My parents raised me right: I am a Cleveland Browns fan.
In the Mahoning Valley of the 1970s and ‘80s, it wasn’t such an easy choice to pursue the right path, to stay on the road to truth in brown and orange. Midway between goodness and an evil cloaked in black and gold, the pull was strong to follow temptation and the glitter of four Super Bowl rings for the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers.
Every August, my father and I would eagerly await the release of Athlon Sports Pro Football preview to get its predictions. He would take me to training camp for a first look. During the ‘80s, we’d travel to Edinboro University in Pennsylvania for the annual Browns vs. Bills scrimmage.
On Sunday mornings during the season, I’d play every NFL matchup on my handheld Coleco Electronic Quarterback football game. Some Sundays (my favorite ones), my uncles would come over. We’d all watch the game together and share my mom’s homemade apple pie at halftime. In the backyard, I pretended to be Dave Logan, catching passes from Brian Sipe, or maybe Greg Pruitt, running out of tackles and his tearaway No. 34 jersey.
Of course, as with anything worthwhile, there were tests along the way. I bawled, curled up on the basement steps, in the middle of a party when the 1980 Kardiac Kids’ magical season ended on Red Right 88 in the AFC divisional playoff game. The Bernie Kosar era disappointments were bad, but that first broken heart takes the longest to heal.
Our region’s deep passion for football — traced through the early Canton vs. Massillon rivalry to Paul Brown, Jim Brown and the Dawg Pound — led me to play a few seasons until I realized my skinny frame was better suited for golf than the gridiron. My place was in the stands, not under the lights on Fridays.
So it’s incredible to hear Jim Brown, the greatest running back of all time, acknowledge what the fans mean to him: “They have a new thing that they do now, where they say they feel honored to shake my hand,” he told Andre Knott for this month’s cover story. “I’m 77 years old. So you can’t imagine how good it feels to have these people come up and say things like that and truly mean it.”
I owe my dad a trip to training camp, so maybe we can do the same.