If you know me at all, you know that I love football. I can’t help it. It is something I’ve tried to shake as I have gotten older. I mean, after all, sports are a nice leisurely activity, but in this country we’ve made them into a modern day idol. I fight the idolic tendencies football brings to my life every fall, not very well if you ask my wife I’m sure, but I love football. I grew up in the cradle of football history. Pro football was never far away – the Bears, the Lions, the Colts, the Bengals, the Steelers, and, of course, the Browns, were always on television – and this was before cable television. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is only three hours from my hometown. Football ruled at my high school growing up, the year after I graduated they won their first, and only, state championship. Now, if you’re not from Ohio or Texas or Florida or California, I’m not sure you really appreciate how big of a deal that is. In Ohio, like it or not, football is king. I love football.
I love football because I have so many fond memories. My grandpa has instilled football in me since I was as little as Clark is (who is now being instilled the ways of football). The very first Browns game I went to in old Municipal stadium we sat a few rows in front of a bunch of guys smoking pot and spraying perfume to cover it up (I was too young to even know what was going on, but have been told from the others who were there). One of my earliest memories of Cleveland Browns football was when we were walking into the stadium for the first time and a guy with blood all over him was getting carted to a nursing station – he had obviously been in a fight.
Some of my fondest memories of all are football memories. We got to see the Browns actually beat the Broncos back in the 80’s when they could never do it in the playoffs. The Broncos had to switch ends during the game because fans in the Dawg Pound were throwing dog bones at them. One of the first football chants I ever heard in the stands was, “Elway’s a faggot.” I remember watching with my grandpa the AFC Championship game against the Broncos when Ernest Byner fumbled at the one yard line and failed to seal their fate to the Super Bowl. I remember that my grandpa and I recorded the game . . . we never watched the tape. It could have been one of the other AFC Championships they lost to the Broncos, they all kind of run together now.
I remember when Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore my senior year of high school. That first fall without the Browns was kind of weird. I moved to Nashville and never really could follow them as well from down there. Still, my grandpa had every Browns Illustrated that ever was published. But, even he stopped them during their away years.
I think it was those years when my attention really shifted to the Buckeyes. I had always watched the Buckeyes growing up, was always a huge fan, but they always took a seat to the Browns. With no Browns, my attention shifted. My buddy went to Ohio State and invited me up to the Penn St. Ohio St. game in 1998. That was my first game. It was unbelievable. His seats were seven or eights rows off the field. We couldn’t even hear each other talk. It was the coolest thing ever . . . until he invited me back up for the Michigan game. It was the only time John Cooper beat Michigan. We ran onto the field and just about got crushed . . . still the only time I’ve ever been pepper sprayed. I came back up two years later the next time Ohio State played Michigan. They lost. I think that might have been John Cooper’s last game. I remember walking out and hearing a father tell his son to quiet down, he told him it was like a funeral.
My passion for the Browns was reignited when Mary Beth and I took a trip up to see a season opener a few years ago. It was a 9 to 6 barn stormer. They lost. Of course. They have been really bad, for a really long time.
The Buckeyes, though, keep getting better. In January 2003 we headed to Tempe, and thanks to a friend that I still have not been able to adequately pay back, we got tickets for the Fiesta Bowl and got to see Ohio St. beat Miami in one of the greatest college football games ever. Six months later we moved to Columbus and entered the crazy football college town that is Columbus, OH. Since we moved here the city has become obsessed with Ohio State football, thanks largely in part, I suppose, to guys like me. Since we moved here we’ve been fortunate enough to go to a home game each year. Two years ago, Mary Beth and I saw them play Wisconsin, and I saw a loss first hand for only the second time.
This all brings me to my great football weekend. We have been planning to see the Browns Jets game on Sunday. Friday I got a call for tickets to the Buckeyes game. So Saturday, Mary Beth and I got to watch the Buckeyes dominate the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and have a great time there. Then, last night we went to Cleveland to watch the Browns (actually) win against the Jets. My passion for Browns football was reignited as I was reminded of the blazon optimism that comes with being a maligned Browns fan as we walked out of the stadium I overheard some yell “We’re Super Bowl bound!” – not many 2-5 football towns hold to such optimism.
And so the fall goes on. I have tickets with a couple of other guys to go to Northwestern next Saturday for their game against the Buckeyes, and keep hoping, beyond hope, that someone, somewhere will find a lonesome Ohio St. – Michigan ticket for me in order to add to the list of great games I have been privileged to attend. Or perhaps $600 to come my way to buy one.
In my next post I can analyze the absolute absurdity and downright ungodliness of paying that much money for a sporting event when people around the world are starving.
Go Browns! Go Bucks!