I have great memories of the old Municipal Stadium. As a teenager we would often go down on a Sunday sometimes with tickets and other times without. In those days before heightened security alerts it was pretty easy to sneak into the stadium. What was the worse that could happen? Get kicked out? Fine, lets take our chances and that we did! When I think back over the years I saw some amazing games. The one that immediately stands out, however, is Jan. 1987 AFC Playoff game against the Jets. We all know the story...down by 10 the Browns rally to eventually beat the Jets in double OT. That sent them to the AFC Championship Game against Denver and, well, the rest is history in a long line of misery for our beloved team. I still have my ticket stub for that wild playoff game...$20 for a playoff? Wow...times have changed.
I graduated from both Rocky River & Lakewood High in 1987. These were the days when Lakewood High offered an amazing vocational program. I spent half my days at LHS doing Commercial Art and the other half at RRHS doing Academics. I eventually left Cleveland in '87 for art college in Columbus and a few years later my father was offered a new job so my folks also left Cleveland. Once they moved I had no longer had family in the city. I eventually ended up in Kansas City for a few years and then later doing my Masters degree in upstate NY. Having met an English woman I moved to London in the early 90's where I stayed for nearly 14 years. During this time in the UK, American football was not very popular so I lost touch with the Browns. This isn't such a bad thing as I was across the Atlantic and removed when I heard the horrible news that the team were moving. I still remember the phone call from my dad...he was clearly upset and swore he would never watch another Professional football game. From that point on he would only follow College ball. It took a while to get him to buy into the new team, and to this day he is still cynical...but, he has come back.
I returned to the US in 2007 to Portland and immediately looked into our local Browns Backers club. My son and I have been going to every game with our local club since he was 6 or 7 years old. Over the past seven years we have managed to get to Browns games in both San Francisco and Kansas City (the famous one where Cribbs and Harrison ran all over the Chiefs). My goal, however, was to one day take my son to Cleveland to see a home game. For me too, to see the new stadium and to visit the city I had not been in since 1994 I felt there was much for me to see (the R&R HoF was also high on my list). But, it needed to be the right time and sadly the team, over the years, has been disappointing. This past season they showed some life, excitement and it seemed the right time to do it was now. We bought our tickets for the Dec. 7 game against the Indianapolis Colts, we made our plans, booked our flights and we were ready to go. What a weekend it was! We spent most of the day on Saturday at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and we walked around the stadium to get a better look at it without the crowds we knew would be there on game day. What was particularly cool was to see our team's history honored on the plaques mounted on the outside wall. Legendary Browns who will never be forgotten by the fans or the city.
Afterwards, we walked around downtown and met up with old friends I have not seen in years. The city was hyped...the Browns were in the hunt for the playoffs, the Buckeyes had just destroyed Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game and the Cavaliers were playing solid. The vibe was awesome and what was particularly cool for my son was seeing all the people in the city proudly wearing orange and brown. These were not bandwagon fans...these were TRUE Browns fans. On game day we got up early and went to several tailgates hosted by extremely generous and kind folks. We met local friends of our fellow Portland backers and we met several from the DawgTalkers forum. While at the DawgTalkers tailgate a few young guys and a gal from California showed up and said they were friends and fiance of rookie guard, Joel Bitonio! All had grown up on the west coast and had never experienced such dedicated NFL fans before! They were loving it!
Going into the new stadium for the first time was exhilarating. All my memories from my childhood of the old Muni rushed through my head. My son was amped and excited. We had great seats around the 10yd line by the Dawg Pound (thanks again, Butch!). The team entrance at the beginning made the hairs on the back of neck stand as they rushed out amongst plumes of smoke, bursts of flames and loud music. Our defense on the day were totally awesome. They fought hard, they made several incredible plays and the stadium rocked and rolled with every tackle, sack, fumble recovery and interception. Unfortunately, the offense couldn't move the ball so no matter how inspired the defense played the offense couldn't respond. In the end, the defense were out of gas and the Colts made enough plays to win the game with less than a minute remaining. It was yet another heart wrenching loss that was difficult to stomach. On reflection, however, I said to my son at least we saw a tight game that came down to the wire rather than spending a lot of money to fly over and see our team get blown out (which happened the following week against the Bengals). I didn't realize it then but, I do now...that Colts game we saw was the last spark of the 2014 season. It had sucked the life out of the team for the remainder of the season. Like the fans, the defense was emotionally tapped out.
Win or lose, I'll always root for my team...what is exciting for me now is to know that I have passed that unwavering allegiance on to my son. I know we will be back and so will the Browns and when they do return to winning form that party is going to be fun!