In the crazy, topsy-turvy world of the NFL sometimes fans just need someone to talk to. So once a week Mag senior writer David Fleming will exchange emails with one lucky (we think) reader. If you'd like to have an email exchange with Flem, click here and pour your pigskin heart out. Go ahead, Flem's listening. And be sure to check out the weekly Flem File on Page 2 tomorrow and every Wednesday.
Last week you gave this space to a Bengals fan. Cincinnati fans want to sob about their team? AT LEAST THEY'VE BEEN TO A SUPERBOWL! Do you have any idea what it's like to be a Browns fan, to literally watch your team DISAPPEAR for a couple years, only to come back a shadow of their former self? While the RAVENS win a Super Bowl? One of the cruelest things my dad ever did to me was raise me to be a fan of Cleveland teams (and we lived in NY, for crying out loud!) Please, give one of ours a voice.
-- Nicole Rejiester, Maryland.
FLEM: You had me at 'cruelest' since my dad grew up in Cleveland back when the Browns were the New York Yankees of football and he basically did the same thing to me and my three brothers.
NICOLE: I also think it would be an interesting twist to include a female reader, because people seem to think that female fans don't suffer with the same intensity as guys when it comes to our sports teams. Because, you know, we're chicks, so we don't REALLY love our teams. Right?
FLEM: Well, I think you've already shattered that myth. Ya know I was in high school before I figured out Rutigliano was the name of the Browns coach and not some horrible swear word. One of my all-time favorite fandom stories was when I got my dad a ticket to Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami. When I told him there was a chance he might bump into John Elway my dad said something like, 'You keep that SOB away from me.' Classic.
NICOLE: It's funny you say that your dad refused to even meet Elway. We had a nickname for him in our family (Bucky Beaver, due to his somewhat large teeth and smile, though God alone knows who came up with that), and I couldn't even enjoy it when the AFC finally won a Super Bowl, breaking a streak of like, what, 12 straight NFC victories, because guess who won that game? Why, Bucky and the Broncos, against Green Bay, during the Browns' hiatus years.
FLEM: Okay, so, let's start with history, just give me some details about why your dad was a Browns fan and what that was like growing up and a few of the moments that got you hooked.
NICOLE: Well, my dad was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, and his dad was a Browns/Indians fan too, so I guess it kind of runs in the family. I remember growing up, Sundays were always about two things, church and football. We had an old black and white TV, and I would ask my dad who we were rooting for, the black team or the white team. He would tell me "We're rooting for Cleveland, they're in white" so I just always knew that he was a Browns fan, so I was a Browns fan. My mom didn't care about football.
FLEM: Same here, except my dad made her memorize the Browns starting lineup from the 1964 team that won the NFL championship. They're divorced now but she can still name every player.
NICOLE: It wasn't until I was older and started talking with cousins (always older and boys) at family gathering that my mom's side of the family were Giant fans. If only, huh?
FLEM: This is getting weird, since my oldest brother defected to the Giants several years ago and kissed his inheritance goodbye. Just kidding. There's no inheritance.
NICOLE: I was 10 years old the year of The Drive, and just the thought of it still makes my stomach turn. I remember jumping up and down like a maniac when the Browns scored in the 4th quarter to go up by 7, convinced they had just won the game and they were going to the Super Bowl.
FLEM: And then…
NICOLE: And then…it's like a nightmare come to life, I was standing there with my gut churning, watching Elway just move right up the field like it was no problem at all. And I knew, even then, as soon as it went to OT, that we were sunk. I just knew it. I think I may have even cried.
FLEM: I'm tearing up right now.
NICOLE: So just when I was old enough to really understand and love football, and really root for my team, they were good, really good…but not good enough. That's stuck with me, and I have yet to have my faith fully restored. Even when we are up big, I'm always wondering if they can figure out a way to implode and crush me again, just like when I was a kid, you know?
FLEM: I hear ya. Totally. I'm sensing you need to rant a bit about the current Browns. Please, be my guest.
NICOLE: I just got home from the Browns/Skins game. What a nightmare. Can someone please explain to me why we spend millions of dollars to pay Braylon Edwards to catch the football? I saw him drop a MINIMUM of 6 passes, at least 3 of which hit him in either the hands or the chest. I mean, I could catch a football if you hit me in the hands with it. Granted, I would immediately be decapitated by the safety, but still.
FLEM: Not if he played for the Broncos, then you'd probably break free, untouched, for an 80-yard TD.
NICOLE: This was another game of unimaginative game calling, dropped passes, and inexplicably bad passing. It boggles my mind that anyone could see Derek Anderson as a long term solution. I saw balls underthrown, overthrown, over receivers' heads and into the dirt at their feet. He can be absolutely brilliant one game, and then so very, very mediocre the next. That really sums up the current version of the Browns. It's like we don't know what to do with success. As soon as we start putting together some wins, and people start talking about us in terms of not being horrible, we lay another egg. The very concept of success seems to frighten the team. And Browns fans end up on this endless roller coaster of hope and despair, and it leaves you light headed and vaguely nauseous.
FLEM: Like the gyros they serve on the street in The Flats at 3 a.m. Okay, so you clearly follow the game and know it well. I'm making you the new GM of the Browns (sorry, Phil Savage!), what do you do?
NICOLE: Wow, I don't know, that might be too much power to have in the hands of a mere mortal. Okay, first I'd bench Edwards. Second, I'd seriously evaluate the QB situation. I'd like to see where Brady Quinn is at and get him some playing time now to prepare him for next year, when our schedule will be easier by default (playing the NFC North instead of the East will certainly help). Third, I'd start evaluating next year's draft prospects for a marquee running back and some corners/safeties. Fourth, I'd take a hard look at other coaching options (could Cowher be lured back?), because Romeo Crennel just isn't getting it done. Someone has got to instill some sense of creativity in play calling and confidence in team, the sense that the players know what they are doing and believe in the system they have, and I just don't see that right now.
FLEM: Well done. Bravo. Seriously. The only thing I disagree with is Cowher who got out-coached in almost every single big game of his career. I'd go with Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He started out as a Browns assistant in the 1990s. He's bright, brash, brave and the kind of dynamic personality that could cure the losing 'tude that has infected this franchise. Okay, let's try and end of a positive note with the things you do like about your Brownies.
NICOLE: Well, I appreciate the history (Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Paul Brown), but it's hard to feel really connected to that. I love the fans—long suffering, always hopeful even when they know they are goin to be disappointed, exuberant and unabashedly proud of their team, even in the low years. I can respect that it's hard to root for a team that hasn't won a championship in oh, say, a century (like the Cubs), but the city of Chicago has had other victories. What has Cleveland had?
FLEM: Chrissie Hynde? I love the Pretenders…
NICOLE: I also love the fact that one of the goofiest throwing QBs ever (Bernie Kosar - I have his autographed jersey which my b/f gave me for my birthday last year) had his success with the Browns. Man, I remember thinking that sidearm delivery of his was too funny, but yet somehow it worked. I think that's something pretty fundamental about the Browns, and maybe the whole of Cleveland sports. We might not look pretty getting it done, but sometimes it just works.
FLEM: Very well put. And what an awesome birthday gift, by the way.
NICOLE: I have to tell you how cool it is that your column comes out this week. Because, by sheer coincidence, this Thursday is also my birthday. Thirty two years, still waiting. Go Dawgs!
FLEM: Wow. Cool. Wonder what you'll get this year? My guess is it won't be a Braylon Edwards jersey.