MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL IN CLEVELAND, OHIO!!!! I don’t know if I can fully express how excited I was for this game in writing. I. Was. Bursting. With. Unbridled. Joy. Both the Ravens and Browns were having terrible years, but I didn’t care, I wanted to see current Cleveland beat old Cleveland, draft pick positioning be damned! I had purchased my dad and I matching “Bernie it’s cold outside” ugly Christmas sweaters from Fresh Brewed Tees, but alas they did not come in on time. I blame them for having way too many cool sports themed designs, thus delayed shipping. In hindsight, I should have taken this as a bad omen, but I like every Browns fan, don’t know how to keep my hopes down. It was an easy fix too, I just raided my dad’s stash of 90’s Browns sweatshirts and declared my look vintage. I prefer this orange anyways.
We drove down to Clevelandtown, parked at a meter, and walked about a mile with other fans to the stadium. There’s lots of city parking near the stadium and what’s nice about night games and weekends is the meters are free! I had looked online at StubHub! earlier and saw that there were tons of tickets available for this game and they were cheap. My parents had sold off their season tickets this year, so I ended up buying a pair in the lower bowl for only $45. We could’ve gotten in for as low as $8 (500 level), but I wanted to sit low and enjoy the game with my dad. As we walked to the stadium, I was surprised by the amount of Browns fans tailgating and the amount of Ravens fans present. I did not expect to see many of them, but here they were. We passed through an ESPN tailgate with live music and the corner of the infamous Muni lots. If you like tailgating, tailgate there, it is second to none. Near the stadium, there was a guy singing a rather lofty song about the Browns and ensuring victory. We listened to him a bit and seeing the lines for this gate, decided to go around to the other side.
The street was bustling with fans enjoying the games, music, and food trucks that lined this side of the stadium. There was excitement in the air and I realized in all my years of Browns fandom, I had never been to a night game. This revelation astonished me, but then I thought about it a bit and wasn’t so surprised. Hard to make a night game when your parents didn’t let you go to NFL games until you were a teenager and I’ve lived my adult life in Columbus. Having a new experience at an old (for me) venue during this run at all the stadiums was a nice bonus. Despite the long line outside of this gate as well, we entered the stadium and both were blown away with how bright and new everything looked. My dad and I had come to the Ravens game the year before, but neither of us remembered the concourses looking like this. I guessed that this was the second phase of renovations and after a quick Google search, that hunch was confirmed. It’s crazy how a place you’ve been before can look completely different only a year later.
We headed to our seats which were along the south end zone and watched the Browns warm up for a little bit. The Ravens weren’t out yet and I told my dad I was going to do a quick walk around the stadium, so I could sit and watch the entire game with him. I power walked around the lower bowl and approved the concourse updates and was happy to see local concession offerings and low prices. The Midwest is wonderfully affordable! I hopped on an escalator and stopped briefly at the overhang on the 200 level on the north side that my dad and I normally stand at during games. It’s a little obstructed, but it’s a decent view and there were already fans securing their spots early. You can look down at the opening of the main concourse where there used to be great standing room before they added stands to close off the stadium a bit. I’d normally be peeved that they took away standing room, but the additional stands help keep some of the cold air from coming in off the lake.
Again I took the escalator up to the upper concourse and realized I had never been this high up in FirstEnergy Stadium. All these firsts in my home park! It was a fairly standard upper-level concourse, though a little more closed in in the end zones with the 500 level stands sitting above it. Once along the sidelines, it opened up and you could see our highly scrutinized lake. I took the ramps back down and stopped at the 200 level to watch the teams come in. The Ravens came out to well-deserved boos and then Swagger, Cleveland’s adorable dog mascot ran out… where was the team? I think we waited for a good five minutes longer before they came out to fire and smoke. The Browns intro is way too long, though I might’ve been a little too impatient. Just come out of the tunnel already! After the starters were announced I high tailed it back down to our seats. The anthem was performed by blind teen Marlana VanHoose, who I know I’ve seen before and she is one of the best. There is nothing better than hearing a fantastic rendition of our national anthem. It’s my favorite song and I wish I could sing so I could perform it. Alas, I’m not gifted in that regard, so I appreciate those who can belt it out like Marlana.
The stands had been fairly empty during the team warm-ups, but by kickoff, I’d say they were 75-80% full, which is impressive for the teams that were playing. This is a football town with very loyal fans. The Ravens went up early and things weren’t looking so great for the Browns. In the section next to us, a Ravens fan heckled Browns fans and they should’ve ignored him, but took the bait. I think that guy spent most of the game turned around lipping off instead of watching the game and cheering for his team. The Cleveland fans behind us were your standard angry fans and hated everything. The team, the ticket prices (they paid full price- suckas!), no cheerleaders for them to look at. Well God forbid you go to a football game and have to watch football. If you need to see women dance for you so badly, leave and go to the strip club. At least they’re better compensated. Just sayin’. The Browns offense finally got going in the second quarter and some of their jeers turned to cheers. My stadium contact for this game, Bob came by and signed my log book that I was in attendance. He came right when the team was in the red zone and it was hard to concentrate on talking to him as offensive action ensued on the field!
Halftime came following a Browns field goal to bring them within four points and the entertainment was very interesting. They had two teams of fans riding a hovercraft across the field to change into Browns uniforms while being timed. It was entertaining at first, but it went south fast as it took too long and kickers from both teams came out and their warming up was impeded. They ended up rushing the second team and declaring the race a tie. Browns fans booed this- they were not impressed. My dad was tired of listening to the fans behind us and in the third quarter we moved down a few rows to some empty seats and were much happier with the lack of commentary. Even though the lower bowl was closed off, the cold lake air was creeping in and I needed something to warm me up. I went out to the concourse for a hot chocolate and ended up spending most of the quarter in line due to the most incompetent stadium workers. It was very frustrating by how slow they were and one guy went off on them for letting him stand for 10 minutes at a closed register. He had every right to be angry, as someone would come stand by the register and then walk away without saying anything. It was like they were playing a game. I mean I watched them do it from my line for some time and he was there longer than me. Then to placate them, they had him cut me and order. Well gee, thanks, guys. Couldn’t just give him some free food or take care of it off to the side? I was annoyed.
Back in the stands with my hot chocolate, my dad asked if I had gotten lost and I was like no, I had just chosen the wrong concession stand. Browns QB Josh McCown was injured during the fourth quarter and fans were mad and booed when Johnny Manziel was skipped over and Austin Davis trotted out. I don’t know why they were so mad, Manziel deserves this punishment. He was given a second chance and he violated the terms and then lied about it. I was all about Johnny starting earlier this year, but he went back to his old ways and it warrants consequences. Davis’ first incomplete brought the boos from fans and chants for Johnny, but during his second drive, he led the team to a game scoring touchdown. In the final two minutes, it seemed as neither team wanted to win and a timely interception set up what could be the game-winning drive for the Browns. Fans were on their feet, those boos were now chants of “Au-stin!” They, I mean we, believed. The Browns had some incompletes and after a short run, set up for the long field goal. Here we go, here was our shot at a win. Everyone wanted that win, there wasn’t anyone clamoring for a more favorable spot in the draft, we were all in. And then it happened. Just when you thought victory was in hand, the Ravens not only blocked the field goal but returned it all the way back for a touchdown as time expired.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? My dad and I just looked at each other and laughed. We were stunned as were the people around us. Hats were slammed down, things were yelled at the team as they headed to the locker room, fans vacated the stands in incredible haste. Dad and I stood there in complete disbelief. What had just happened? We had gone from happiness to sadness in the blink of an eye. “Now we know what Michigan fans felt like with Sparty,” I said, “I’m glad this happened with the Browns and not the Buckeyes.”
“Yeah with the Browns it doesn’t mean anything. At least we didn’t have to sit through overtime and we will always remember this game,” my dad replied. That was for sure! I’m going to remember this game vividly for the rest of my life. Thanks for the awesome memories with my dad Browns! I guess I deserved this after taking so much joy in Ravens fans suffering earlier this season following the Jaguars loss. Never, NEVER gloat too much about your enemy’s defeat- God will set you straight real quick.
Our walk back to the car was almost as entertaining as the game. Fans were still processing this latest gut-wrenching loss and bonding over our shared misery. I noticed that the Terminal Tower once glowing in orange lights before the game, was now dark. No lights for losers. As much fun as it was to get our frustration out and laugh at the absurdity of the game, I was genuinely mad at the organization. How much money did Jimmy Haslam make off that game? This team was once great and has a storied history, but you wouldn’t know that with the constant crap they keep putting out for us since the Browns’ return. What a waste of a beautiful venue, a loyal fan base, and Paul Browns’ good name. I’m out.
Ok, I lied I’m still here. Browns- I wish I knew how to quit you.