This is an exciting time of year if you’re a professional football fan. In this, the season’s 17th week, the playoff picture is coming into sharp focus. I have been a fan all my life; during my formative years, the Cleveland Browns were the only Ohio team and star running back Jim Brown was in his prime. That’s what got me hooked.
Since then, as I’ve aged and entered my cynical phase of life, my fandom has become less fanatical and more practical. Professional sports are a huge business and have made a handful of people (usually old white men) fantastically wealthy. That, plus seeing so many of my childhood heroes develop serious physical and, even worse, mental problems as they have aged, has dampened my enthusiasm. With the high rates of major injuries, I’ve decided NFL players are more akin to modern gladiators. Still, I can’t help following the season’s myriad twists and turns.
And I’m certainly not alone. How loyal people can be for a team was demonstrated to me in 2010 when I was in New York City for a completely different sport — marathon running. Riding back to my hotel on the bus from the marathon expo at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, my seatmate happened to be a rabid Pittsburg Steelers fan. In 1987, he had gone to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH to see one of his heroes, “Mean” Joe Greene, get enshrined and had also attended the preseason Hall of Fame game. Consequently, he was offered tickets to the Hall of Fame game every subsequent year.
You may be aware that the Cleveland Browns are the Steeler’s bitter rivals, except in 1995 the Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens. Fortunately for Northeast Ohio, Cleveland was allowed to keep the team’s name and history, and a new, expansion Browns team appeared in 1999 at that year’s Hall of Fame Game. Browns fans were so eager to have their team back, they paid my seatmate several times face value for his tickets to attend the debut, as he gleefully related to me.
And that’s not all. As you might guess, the Browns have a healthy rivalry with the Cincinnati Bengals. Recently, a friend told me how this competition put him in a very uncomfortable situation. He was attending a Cleveland-Cincinnati game with two friends, one a dedicated Browns fan, the other an equally committed Bengals fan. How to keep the peace? Simple — he sat between them wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers’ hat, so they both hated him instead of each other.
It’s a football thing. Go Browns!