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Issue Date: December 2010

Tough Love

Terry Pluto mines fan memories in an attempt to explain our devotion to the Cleveland Browns.
Jim Vickers

It's not often that a Cleveland sports team loves you back. The front office may give you T-shirts and fireworks, but when it comes to victories, our winning eras are too often a string of sunny seasons followed by long winters of defeat. No one knows this better than Browns fans, yet their loyalty remains unshakable. Plain Dealer sports columnist Terry Pluto examines the phenomenon in his new book, Things I've Learned From Watching the Browns (Gray & Company, $14.95). But the observations aren't all his. Instead, Pluto asked fans to share their recollections while he sheds new light on moments long obscured by the fog of fandom. Here's what we learned reading Pluto's book:

1. The Fumble didn't cost the Browns a trip to the Super Bowl (Chapter 2): Pluto reminds us that a Byner touchdown would have only tied the game since the score was 38-31 at the time. "So for the Browns to win this game," Pluto writes, "they needed Byner to score. The extra point to be good. To stop Denver in the final minute at home. To win the coin flip in overtime. To score in overtime." Yeah, it was a long shot.

2. Red Right 88 was the right call (Chapter 7): The Browns were down just two points with the ball on Oakland's 13-yard line and 41 seconds on the clock during that 1981 playoff game. So why not kick a field goal? Pluto points out that there was a minus-36-degree wind chill, and kicker Don Cockcroft had been spotty in recent weeks. Most of all, Pluto writes, coach Sam Rutigliano's play called for Dave Logan to be open in the end zone, and he was. "But Brian [Sipe] saw Ozzie [Newsome], and threw it to him first," Rutigliano recalls in the book. "I never blamed Brian; he made great decisions all season."

3. Loving the Browns doesn't make sense, but we just can't help ourselves (Chapter 17): We've sat through enough glum Sunday afternoons since the Browns' return in 1999 to understand that this isn't a novel observation. But Pluto wanted to know why we do it. Maybe Todd Alexander — one of the more than 1,000 fans who shared their memories and opinions — put it best when he e-mailed Pluto this: "It shows character to choose a favorite team, to stick with that team no matter what. ... Our union with the Browns is a marriage, for better or worse."

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010 1:04:23 PM by Anonymous
I am sad to see Pluto sinking into maudlin sentimentality. He's fine with the football analysis, but he's way off saying that our fans are anything special. Every NFL city, certainly in old towns like Cleveland, has veteran fans who are just like us - rabid, loyal, and emotionally attached to the team. Pluto's prior book, in which he delineates how the new Browns were predestined to fail by scandalouly poor planning, was much more on the mark.

I was a season ticket holder from 1969 through the start of Belichick's tenure, and the Browns brought us excitement, thrills, and disappointment, Nowhere is it written that Cleveland eventually has to win (although one would hope so). The drunken, vulgar suburban creeps who inhabit the stadium (the old one and the new one) are why I stopped going in the early '90s. These neophytes need to get over it. I used to go to Browns games in Pittsburgh, as well, and be assured that Pittsburgh fans treated us far better than visiting fans are treated in Cleveland.

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