My earliest memories of The Cleveland Browns were of sitting "Indian-Style" with legs crossed with several other buddies on a concrete slab front porch, listening to the play-by-play on a small transistor radio. The volume on the radio wasn't loud enough for everyone to hear clearly, so the owner of the radio would hold it up to his ear and mimic the announcers.
I can remember all of us listening to the 1964 NFL Championship Game and hootin' and hollerin' as The Browns won their last title since I've been alive. Imagine, it has been almost 46 years since I've been able to claim MY team is the best in football. I have never wavered in my allegiance to the Browns, even though my heart has been broken several times by their last-second losses with legendary plays simply referred to by names like, The Drive, The Fumble, or Red-Right 88. Any Cleveland Fan knows what you're talking about when you mention these plays and The Browns remarkable record in futility.
Back in The Browns' Glory Days of the sixties, a lot of advertising promotions featured the team or one of their stars. Coca-Cola had a promo of collecting "Specially marked" bottle caps with a player's picture on the underside. I spent every day after school making the rounds to all the Coke machines I could find. Every gas station, grocery store, and pizza joint was fair game on my mission. I used a small magnet tied to a string to retrieve bottle caps from the built-in bottle opener bin on the front of the vending machines. Displays in grocery stores offered free Browns Posters showing all the players and the silhouette of the particular bottle cap you needed to collect.
Many prizes were available including autographed footballs, jerseys, and pendants. Despite my efforts, I wasn't able to get my hands on a few of the more elusive caps needed to complete the poster for a particular item. Jim Brown, Paul Wiggin, Frank Ryan, Gary Collins, Lou "The Toe" Grosa, which Bottle cap was it that I couldn't find? I was green with envy the day my friend came over and showed me the football he won in the contest. He had extra bottle caps of the ones I needed and graciously gave me the missing caps I needed. I begged my Dad to take me to the local Coke distributor to claim my prize. We were too late! The contest had ended! Once again, something involving The Browns had broken my heart. Too bad I didn't hold on to that poster and bottle caps. It would have been worth more than all the prizes today.
Being a Cleveland Browns Fan is not much different than a lot of other fans that root for a team that hasn't had much success in recent years. We've all had our highs and lows, mostly lows, but we still cheer on our team and are forever an optimist. We tell everyone, "Wait until next year!" and repeat that phrase each season for decades. We're not "Fair Weather Fans" that hop on The Band Wagon when the team does well. We're in it for the long haul, no matter what.
Growing up in The Youngstown, Ohio Area, we were exactly half way between Cleveland And Pittsburgh. Fans were divided pretty equally between The Browns and their bitter rivals, The Steelers. Many a friendship was affected by the rivalry between these teams. Many legendary games were played between the two and the outcome often determined which team advanced to the play-offs. My reasoning for being a Browns Fan was pretty simple. I lived in Ohio, The Browns were in Ohio, and I was always proud to be part of The Buckeye State. The attraction to Youngstown folks to The Steelers was their team name being tied to the steel industry, which Y- Town was a big part of until the 80's.
Art Modell, the owner of The Browns, moved the team to Baltimore in the mid-90's when he couldn't get a new stadium deal. He was and still is vilified for taking the beloved football team away from Cleveland. The NFL let Cleveland keep the name, team colors, and history and awarded them an expansion franchise in 1999. Yes, The Browns were back, but it hasn't been the same. A revolving door of coaches and players has kept The Browns out of the hunt for the play-offs in all but one year since they've been back.
I became President of The Ashland Browns Backers, where I live now, an hour's drive south of Cleveland. The Browns Backers Organization is the world's largest fan club with hundreds of chapters all over the globe. As you see, apparently I'm not the only one who still roots for The Browns and believes they'll once again have their Day In The Sun. After all, "Wait Until Next Year!"