From my earliest years, I would visit my Uncle Tony and learn a plethora of Italian cuss words whenever he spoke about Art Modell. Yet faithfully, he bought his season tickets on the fifty-yard line every year. I listened to my father tell stories of taking the train into Cleveland for the games. And I cringed when my mother yelled while watching the Browns play football on TV. Her consistent refrain was, “Why do they always run up the middle?” I have now taken on her reproach.
I doodled Brian Sipe’s name across my Mead spiral notebooks in Mrs. Garfield’s eighth-grade English class and dutifully camped out in the cold for playoff tickets, oh so long ago. And, who didn’t want to grow up and marry Bernie Kosar (but who is thankful now?).
Several times, I drove north to indoctrinate a boyfriend or two into the Cleveland Browns culture, which meant buying extra fleece blankets and freezing our a— off in the sleeting cold, only to watch the team lose. I was there for The Drive, remember? The 98-yard drive by John Elway, who now manages a team with Peyton Manning as quarterback. Oh, what could have been.
Living in Cincinnati, I endured the taunts with an older sister, while she and I stood amidst crowds of Bengals fans at Riverfront stadium and cheered on our team. With devotion, she and I watched Browns’ games in bars, as guests in houses of Bengals’ fans or listened in the radio on long drives home from the north, when we had to depart before the game would start. If the Browns lost, then we were lost too, in a maze of Bengals fans, mocked for everything wrong with Cleveland.
When Art took the team away, well, that broke the both of us. We wrote long, heartfelt, sappy poems about why he shouldn’t have done so and why Cleveland needed a football team the way Cleveland fans need their beer.
Lo though I tried, my son never became a Browns fan. He became a sports fan, which precluded him from cheering for a team who brought nothing but misery onto the field and to its fan.
Now, I have a chance to break up with you. Maybe its just me. Maybe we just need some time apart. Maybe next year looks more promising, or we can try to work things out during the off-season. Maybe I want to be a part of history, to say I was there when…I had lots of opportunities to say that about the Browns, but unfortunately, the moments never turned out in Cleveland’s favor.
You will always be my first lesson in putting your heart into something you will lose or will lose for you. I can no longer sit back and watch you implode. I hope in the future you make more mature decisions for yourself and not knee-jerk reactions to media attention. I hope your choices take into consideration the many fans and veterans and former players who worked hard to build up the team that now seems to be swaying on stilts, across the sands of Lake Erie.
I know Uncle Tony will come back to haunt me. His voice will never leave my head. ‘God damn, Modell,” he would say. He was right then, he was right when Modell took the team, and the Browns fortunes have never been the same.
Its time the Browns move past the Modell Effect. I need to as well. I will still cheer for the team when good things happen, the way one hopes for the best for someone they once loved. I will always love you for demonstrating the meaning of grit, as in the many times I gritted my teeth while living in Cincinnati cheering for the Browns, or while shivering in below-zero temperatures watching my beloved team lose.
With all my love and gratitude for our (almost) fifty years together,
Annette Januzzi Wick