Saturday, September 12, 2015

Nurse the Hate: My First Browns Game

I recently read a nice article a friend of mine wrote about her first Browns game and her lifelong love of the Browns.  It made me feel good when I read it.  It’s a story of family, civic pride, and shared communal experience. The magic of the full stadium and emotional lift of a big win in the national spotlight helped confirm her attachment to the team and provide a link to her father. Sparkling lights and heroes doing battle in front of 80,000 will do that for you.  This was very different than my first Browns game experience.  

I had moved to Erie PA as a kid.  Erie is basically equidistant from Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Cleveland.  When we arrived in the mid 1970s, my father made a logical decision about which team we would follow.  The Steelers were really good, but tickets were absolutely impossible to score.  The Browns were awful.  The Bills had OJ.  We bought Bills tickets.  Of course the following year OJ blew his knee out and the Bills settled into some of the worst professional football anyone has ever seen.  Even now it is hard to imagine a grown man driving a young boy two hours to see Gary Marangi at QB lead the Bills to get pounded by whoever they were playing in the horrible weather of Buffalo.  Looking back, it was madness.  That’s what happened though.  I was the only Bills fan in Erie PA.

My friend Jim was (and somehow remains) a Browns fan.  This was a curse handed down from his father, who also spent his middle age screaming profanities at the TV as the Browns bungled their way through Sundays of Failure.  Jim’s father worked at some sort of job that I didn’t understand like “Logistics Industrial Fastener Representative” or “Great Lakes Regional Insurance Broker Manager”.  Whatever the fuck he did, he got comp tickets to see the Browns play the Jets in a late season game.  Jim invited me to go, and I was all in.  What could be more exotic than traveling to another distant city to experience an NFL game in a strange stadium?  To a boy my age it was like getting a free trip to New Dehli.

My previous experiences in the NFL were at The Vet in Philadelphia where I was surrounded by friendly but coarse men that all seemed like extras out of the first “Rocky” movie.  Rich Stadium was The House That OJ Built, and was a modern shiny facility custom built for football.  I was unprepared for Cleveland Municipal Stadium.  The word "dreary" comes to mind.  I remember the cold wind whipping off the Lake with a grim blue gray cloud cover.  It was bleak as if it had been designed by the Soviet Union.  The entire stadium smelled like urine.  Our seats, which were considered good in context to the other available options behind rusting steel girders, were about 70 yards away from the field.  The stadium was cold, dirty, and filled to the brim with angry drunks in shiny union embroidered softball jackets with ugly Browns pom pom knit stocking caps.

One of the things that I have always wondered about was why when the Cleveland Municipal Stadium was built in 1932 did they only install what appeared to be seven working bathrooms for 80,000 people.  Was it that in 1932 they did not expect 78,789 of the 80,000 people to have consumed 17 beers each and need to go to the men’s room every 14 minutes?  I’m not sure.  All I remember was a tight foul room crushed with horrible smelling men where I waited in line to piss in a rusty trough.  It is what Hell must be like.  Years later when I walked the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome I thought “Hmm, these bathroom ruins are nicer than what Municipal Stadium was back in the day.  I bet guys didn't piss on your Jesus sandals here.”.

I don’t remember much about that Browns game.  I seem to recall it was the Richard Todd led Jets, who pretty much sucked, that lost to the Browns, who also sucked, but a little bit less than the Jets.  At one point in the 4th quarter eight to ten guys in ugly Browns fan jackets started punching five or six guys in ugly Jets jackets in the face.  They hopped over the railings by us, and Jim’s father guided us out of the melee before we got pummeled by the nightsticks the cops used on everyone in the general area.  We left the game and drove over to some guy’s house that Jim’s father knew.  Jim’s father knocked back a few Pabst with his buddy while Jim and I threw a football on the brick street out front. I felt no connection to the Browns or the drunken thugs that went to the games.

So it is thirty something years later and the Browns are playing the Jets.  The Browns kinda suck and so do the Jets.  It is hard to get a handle on not so much which team is better.  The real focus is “which team sucks less?”.  It is generally agreed in both cities that these teams are “slightly below average if we get a few breaks and stay healthy”.    That’s a solid “three” on the 1-10 scale of fan excitement.  Both teams have a much better defense than offense.  The Browns have a journeyman QB going up against two of the best corners in football.  The Jets have their backup QB trying to move an offense without a playmaker against a vastly improved Browns defensive front and solid DBs.  I’m taking the points and the under as I expect to nod out in the third quarter with a bellyful of wine while something slowly braises in the oven.  Wake me when it’s over.  Browns +3.5 and UNDER 39.5

I also like Baltimore over Denver.  I think the Rubes out there are remembering the Peyton Manning of two years ago.  All I remember is that old looking dude that couldn’t make throws and was a statue in the playoffs against a crappy Colt defense.  This really feels like the last wheeze from Manning.  He’s in that Joe Montana as a Chief part of his career where he will need to get by on guile.  That doesn’t cover five.  I don’t even think Denver wins, but I’m not that ballsy today.  Baltimore is great as an underdog, going 4-0 in their last four games ATS as a dog.  I can take one of the best AFC teams with more than a field goal?  I will do that all day.  Baltimore +5.


At September 13, 2015 at 8:51:00 AM EDT , Blogger Bobdontgiveaf#ck said...

I too remember my first Browns game, and being shocked by the bleakness of Municipal Stadium in a chilly rain and wondering why my dad would drag us to this frightening place when there were no steel girders to block our view of the tv at home and the pissing troughs at our house were so much cleaner. It was a Bill's game coincidentally enough and I got to see 'the Juice' break off an impressive TD run cutting and slicing through the mud and the entire Browns defense for about 40 yards or so.

At September 16, 2015 at 10:21:00 PM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

Every kid's first memory of a Browns game somehow involves filth and loss.


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