6,581 Days

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John Leone and I have been working basketball and football games together for over 20 years. John loves sports – pretty much, all sports. Some, as you will see, however, more than others.

John REALLY loves the Cleveland Browns.  He is an avid, fanatical, zealous, intense, passionate (get the picture) fan of the Cleveland Browns.  He is part of a Leone “cult” that, though separated each NFL Sunday geographically, they are as close as each other’s living room, den, and man cave as they text and talk to one another through four quarters.  Until this past Sunday, it had been 6,581 days since the Browns’ last played in an NFL playoff game.  This Steelers-Browns game was special.  I’ll let John tell the story:

SEE YOU SUNDAY
John Leone

What does a lifetime look like? What does it feel like? Watershed moments bring perspective. Ask a Millennial how long ago they graduated, when they got their first job, or the first time they voted. Now ask them to name the year The Cleveland Browns last appeared in an NFL Playoff game. Like that familiar warning on our side view mirrors, past events often appear closer than the numbered years.

If you happen to be a loyal fan of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns (is there another kind?), a football lifetime for anyone under 40 began, arguably, during the 2002 season. It was the team’s last appearance in a playoff game. But for those of us of a different vintage, the roots and memories run far deeper, and last Sunday’s playoff win brought a visceral sense of relief, joy, and even vindication. You see, I’ll be 69 years old this year, and my football fandom history with my beloved Browns traces back to my hometown of Syracuse, its college football team, and watching the likes of Jim Brown and Ernie Davis. For those of you counting, that would be circa 1957-1960. Like I said, deep roots.

Christmas Eve dinner was always a big event in my first-generation Italian family. Attendance was compulsory, and as the son of a Syracuse cop, rules were to be followed – especially those involving Grandma and Grandpa. On December 24, 1967, the Browns lost in the Divisional round to the Dallas Cowboys, 52-14. Look it up. It was the late game that afternoon, and its outcome was decided by the beginning of the 4th quarter. Dinnertime drew near. But I stayed to watch with tear-filled eyes as every final second ticked away. Where is John? I was 15. Was that old enough to know better? I don’t recall the punishment for being late for dinner, but nothing could have hurt more than the thrashing we took from Dallas that day.

The ‘80s brought a hint of past successes. The 1980 “Kardiac Kids” and Brian Sipe’s MVP season gave us promise, but a play called “Red Right 88” derailed our hopes. That final play still lives in Cleveland football infamy. Later that decade, Bernie Kosar took us to the very threshold of three Super Bowls, only to be thwarted by John Elway, “The Drive,” and “The Fumble.” Since then, there has been this dark and morbid tendency by Browns fans to attach various names to our collective agony. “The Helmet Toss” and “Bottlegate” come to mind. Then, of course, the ultimate betrayal – “The Move.”

The slings and arrows and jokes and insults suffered by today’s Browns fans have hurt us old timers especially hard. There really was a different lifetime, you see, one in which this NFL cornerstone franchise was a perennial winner. And when the owner left the city in 1995 and tried to take the team with him, well, the fan base revolted and held on to the name, the colors, the records, and the culture that was so deeply woven into the fabric of the region and beyond. We effectively “traded” away our owner. In retrospect, that was pretty cool. But that was a lifetime ago, and lifetimes are different for everyone.

My younger brother, Ed, a lawyer and a much smarter man than I, inexplicably picked up the mantle of “Die Hard” from me. He, in turn, has passed it along to my nieces and nephews, and by now, grandnieces and grandnephews. My own children have no choice – like DNA, it can’t be denied. If I leave nothing else behind, at least there is that. There is no accounting for real loyalty. So you might imagine what the phone calls, text messages, and video chats were like on Sunday. Euphoria, disbelief, shock. From that very first snap that sailed over Big Ben’s head through the wee hours of the next morning, we listened to post-game reactions and savored the feeling that had eluded us for decades. We were there, and there we stayed.

I don’t pretend that Browns fans have cornered the market on the joys and heartbreaks that come with an allegiance to an NFL team. There are similar stories that run through every fan base of every franchise. And that is a good thing. Anything that brings family and friends and communities together is, indeed, a good thing. Andrew Malcom is a former New York Times correspondent, a columnist, and author of Huddle: Fathers, Sons, and Football. When the franchise owners tried to leave Cleveland in 1995, his op-ed in The Times said it all, and said it as well as can be said – regardless of your own allegiance. It is an absolute must-read – a testament to the notion of fidelity and trust and a strong rebuke to the notion of “franchise free agency” and the corporate element of the NFL.

For us Browns fans, staying the course and holding on to hope through the gauntlet that has defined the recent history of this franchise has been an especially daunting task. Yet through it all – the dark and darker and darkest days – there has always been one constant. It’s a refrain that has endured and withstood all manner of adversity over years and years of sadness and frustration. And it will remain.

P.S.  The Browns lost to the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday.  Their season is over.

Just some of the out-of-town fans on a typical Sunday afternoon.

John’s daughter, Amanda, at age 3 – still indoctrinated at 33!

 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Alabama’s win over Ohio State on Monday night was the seventh national championship for head coach Nick Saban. He now has won more national championships than any coach in college football history.  He was tied with Alabama’s former head coach Bear Bryant, who had won six.  Four college coaches have won four national titles – Minnesota’s Bernie Bierman, Ohio State’s Woody Hayes, Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy, and USC’s John McCay.
  1. I mentioned last week that Jeffrie Lurie (Eagles’ owner) and Doug Pederson (Eagles’ ex-head coach) may not be seeing eye-to-eye. Pederson was fired this week.  I believe the next Eagles’ coach will be Eric Bieniemy, the offense coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs.  He is again part of the Andy Reid tree of coaches.  That’s just my guess.
  1. The NFC title game ironically will feature two old-style NFL quarterback types – Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady – two veterans who use their heads much more than they use their legs and speed. They are throwbacks to what quarterbacks used to be.
  1. Speaking of NFL quarterbacks, the Chiefs may have to play the AFC championship without Patrick Mahomes. He suffered a concussion this past Sunday.  If he can’t play, Chad Henne would be forced to take on the Buffalo Bills defense and they are outstanding.  Bills win if the Chiefs are without Mahomes; it’s a toss-up with him.
  1. Our first high school basketball game (Parkland at Central) and our first wrestling match (Nazareth at Bethlehem Catholic) have both been postponed. The Lafayette women’s basketball games this past weekend and next weekend have also been postponed.  We will, hopefully, bring you some basketball this week starting on Tuesday with Central at Parkland.

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (LAST WEEK – 3-1; OVERALL- 168-95-1 – 64%) 

Conference Championships

Green Bay

Buffalo

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Laubach About Gary Laubach

Gary began his broadcasting career with Twin County in 1972. Twin County eventually became C-TEC and then RCN. Gary holds the dual role of Director of Media Services and Sports Director/Broadcaster. He currently broadcasts about 140 sports and entertainment broadcasts a year, and oversees the scheduling of all sporting events for RCN.

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