Cleveland Browns fans under the age of 30 are a unique bunch. Tales of past success sound like legends, with The Drive and The Fumble nothing more than part of the city’s lore.
The group has grown accustomed to losses on Sunday becoming a tradition, while the hope of next year being “their year” is all part of the fun.
But there is another group of fans who actually had something to cheer for. They had reasons to be happy about Browns football. These fans are the ones who were alive during the heydays of the 1980s and early 1990s. The crushing defeats at the hands of John Elway and the Denver Broncos serve as permanent scars, but at least there was something to cheer about. Bernie Kosar was a true franchise quarterback and nearly led the team to the promised lands of the Super Bowl on more than one occasion. The team fell short, but they gave fans hope.
But now the hope has all but disappeared from the shores of Lake Erie. Games are filled with just as many or more fans of the opposing team, while the diehards sell their tickets for less than $10 in the hopes someone will take on the burden that is getting pelted by wind and snow to watch a winless football team.
The current group in charge is promising change, but fans have heard that every few years since 1999. Promises don’t mean much for Browns fans when losses are the norm.
It has gotten so bad that it seems like the Browns may never be great again. Thinking the law of averages will take over and the Browns will eventually make the playoffs again is wishful thinking after this nearly impossible stretch of bad play, which has tested the willingness of countless fans to spend 16 Sundays a year watching bad football.
It is unfair to call out fans for a lack of loyalty because one can only take so much. It almost takes purposeful naivety to act like next year will be the year because it won’t. At least not right now.
And if the Browns do start off a season well, like in 2014, will anyone truly be excited? Aside from 2002, regular season success has only resulted in ultimate disappointment. Even the playoff berth in 2002 resulted in a painful loss in what was the only significant game played by the team since returning to Cleveland.
Fans now have their guard up to prevent any major letdowns, which the Browns seem to specialize in. Even if the team does well, fans will be wary of what is to come. Conscious hope may be displayed, but the subconscious will be filled with images of despair and being let down once again. It’s like having someone cancel a date forty times and still telling your friends “Oh, this time is for real,” as your friends shudder with painful empathy.
The current 0-13 season has effectively put the franchise at a new low, if that is even possible. The likelihood of going 0-16 increases with each passing Sunday, making a 1-15 record seem like 15-1. Sitting down to watch the final three games feels like a chore, but one that must be done just to see what happens. Touchdowns are hard to even celebrate given the lack of wins on the season, and almost feel like mocking gestures from the team to get fans’ hopes up.
The diehards will still take in every second of the final three games, but there will be no joy unless the team picks up a win. Even then, it will be more a sigh of relief as the hope once again turns toward next year. The team won’t have gone 0-16 and the Detroit Lions will be the only team to ever own that record. And at the end of the day, Cleveland fans never want to be linked to those in Detroit.