By now you have learned that the NFL lockout is over. Both the NFL Players Association and the league’s owners were able to come to a compromise and agree on the terms of a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. With that, the league, its fans, and every player can now breathe a collective sigh of relief.
I’m not sure how many of us honestly thought that the 2011 season could lose some, or all, of its games. The league is too profitable and too much of a cultural juggernaut to have a little bit of greed get in the way. But hindsight is always 20/20, and that doesn’t mean we weren’t scared that it could actually happen. Being forced to wonder what I would do on a fall Sunday afternoon instead of watch football is something I never want to go through ever again.
Everyone knows the saying (or some form of it), “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” In this case, the NFL lockout provided a forced introspective journey into why we care so much about this game in the first place.
On a general level, every Cleveland Browns fan knows the hurt of losing football, more so than many other fans. The city’s well-being during the fall and winter months is intertwined with the team, not so much because we’re used to winning (which, since 1999, is as far from the truth as possible), but because Cleveland is a city that has taken its fair share of lumps, and sports gives everyone something to cheer for, something to make us proud regardless of the outcome.
Sure, the Cavaliers and Indians are important, but for a blue collar town such as Cleveland, the Browns occupy a special place in our hearts. Football has been, and always will be, the working class game, especially in this town.
But the end of the NFL lockout is a personal victory for every single fan out there. Non-sports fans may often wonder how actual fans can be so invested in the trials and tribulations of a team, of a bunch of people simply playing a game. The response, then, is to say that that viewpoint merely offers a superficial analysis of sport.
We are often born into our team allegiances, having it passed down to us from our parents, such die-hard devotees of the game that, as a child just looking to emulate our heroes, we end up cheering for the team with such vigorous passion for as long as we can remember. Memories and feelings are tied into our team. We remember all the triumphs and the heartbreaking defeats – the Browns’ departure to Baltimore will always remain in Clevelanders’ top-five heartbreaks of all time. Girls don’t have anything on Art Modell when it comes to stomping on my heart, and I fear the one who would ever come close.
You see, the Browns are the emblem of my youth, of how I initially connected with my dad, and what will always tie us together. The end of this lockout brings all of those memories back, of all the lazy afternoons we spent watching the expansion Browns get abused up and down the field.
And now, with the lockout finally over, I am not simply resigned to padding my nostalgia with my favorite Browns moments of the past, like I was forced to do from 1995 to 1999. We get business as usual, and a chance to make new memories. Even if that means another subpar Browns season full of quarterback controversies, season-ending injuries to impact players, and general debauchery on the field that passes for football, it’ll be great.
Welcome back, football. I missed you.