“There’s always next year.” It seems a term more familiar to us than Pro Bowl or even touchdown. Nearly a half-century has come and gone since the Cleveland Browns have claimed a rank at the top of football. Good years and bad have always offered hope of a better, brighter future, however, year after year our hopes fall silent. Over and over again we believe to be a mere step away from something, anything better, only to drop our heads once more and dream of the long lost “Next Year” that remains hopelessly placed a defensive stop, a field goal, a quarterback, or of course, a fumble away.
Could this be the end of an era in Cleveland? Or rather, is it yet another in the long line of hopeful tomorrows that most of us have yet to see? A lucky few can recall a time when the Brownies thundered ahead of the crowd. The rest of us wait in wonder, hoping the dynasty of yesteryear that we learned of as children, will once again surface and quench what is to most of us, a lifelong thirst. Our faith remains. Our time will come. It simply must. Year after year we continue, faithfully following an assortment of coaches and quarterbacks, each time left only with the failed efforts of yet another regime. No matter how bad the odds, the loser will someday come out on top and a fifty-year drought should certainly bring us due. Every dawg has his day and even a blind nut finds a squirrel sometimes, right? Well, those of us who bleed Brown & Orange know that every rose may have its thorn, but we also carry a more painful knowledge that not every thorn has a rose.
A lifelong fan myself, I have endured the many heartbreaks of Cleveland Brown’s past. As a child, I watched as the ball fell from Byner’s grasp and landed amongst the pages of football history. I witnessed the field goal that should not have been, and the 98 yards of painful sorrow known as “The Drive”. I watched in disbelief, as a single man took our football dreams and sold them off to the highest bidder, smothering our hopes and tainting the memories of our childhoods with a foul discontent. Nowhere is the agony of defeat more clearly defined than here in Northeast Ohio.
This year however, we have begun to see some serious changes. This regime brings a renewed, almost hell-bent drive for success. Our ownership is invested, as well as actually supplying a significant interest and presence. Our coach, a lifelong fan, feels our pain, the pain of a fan, not only that of a coach and employee. The front office has taken the initiative, and heat, for trades and moves that in the near future could prove remarkable. We could find our team vastly improved within a timeframe much smaller than imaginable not long ago, perhaps the distant light at the end of the tunnel glows brighter than in “Next Years” past.
A new wind surely blows in Cleveland. A puzzle has haunted us for 49 years and its final pieces have finally begun to take shape. With plenty of opportunity in the upcoming draft and the experience of a solid year for the current roster under the new staff and system, next year brings hope unlike any we have known for many years. Have we finally found the elusive “Next Year”? Or will it remain out of reach as it has for nearly a half century, even a lifetime for some of us? Maybe, just maybe, the “Next Year” that we have anticipated for so long, has finally come to the Cleveland Browns and “The Greatest Fans in the World”.