Perspectives: Why I Was Rooting for the Browns

No Steelers fan enjoyed watching the Cleveland Browns bounce Pittsburgh from the playoffs. Once it happened, though, we owed them our support.

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I was rooting for the Browns.

Not in the opening round, obviously. This past Sunday, though, I was a Browns fan.

Cleveland’s first postseason victory since about the time Horne’s Department Store closed led only to a divisional-round defeat at the hands of Kansas City. But I was genuinely hoping that our nearby rivals would make a serious run for the first time in generations.

They’ve been through enough. I can’t be even the slightest bit sore about the fact that they experienced some long-deferred joy, even if it came at our expense.

Pittsburgh fans, after all, know what it is to suffer for decades on end. The last Pirates title came six years before I was born. The Penguins had a long run of futility before meeting with their eternal savior in the mid-’80s. Until the ’70s, it was the Steelers who served as a perennial punching bag.

And all of that pales in comparison to what Cleveland fans have suffered.

Yes, the Cavaliers finally claimed an NBA title in 2016, breaking the city’s 50+ year championship drought. To get there, however, they had to watch their home-grown titan, LeBron James, leave town for a while to win rings elsewhere. Indians fans have indeed watched their team make it to the World Series — but not win it, of course. A baby born at the moment of the previous Indians championship would be 72 years old today.

Most importantly to the Cleveland faithful, the Browns haven’t been a serious threat in half a century — and, let’s not forget, they shipped off to Baltimore for a while. (Of course, almost as soon as the franchise relocated, they became effective again, forcing jilted Clevelanders to watch their ex thrive in a new relationship.)

I don’t care that it’s a civic rival; the fact that they knocked the Steelers out in the opening round is irrelevant to my sympathy for those fans and my desire for them to finally experience a moment of triumph one of these years.

It always bothered me when I saw Steelers fans — or Browns fans, of course — bring signs to games that seemed to decry the opposing team or city itself. When I was young, the popular novelty shirt read, “The Only Sign of Life in Cleveland,” then depicted a road sign announcing “Pittsburgh, 142 miles.”

It’s a good time to point this out: That’s bad, silly fandom.

Your sign should say “Beat the Browns,” not “Cleveland Sucks.” That’s the difference between a rivalry and being a jerk.

A sports rivalry and your personal feelings about another city should have absolutely nothing to do with one another. To make a statement that shouldn’t be controversial: I love Cleveland. I visit regularly for basketball games and concerts. I’ve run in the Rock Hall Half Marathon Relay. (It’s easier; they’ve got a flat city over there.) I’ve done stand-up at Hilarities, a great comedy club in the heart of the city, and performed with many great comics from Cleveland when they’ve visited Pittsburgh.

It’s the nearest major city to our own. If, for some strange reason, you’ve got a bad impression of it because of a football rivalry, you’re just cutting yourself off from enjoying a cool place down the road.

No rivalry in the history of American sports is more heated than that between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Look what happens when iconic players on either side of that feud retire: The opposing fans stand up and cheer, paying their respect to a worthy opponent. David Ortiz got a standing ovation on his final trip to Yankee Stadium; Derek Jeter received the same on his last visit to Fenway Park. A sports rivalry is supposed to be a good thing to have — a bit of fun to flavor your experience. It is not hatred; it is supposed to be rooted in respect.

So I was rooting for the Browns over the weekend. I do not hope the team, or the city, suffers in any way. I want them to do well and develop into a serious contender so their matchups with the Steelers can yield tense, thrilling contests. I want the Steelers to win those games, of course, but when they don’t, it isn’t going to crush me — because a rivalry should be a give and take, or else it isn’t much use to anyone.

Frankly, I’m more upset at the Chiefs for bouncing the Browns than I am at the Browns for besting the Steelers. Seeing the Browns in the Super Bowl would’ve been remarkable.

Wait, what’s that? Another hard-luck, Lake Erie-based franchise is still in contention?

Let’s go Bills.

Categories: Collier’s Weekly