browns jersey on the front of it.

Undrafted linebacker Craig Robertson intercepts a pass from Vick on the Eagles’ next possession.

“I love me some Craig Robertson,” I shouted with joy.

Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden takes the field to lead the Browns and completes his first professional pass to wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, but the drive stalls and the Browns settle for a Phil Dawson field goal. Cleveland led 3-0.

The quarter ended and the score remained the same. I reminded those in my section of the rarity that has just occurred.

“Let’s take the time to enjoy a Browns lead after one quarter, because it doesn’t happen often,” I said. Fans behind me laugh at the sad truth.

That lead lasted just one play into the second quarter, when Eagles kicker Alex Henery kicked a 42-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3.

The Browns get down to the Eagles’ 13 yard line. Thanks to slot receiver Travis Benjamin’s 35-yard sprint down the left sideline on a clever double-reverse. Austin and I begin our first round of play predictions.

“Greg Little is in the slot, quick slant to him, catch the ball this time Greg,” I said before the play.

Sure enough, that’s exactly the play the Browns call. I should be a fortune teller.

“Look, there it is, he’s open,” I said as the play unfolded.

Weeden fired a pass to Little. The ball bounces off his hands up into the air and falls into the hands of Eagles’ safety Kurt Coleman.

Of course.

Minutes later in the quarter, a bald-headed Eagles fan decides to obnoxiously stand up in front of me, even though everyone else in the section is sitting.

“Thanks for blocking my view, jerk,” a Browns fan said behind me.

The Eagles fan turns to reveal a full-grown goatee, with plenty of salt in his pepper-colored facial hair, to aggressively tell me “I’m not sitting here with you yelling in my ear anymore.”

I guess he’s never been to a Browns game.

The fan stands for a few more plays, while Browns supporters behind me yell “oh yeah, Stone Cold!!” in reference to pro wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin (he did bear a resemblance to him).

Obnoxious Stone Cold Eagles fan finally listens to the female who accompanied him to the game (she was wearing Browns gear) and sits down, and a few minutes later, the Eagles drive down to the Browns’ red zone.

Vick fires a pass to Maclin in the back of the end zone for a Philadelphia touchdown, and as upset I am with the fact that the Eagles just scored, I can’t help but be pleased with Maclin’s performance this afternoon, since he is after all on my fantasy team, which is also named after him (Maclin on Your Girl).

Immediately after the touchdown, the Eagles fan next to me who told me “I bleed green,” and with whom I have become acquaintances in the first half of the game, shows me a little piece of paper he is holding.

On the paper is a list of the day’s NFL games, with points spread numbers and dollar amounts next to them. He proceeds to tell me he bet $20,000 on the Eagles in this game.

“I want them to win because I’m an Eagles fan, but also because I don’t want to go the bank,” he said.

He put $3,600 each on several other Sunday games. I wish I had $20,000 to put on the Browns. But I probably wouldn’t waste it on that.

Philadelphia took a 10-3 lead into halftime. Ohio University’s “Marching 110” band performs “Shook Me All Night Long.” As much as I despise the rivals of Kent State, I couldn’t help but enjoy it because that song is a part of my family history.

The Eagles fan next to me decides to test my sports knowledge — not the first time this has happened at a Browns game in my life — and quizzes me on the 12 NFL teams that were in existence in 1960. I get 11 of 12 correct; I forgot about the San Francisco 49ers.

The same fan also tells me about his daughter, who went to Ohio State and is competing in a triathlon as a 41-year-old as we speak. That’s two and a half miles, over 100 miles on a bike, and a full marathon — all in one day. I’m impressed.

The second half starts, and undrafted Browns linebacker LJ Fort picks off a Vick pass. An intoxicated Browns fan in front of me, who had obnoxiously taunted Eagles fans by trying to high-five them during positive Browns plays throughout the game, tries to start an “L-J Fort” chant. It understandably fails.

Another Dawson field goal caps a stalled drive inside the Eagles’ 10. The Browns offense is treating the endzone like Chernobyl. The Browns trail, 10-9.

The Eagles offense starts their drive directly in front of our seats, and on the first pass, Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepts Vick and sprints toward the corner of the endzone — right in front of us.

The stadium erupts with a roar of excitement, Austin and I jump up and down and scream as Jackson front flips over the goal line and celebrates right in front of us. The Browns have taken the lead, and we’re just as excited as we are in disbelief.

“That just happened,” Austin yelled.

High fives went around the section as Dawson drives the extra point through the goal posts, and the Cleveland leads 16-10 with 14:10 left in the fourth.

Philadelphia then drove into Cleveland territory, and Henery sets up for a 45-yard field goal. As soon as he kicks it, we can tell its wide left. The friendly, betting Eagles fans get up to leave.

“Well guys, it has been real,” they say as they file out.

The score remains the same. The Browns are 9:01 away from a season-opening victory.

Cleveland converts on a third-and-four with a 14-yard screen pass to running back Brandon Jackson.

“This could potentially turn out to be the greatest day of my life,” Austin said.

I’m alarmed. “No, stop,” I said. “We’re not even under seven minutes. I’ve been in this situation far too many times before.”

I wish I would have been wrong.

Richardson rushes for a loss of one yard. The clock hits seven minutes. It can’t tick any slower.

The Browns stall and Reggie Hodges punts the ball to the Eagles’ nine. 6:33 left to play.

Five plays into the drive, McCoy rushes for a first down. 4:15 left. It seems like the clock is frozen.

Vick completes a pass to Maclin for another first down. 3:40 to play. I’ve been here before.

Browns cornerback Joe Haden broke up a pass intended for Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson on first down. Eric Hagg knocked down another pass from Vick on second down. 3:14 left. It was time to get loud.

Vick scrambled for a first down and appeared to fumble — it looked like the Browns had recovered. The referees ruled it was a fumble and was recovered by Philadelphia.

Vick passed to Maclin in the back of the end zone, and it glances off his finger tips and lands on the ground. Close call.

Then Brent Celek caught a pass from Vick and rumbled his way down to the Browns’ 3-yard line. First and goal at the three; it’s in the defense’s hands now.

I sat in my seat and stare into oblivion, feeling dejected as the two-minute warning passes. I knew what was going to happen next.

Second and four from the three, and a pass is lofted toward the right corner of the end zone. Fort is there in perfect position to make a play.

The ball fell through his hands to the ground. He held his head in disbelief. I did the same 100 yards away in my seat.

Third down, the moment when I know my hopes will be crushed again. Vick connects with tight end Clay Harbor for a touchdown. I can’t tell you how many games I have been to that have ended like this. Tied at 16-16.

The extra point is good, and the Eagles lead by one. 1:18 left.

“This is the definition of being a Browns fan,” a depressed man wearing a Browns beanie says in despair.

To borrow a phrase from my father, we’re toast.

One last hope enters the field in the form of Weeden.

“Power right, three times,” a man behind me said sarcastically.

“We’re screwed,” someone said.

Weeden dropped back on first down from the Browns’ 30. He launched it over the middle, to an area devoid of any Browns receivers.

Coleman picks it off. Any air that remained in the stadium is sucked out. Fans head for the exits. Game over.

Austin put his arm on my shoulder.

“Well, let’s go,” he said despondently.

Vick takes a knee. People file out. It’s business as usual in Cleveland Browns Stadium.

“Another year, same old shit,” a middle-aged man with a pot belly in a Browns shirt said.

Drunk Browns fans started dropping F-bombs on obnoxious Philadelphia fans, who are singing the Eagles’ fight song.

“Fight, Eagles fight, on the road to victory,” they harmonize, as if part of a glee club.

A club full of gleeful Eagles fans. They were winners on this Sunday.

“We should not have walked away with that win,” an Eagles fan said as he walked through the tunnel.

I told him to protect himself on his way out. And I was dead serious.

The walk back to my truck was all too familiar. The Browns were so close to victory, only to have it fall through their grasp in the final minutes. It was a flashback to 2004, when the supremely talented Eagles, led by Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens, beat the Browns. I was at that game, too.

Cell phone reception kicks back in, and I have 16 missed text messages. One friend’s text simply read “I’m disgusted.”

Another read “Unbelievable. Same result.”

Same outcome, same disappointment. But they’ll be back.

Through the highs and many more lows, the same orange-and-brown-clad fans will return to the stadium on the lake in two weeks to again watch their beloved Browns.

So will I.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].