Returning to the Factory of Sadness


Factory of Sadness

This post is purely personal and it has nothing to do with real football or how I approach my job in football. Besides, real  football hasn’t been in Cleveland since that greedy scumbag took our team to Baltimore.  It’s about to get ugly–and unsafe for work or for people who want to institute Bible tests for refugees–you’ve been warned.

And who doesn’t God forgive? The unbelievers. The lukewarm ones who don’t take sides. They are condemned to eternal wandering.

— Europa (1991)

I thought I could get away. It wasn’t a conscious thing. I needed to fill the void.

Steve McNair, Eddie George, Samari Rolle, Keith Bulluck, Blaine Bishop, Derrick Mason, and Jeff Fisher did the job. Power running game. Press corners. Pure guts at quarterback. Player’s coach.

The Titans even had a member of the Matthews clan.

(It was like methadone for a heroin addict)

The Titans were also owned by a greedy, whiny scumbag who moved the team from its rightful home. Looking back, it seems crazy to gravitate to an organization that did the same thing to its fans that was just done to you. But I suppose there’s something to be said about reenacting the original abuse.

It didn’t even cross my mind. I found the team with the Marty Schottenheimer imprint and they eventually went to the Super Bowl.

Then they lost by a yard after that incredible drive–a drive that Cam Newton, a McNair fan, has probably dreamed about–was a gut punch that would send most football fans into a catatonia.

But any Cleveland fan still capable of using intelligible sentences from the eras of Brian Sipe to Bernie Kosar will tell you that you need to have the chin of Marvin Hagler to be a Browns fan.

(When you think about it, Hagler was the Browns to Sugar Ray Leonard’s John Elway)

As hard of a shot as it was, the Titans at least made it to the big game. I was grateful to get a taste of what it was like. Then the idiot owner pulled rank on the most pivotal members of his staff that wanted to draft Jay Cutler and raise him right. Bud Adams was more interested in giving the city of Houston the finger than giving Tennessee a quarterback that matched the philosophy of his coaching staff.

Although Vince Young had talent, this is was the beginning of the end for me with Tennessee. The Schottenheimer imprint was showing up in the Pacific Northwest. It began with a trade for Marshawn Lynch.

(Not only as a fan, but as a talent evaluator, I’ve been in sync with many of the personnel choices in Seattle: Lynch; giving Big Mike Williams a second chance; Kam Chancellor; Bobby Wagner; Earl Thomas; and of course, Russell Wilson, Spencer Ware and Paul Richardson.)   

Once gain, the pieces were in place: Power running game. Press corners. Quarterback. Player’s Coach.  This time it worked to perfection: Beast Quake, Russell Wilson’s improbable trolling of the Packers, and back-to-back Super Bowls.

Lynch copy

(And beating the Broncos with Peyton Manning was a special karmic gift for a fan with my history–the Seahawks avenged my alliances with the Browns and the Titans in one game).

Now about that second Super Bowl…

(I want to say with conviction, ‘How the fuck do you by-pass the best short-yardage back–if not the best big-game back–of his generation at the one-yard line to win your second straight Super Bowl?’

I want to scream it while I punch holes in the walls of my office. I really do. But I can’t.

In a strange way, I get the reasoning behind the call–even if I don’t agree with it.)

I lack the emotional intensity. The Seahawks’ exploits have been a thrill, but I’ve never hung on every play with the same passion I did when I watched Steve McNair and company in Tennessee. You see, Titans and Seahawks fans got a taste of Han in those games, but by the time that happened I had already been marinated in it in Cleveland: 

Han or Haan[1] is a concept in Korean culture attributed as a unique Korean cultural trait which has resulted from Korea’s frequent exposure to invasions by overwhelming foreign powers. Han denotes a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of insurmountable odds (the overcoming of which is beyond the nation’s capabilities on its own). It connotes aspects of lament and unavenged injustice.

The minjung theologian Suh Nam-dong describes han as a “feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong—all these combined.”[2]

In some occasions, anthropologists have recognized han as a culture-specific medical condition whose symptoms include dyspnea, heart palpitation, and dizziness. (Wikipedia)

Whether they know it or not, the Browns are the unofficial NFL team of Korea. Cleveland embodies Han more than any team–and possibly, city (Detroit gets props)–in American sport.

It’s what happens when your team is this close to it all coming together and its spirit gets kidnapped to Baltimore.

Baltimore Colts great Art Donovan got it right when he said that he had mixed feelings about the Ravens’ arrival in Charm City. He was happy for the fans to get a team, but not at the cost of another great fan base losing theirs.

The Ravens still have the soul and guts of the real Cleveland Browns. They’re Mickey Rourke’s detective Harry Angel from Angel Heart. a war veteran kidnapped by crooner Johnny Favorite, who, to avoid paying up his side of the deal he made with the devil, performs a gruesome ritual on Angel to inhabit the detective’s body and hide from Lucifer–and himself.

Ravens fans aren’t to blame. They’re victims reenacting the crime inflicted on them with the Colts. Even if they’ve inadvertently accepted the stolen soul of Cleveland’s organization.

(What a fucking stupid thing to say. I should know better.

The NFL is a soulless entity that exploits the spirits of brave young men who make a deal with the devil every week when they step onto that field. With notable and treasured exceptions where humanity is celebrated and cared for, every professional endeavor, especially sports, is an unapologetic meat grinder beneath a thin veneer of public relations bullshit.

But in case you didn’t notice, I’m having a complete fan moment here. This isn’t about my professional respect for all teams, personnel, and players. That has been laid aside while I blow a gasket after 20 years of tamping it down. All things considered, I think I’m being pretty tame.)

I wish I could say Angel Heart only applies to Art Modell performing his satanic ritual on Cleveland and hiding in the Ravens purple and black. Then it could make DeNiro’s Lucifer the collective embodiment of vengeful Browns fans everywhere.

But I experienced my own personal horror of discovering who I was in the wake of the Browns 42nd last-minute loss since 1999: Despite 20 years of trying to deny it, I’m still a Browns fan. I’ll always be a Browns fan.

It’s not a choice. It’s part of who I am.

I had this epiphany last night while watching defeat snatched from the foot of victory against the team that made off with our mojo. Watching my shitty team lose a game to its mortal enemy that’s so deeply wounded that it’s starting an ATM for interceptions, pissed me off more than the Titans and Seahawks’ one-yard debacles in the Super Bowl.

Then, I see Josh Gordon’s post-game tweet. Arguably the most talented receiver in football, Gordon apologizes to Browns fans for his actions and says we deserve better and to stay strong. I realized if I don’t acknowledge the truth that I’m still a fan, the Browns will never win the Super Bowl in my lifetime.

Josh Gordon by Erik Daniel Drost

Come back and come back strong.  Photo by Erik Daniel Drost.

(By the way, I’ve got nothing but love for you, Josh Gordon. You fucked up, but you’ve acknowledged it. And I think last night, after witnessing this game, you really get it. I hope the Boy King figured it out last night, too. He’s a stubborn, arrogant, over-privileged ass who looks like Alfred E. Neuman in shoulder pads.

He’s also a magnificent, creative, confident, likable asshole with game-changing skills that will only get better with patience and repeated ass-kicking and fatherly team discipline that can turn him into a heckuva a quarterback.

What he did from the pocket against Pittsburgh should be a message to every dumbass who bought the narrative that he can’t play in the NFL to shut the fuck up, close their ears to the pablum of football media loaded with former players who make a living retelling a limited reality that they knew as if it’s the only way, and open their eyes.

‘Two years is enough time to know and it’s time to move on from Manziel.”

Bullshit.

Listen, Steve Young, you were nothing in Tampa Bay. If you didn’t get to sit on the 49ers bench for seven years behind the greatest quarterback in history and learn from the sport’s greatest offensive mind, you might have had Todd Blackledge’s NFL career. SEVEN YEARS, motherfucker. And you had some semblance of maturity. 

Stop spouting that horseshit about two years for quarterbacks. You don’t ignore a six-figure study that says draft Teddy Bridgewater (I wish), take Manziel with all of his issues, and expect him to take the button-up, two-year corporate plan of Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson.

You have to break him just enough to make him submit to authority where it’s vital while giving him enough exposure on the field in doses to figure out how he can fuse his style with the things he has to learn to thrive

Manziel is a guy you give 3-4 years of true patience and continuity. If you take the risk with him, own the fact that you bought into a dysfunctional kid who can become an mature enough adult under your regime with enough effort and patience. Terry Bradshaw was a horse’s ass and he got more than two years in Pittsburgh.

Hell, Kirk Cousins inadvertently got four years of intermittent play and patient coddling by two coaches and he’s getting better. I’m still not convinced he’s a long-term starter of note, but he has improved because that’s what happens when you’re patient and have a long-term plan for even a mediocre prospect. Don’t get me started on what might have happened if Robert Griffin was given the same plan as Cousins.

Gordon, you and Manziel can be a part of a revitalization story. I hope you and the team have enough sense to make things right and continue working together in 2016 and beyond, because if Manziel thought Mike Evans was good, wait until he gets a load of you.

It’s also divine justice for Browns fans to have the two of you reform the fortunes of this team and help lead the team back to dominance of the division and ultimate the league.)

Lunacy. I know, I just spouted utter lunacy. Who believes that he can change the destiny of a team because his emotions are aligned with their success and failure?

Why a fan, of course.

And coming out of this 20-year denial fucked with me hard. I don’t want to stop being a Seahawks fan. They have been the most successful template of my football youth to date. And I was just beginning to embrace the idea of cheering for the Mike Zimmer regime in Minnesota.

(I suppose I can adopt them as my NFC teams when they aren’t facing Cleveland. I’ve always been an AFC fan. With the exception of three-quarters of the NFC West and the entire NFC North, the NFC is kind of bougie.)

Especially when I have to embrace fandom of the entity that the NFL brought to Cleveland in 1999. It might as well be one of these pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

But I have to accept who I am. Before Monday Night’s game, I was savoring the Seahawks’ win over the Steelers. I love hating the Steelers. They’re like a big brother. We hurl insults, we get in fights, but no one else is allowed to fuck with us. Steelers fans showed up when the NFL let Modell tear the soul out of the Cleveland.

It’s why I hate, hating the Ravens. The Ravens play football the way I was raised to appreciate it. Steve Smith should have been a Brown whipping the Steelers’ ass. Don’t even talk to me about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

Can you imagine seeing what’s yours get built the way it’s supposed to by one of your childhood heroes-turned-villains and know you can’t root for them?

(Except against those bougie 49ers in the Super Bowl and that doesn’t really count).

That’s Cleveland. The Ravens are our mortal enemy and Ozzie Newsome is the traitor we still love.

(A traitor I know any reasonable Brown fan would welcome back to the fold in a heartbeat and awkwardly ignore what he’s been up to since 1996.) 

But not Modell. Never Modell.

If heaven and hell exist, I know I’d be sent to purgatory for a cleansing. One of those soul tests for me would be an hour in a room with Art Modell. Do I turn the other cheek and spend an eternity in heaven or do I burn in hell with a smile on my face?

I might need another 35-40 years to think this over, God.

(The fact I can even fathom imagining a smile on my face while enduring the never-ending burn seals it.)

I know who I am.

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3 comments

  1. This is one of the best expressions of being a Browns fan I have ever read. Not only does it capture the emotional toll associated with all the losing, but it comments on the dipshittery that passes as punditry. If these guys, ala Steve Young, are so damn smart, drop the TV gig, roll up your sleeves, and get to the real work of building a winning franchise. Instead, its platitudes and cliches. And that isn’t going to fix a team like the Browns.

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