I’ll admit it.
I slept with a Cleveland Browns football.
It was one of those mechanically signed cheap footballs where the older it got, the more the pebble cover flaked off. Dad got it for me in 1969 so it had the signatures of Leroy Kelly, Don Cockroft, Jim Kanicki, Milt Morin and, well, you get the picture.
My dad was actually at the 1964 NFL Championship game where the Browns laced the Colts 27-0. It would be the last time the Browns . . . well, you know.
Dad got me a pennant. I think my ex-wife has it which means it was probably burned in a ceremony with all my other stuff I failed to take with me before the divorce.
|It kinda gave me nightmares|
The pennant had an angry dwarf in cleats throwing a football.
This is what a ‘brownie’ was supposed to look like. If you want to make fun of that, take a good hard look at Steely McBeam.
Like any Cleveland youngster, I grew up pathologically hating the Steelers. And since this was the 70s, there was a lot of hate to process – until the Dawg Pound days.
But it just didn’t matter. Yes, I froze along with everyone else at Cleveland Stadium on the day the Brian Sipe threw ‘Red Right 88’ and the Browns Super Bowl dreams into the toilet against the Oakland Raiders.
I sat through ‘The Drive’ and ‘The Fumble,’ fuming about what God had against the Browns and Cleveland in general.
|Love ya’ Cleveland!|
Slowly, slowly, my frustration was reaching a boiling point. That point was reached when He Whose Name Must Not Be Mentioned moved the Browns to Baltimore.
|And while you’re at it, shove it up your ass|
I was through – finished. I had lost too many vocal cords yelling at a team that could never quite put it together and I had nothing to show for it except a nervous tic when anyone mentioned John Elway.
I was working in Illinois when the ‘new’ Browns appeared. Already kinda rooting for the Bears, I tried, I really tried to work up some enthusiasm for these strangers who wore the right colors and played just as bad. But I couldn’t. Because they stunk too.
So work brought me to Pittsburgh in December 2010. My first ex-wife’s family was all Millvale-Etna-Shaler Township denizens so, that being the only neighborhoods I knew, I got an apartment there and moved in with my wife who never fails to remind me that Big Ben is a Miami alum.
|Gratuitous photo for my wife|
Pittsburgh. Never thought I would find myself here, of all places.
My wife, a big hockey fan and native Clevelander, was excited to be in an NHL city so becoming Penguins fans was easy. The Pirates played in the National League so technically, I could still be an Indians fan if I wanted to but I lost interest in the featherheads pretty quickly.
|Shaler Township’s famous homemade fountains. Take that Etna!|
But what about the first love of my sports life, the NFL? What to do?
Could I? Would I?
So the month we moved to the ‘Burgh, the Steelers were heading for the Super Bowl.
Now I don’t normally think of myself as a ‘front-runner,’ but it took about a week to get all the black and gold I would need for the end of the season. I turned faster than Benedict Arnold.
My wife remained a Browns fan. Needless to say, her family and my former Cleveland friends were aghast, aghast I tell you, at my treachery.
The cry of traitor!rang from one end of my Facebook to another.
|You know, I get this every time I go back too. Sheesh!|
What I did to the beat-up garden shack in the backyard didn’t help either:
|Stiller pride! It’s priddy n’at|
OK, some said. We get the ‘when in Rome’ nonsense, but seriously, you aren’t serious . . . are you?
I finally got sick of it all and wrote down some talking points for these benighted Clevelanders which I have compiled here.
|Saw the Stillers beat the Browns there|
First, I gave up my youth for a team that held its fans in contempt and for an owner who eventually left the city. This – is a team that has sucked and continues to suck in every obscene way imaginable. Hell, even the locals call Browns Stadium ‘the factory of sadness!’
I live in Pittsburgh now and I think I’ve earned the right (by suffering) to root for a franchise that has a little more than a clue about what it’s doing. If you lived here, you might feel the same way.
|We let you know if we don’t like you|
Second, about Pittsburgh: I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to live in a city that doesn’t constantly whine every time anyone says something nasty about it. Cleveland has so many self-image problems the whole city needs a shrink. We don’t feel the need to grab visitors around the lapels and scream about a world-class orchestra or LeBron James.
Pittsburgh has so much to offer that we take it all in stride – including the sports championships. We don’t need to constantly explain how great our city is. You like us? Fine. You don’t? Get ahta tahn. Like that? I’m still learning Pittsburghese.
|The inference is intended|
I used to get nostalgic for Cleveland. No more. The city wallows in its own self-pity and even if I were offered the opportunity, I’d never go back.
Three last things:
|Seriously, that stuff is awful|
I still won’t drink the swill that is I.C. Light.
You have to draw a line somewhere.
I’ve gotten used to Steely McBeam even though my wife hasn’t.
And I still have that football.
|Yeah, I’m holding it. Xmas 1969. I will never live this down|