My friends and I came of age in a somewhat Brownsless world. They played their final season before the unmerciful move to Baltimore when I was in the ninth grade.
At that time, pretty much everyone growing up in Cleveland was totally consumed with the magic of the Jacobs Field-era Indians. The Cavs were horrible.
By the time the Browns were back, we had graduated high school and moved away.
I look back now and realize my high school time was probably the prime of my sports consumption abilities. I was old enough to work a summer job and drive myself around, yet I lived at home, and had no real responsibilities yet. I had more disposable income and freedom than I’ve had at any other point in my life. I was independent, indestructible, and naive. I believed athletes were heroes who would never betray me, and that a championship was only a year or two away.
Sadly, we all missed out on a fantastic time to be Browns fans. Careless and free to gobble up football while the pain that comes with reality could still be ignored.
I remember the pre-expansion Browns in a very distant and separate way, and I assume my friends do too. Sure, I still have Bernie Kosar’s autograph in my old room, I remember throwing a snowball at Marty Schottenheimer, I remember the “The Drive” and “The Fumble,” but that all seems like a hazy dream. My honest and concrete memories began to take shape when I was older, when the Browns had returned as an expansion franchise.
After high school my friends and I would gather on college breaks, and occasionally, we’d rig our schedules so we could attend a Sunday Browns game at the new stadium. This is our reality. Not living together in the same city with the Browns, but returning to them, in reunion-like capsules.
One trip back in particular stands out in my memory…
November 30, 2008. The old gang was back in Cleveland for the Thanksgiving holiday. This time not from college, but from jobs that had moved us to other cities. The highlight of the weekend was of course going to be the finale: tickets to see the Indianapolis Colts play our Browns.
We got to the Muni Lot at 7:30 a.m. This was a relatively new experience for us collectively, and one of my friends was particularly taken with the scene.
We got out of the car to set up our corn-hole game, and he was immediately distracted. He began to point and call out everything he was seeing, like a little kid.
“Look at all the orange buses!”
“Look! A scooter pulling a couch behind it!”
“Look! A guy is climbing a tree! Wait what’s he doing!? Oh he’s hanging up an eight-man beer bong!”
Everything was new and amazing to him. Soon, we all started to feel like we were in the most wonderful place in the world. Like in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when all the children walk into the Chocolate Room set to the song Pure Imagination.
To this day I remember his excitement and pre-game anticipation more vividly than I remember the actual game. Maybe it’s because all of a sudden we were tasting what we missed ten years earlier in the prime of our youth. Amazement and wonder left and right, but with beer.
Maybe Wonkaland is just better than reality. Or maybe, the game was just that forgettable.
We left the Muni Lot to sit in a cold November rain and watch the Colts win the ugliest game ever by a score of 10-6. Peyton Manning finished 15-21 for 125 yards and two interceptions, and the Browns still lost.
That was pretty much the end of an era too. It was the Browns second loss in a row and the streak would eventually stretch to six. They lost the season finale to the Steelers 31-0, and both coach Romeo Crennel and GM Phil Savage were fired.
For everyone else, that game against the Colts will be most remembered for the fans cheering as Derek Anderson limped off the field with a serious knee injury. Everyone will remember the overall ugliness of the day.
I will remember how much fun we had running around the Muni Lot like kids.
“Look! That lady is giving away free Jell-o shots!”