This past Sunday I was following the Cleveland Browns - Pittsburgh Steelers game via the Internet, frantically pushing refresh every so often. You see, this is how I watch Cleveland Browns games since they are never on TV here. I wish I could blame it on the fact that we live in Texas and get flooded with Cowboys and Texans games, but in truth, there were probably very few parts outside of Northern Ohio and Pennsylvania that would show a match up of 3-6 teams.
Anyway, the Browns' defense played an inspired game. Going into the 4th quarter the Browns were up by a score of 20-10. The Browns' touchdowns were the result of an interception return and a kick return. They had yet to score an offensive touchdown, and they would not score one. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh offense suddenly came alive in the 4th quarter and/or the Browns defense tired or folded depending on how you look at it. Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns in the span of about 5 minutes and ended up winning 24-20 in Cleveland.
There was a point during that 4th quarter that the Steelers were faced with a 3rd and 10. This was at roughly the 13 minute mark, so there was plenty of time left. The Browns had just scored a touchdown and if they could force Pittsburgh to punt, they would hopefully be able to burn enough clock and put the game away. After all, to this point, the Steelers hadn't gotten anything going on offense.
When I saw that the Steelers converted that 3rd down, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, "here we go again," knowing that it was inevitable that the Browns would give up this game they had in the bag. This was a simple first down play. The Steelers were still deep in their own territory and the Browns were still up by 10 points. But I knew at that point, the Browns would lose.
You see, this is how I follow the Browns now, just expecting them to lose the whole three hours. If they happen to win the occasional game it's a momentary surprise, then a relapse into remembering they are a 3-7 team with no chance of making the playoffs again. But most of the time I just spend dreading this week's loss. It's not fun. I thought sports were supposed to be fun. This is not.
My brothers often blamed my dad for not growing up in New York or Boston, where their teams actually win championships. It is not fun to root for Cleveland any more. I'm not sure that it ever was. I feel like I'm in this abusive relationship and I just keep coming back knowing that I'll get let down again. The only difference is, in an abusive relationship, the abused usually holds out some hope that things will get better. I hold out no such hope. I wish I didn't care about them. I can try to feign indifference, but I don't do it very well.
For you see, not only are the Browns bad, they have become irrelevant. The Oakland Raiders are bad, but people still talk about them, even if it's just for commentators to get all indignant about Randy Moss. But I'd bet 90% of the public doesn't even know that the Browns exist. I asked Mrs. Supercomputer today to name a player on the Browns. She couldn't (though, in fairness, she could probably not name a player on the World Champion Steelers as well). We're to the point that fans are lamenting that their sons are becoming fans of other teams, because the Browns have been irrelevant throughout their entire childhood.
The Browns-Steelers rivalry was at one time, the best in all of sports. These teams and fans hated each other with a passion. They were both blue-collar teams from blue-collar towns who played blue-collar football. Both had a legacy of Hall of Fame players and championships galore. In truth, the Steelers have done their part to maintain this one-time rivalry, but it's hard to maintain a rivalry when only one team wins. The Steelers have won 12 of the last 13 meetings between the two teams. Before winning this nail biter, the Steelers beat the Browns 41-0 on Christmas Eve in Cleveland. By the end of the game there were more Steelers fans than Browns fans in the crowd. This rivalry has devolved into a biannual embarrassment. But looking at the big picture, the Browns are just a weekly embarrassment. I hate the fact that I want them to win so badly.
I know that sports isn't supposed to mean much. Like I said, it's supposed to be good fun, right? Then why do I feel like an alcoholic who can't give up the sauce? I don't feel like I go into a funk when my team loses. At least not for more than an hour. I don't take it out on my kids at school. But I still want so very badly for the Browns or Indians (or to a lesser extent, the Cavs, ironically) to win a championship. Or shoot, just become relevant and get to the playoffs every few years. Right now, they are in purgatory. Or is it me that's in purgatory?