By Ryan Dickerson
I was born in Elyria, Ohio. Thanks to the auto industry, my family has lived and worked in that area for generations. Thanks to the U.S. Census Bureau’s funky geography, that qualifies me as a Clevelander. That title is my birthright. It has also been my curse.
Professional sports are vital to life in Cleveland. Seriously, I don’t think the city could function if the teams there shut down shop. To be fair, Cleveland is barely functioning with them. The median income in the city is only a couple thousand dollars above the poverty level, the murder rates per capita are off the charts, and the homeless population continues to grow, even as the government funnels money and time in to the problem.
Professional sports are the only respite, and the fans come out in droves, holding up their end of the bargain. Two thirds of the teams in Cleveland hold their end of the bargain too.
In my lifetime the Indians have been in two different World Series Game 7’s. They lost both of those, but they get credit for winning the League Pennant. The Cavaliers took it a step further and paid LeBron enough to bring home a title.
The Browns. Now there’s a different story.
The Browns play the sport that I love the most of all. The problem is, they play it very poorly. Actually, the way they play football is historically and embarrassingly bad. And I will no longer support it.
Now, some of you may recall the “glory days” of the Kardiac Kids, or Earnest Byner running hard in the postseason, or the local hero Bernie Kosar going toe-to-toe with John Elway in three different AFC Championship games. Some may associate the words Cleveland Browns with NFL legends like Paul Brown, Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Kellen Winslow Sr., and Clay Matthews Sr. But that’s not the modern day Browns. That’s the team that fired Bill Belichek and moved to Maryland overnight. That team is currently the AFC North Division Champion Baltimore Ravens.
Since 1999 there has been an imposter on the throne. And I will no longer bend the knee.
Three owners, nine general managers, 12 head coaches, 30 quarterbacks, four #1 overall draft picks, eight draft picks inside the top 5, 26 total picks in the first round – more than one per year.
One playoff appearance. Two winning seasons, most recently 13 years ago in 2007.
That’s the Cleveland Browns.
Yet, I loved them. I invited them into my living room every Sunday, celebrated the upset wins – AKA every win they have had – and mourned the losses alongside the team.
I bought jerseys and hoodies and hats and shirts. I got a football autographed by Darnell Dinkins. That’s not a joke. Darnell. Dinkins. The Cleveland Browns were part of my family.
Which is why this hurts me as much as it does. But I can no longer support an organization that doesn’t love me as much as I love them.
Now, to be completely clear here, I don’t blame the players or the coaches. There are no guarantees in the NFL, and every player in the league is fighting day in and day out to stay there. No doubt. And it should be obvious when watching the 2010’s Browns, right? Joe Thomas is a Hall of Fame left tackle (one of my favorite players in league history too). It’s not his fault. I’m sure Connor Shaw didn’t try to lose the games he started at QB. And Hue Jackson, even though he was 1-31 in his first two years, wasn’t coaching poorly on purpose. The front office, though, is a different story.
Al Lerner brought the team back from the dead, according to the official story. In reality, he opened an expansion team in Cleveland just because it was a surefire way to make money on a new NFL team. He didn’t care about Cleveland, he cared about weaponizing Cleveland’s nostalgia.
Randy Lerner did not care about American football. Taking over for his father Al in 2002, he coasted without making any real changes to the operations of the team. He sold the team to Jimmy Haslam in 2012, and Lerner is now putting his energy into his European soccer teams. An entire decade of wasting my time because he wasn’t sure which continent’s version of football he actually cared about.
Jimmy Haslam cares about American football, that’s not his issue. He doesn’t care about the Cleveland Browns though. Haslam is a booster for the University of Tennessee. When the NFL shot down his attempt to purchase the Titans, he went after the Browns. Ok, cool. You did it. I hoped you’d do something with it. I was begging you.
This man literally attempted to trade the entire organization. He wanted to essentially trade himself to the Tennessee Titans. That’s not how any of this works. So when that didn’t happen, I guess he stopped trying?
Ok sure, he then brought in John Dorsey. He’s a proven NFL guy who knows how to build a roster. But he also brought in a baseball guy, Paul DePodesta, who could stop Dorsey from trying too hard.
You’re right, Dorsey brought in some serious talent to the team, but when it was time to pick a new head coach after they fired Hue Jackson, Haslam turned to his rookie QB for the answer.
Are. You. Kidding. Me.
Baker Mayfield, the 30th starting QB since the organization began in 1999, got to pick his own head coach. He picked the wrong guy. So who gets the next pick? Hey, how about that baseball guy… Sounds like a genius-level, 4-D chess move to me.
Every year they try to present a new image of themselves. They’re like a toxic relationship where I get broken up with every January, only to get a call in April trying to convince me how much they’ve changed. And yet, every single year, they lie right to my face.
Mike Polk, on his YouTube channel clevelandthundercat, somewhat famously called the Cleveland Browns a Factory of Sadness. Well, consider this my two-week’s notice.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Browns are headed to the Super Bowl next year, and every year after that forever. I have two things to say to that: 1. I doubt it. Good luck with that though. 2. I won’t care, because the front office forgot to care about me.
I still love football. I’ll still watch the NFL too. But it won’t be as a Cleveland Browns fan. As of this offseason, I’m a free agent fan. I’m freeing myself of the curse.