Browns, Red Sox fans love company
By Bob Halloran
Special to Page 2

This is a story of little TVs and shared miseries. Brothers in law, and brothers in the laws of nature. For the natural order of things is to share and bear the pain of an avid sports fan who has the misfortune of choosing the wrong team.

Ted Williams
In parallel lives, the Red Sox had the splendid Ted Williams ...
I root for the Boston Red Sox.

My brother-in-law roots for the Cleveland Browns.

By marriage, we are kin. By dying a thousand deaths, we are kindred spirits.

Opening day of the NFL season was also the day my family celebrated two children's birthdays. So, in between the cake, the candles and the chaos, my brother-in-law, Fred, and I found ourselves in the kitchen watching the Jets-Bills game on one of those countertop televisions that are a little smaller than a toaster, and a little bigger than a postage stamp. In fact, if you lick the back of it, toast comes out.

Fred paid most attention to the score updates from around the league that appear in the upper corners of the screen. With the help of toy binoculars, we were able to keep track of the Browns-Chiefs game. There were six lead changes in the fourth quarter! We saw the Browns go up by two with :29 seconds remaining. Then the updates stopped coming, so for a few, excruciating minutes, Fred waited until the Jets game was over and we learned the Browns had lost 40-39.

Unable to wait for highlights and with no explanation forthcoming, Fred went to the Internet to find out what happened. He walked slowly down the stairs and, with an ashen face, he mumbled incoherently about Dwayne Rudd and a helmet. Once I could decipher what happened, I said, "I'd rather be a Red Sox fan."

At that precise moment, I thought about writing a column about the parallels between the Browns and Red Sox, but I never got around to it, and for a while it seemed as if I had missed my chance. Then the Browns lost an even stranger one to the Steelers on a "do over" field goal attempt. I could probably wait a few weeks for the Browns to lose another game when a Kevin Johnson touchdown catch is called back because his shirt wasn't tucked in, but I've got some time now.

Jim Brown
... while the Browns had the imcomparable Jim Brown.
First, let's take a look at commonalities in history. Art Modell is Harry Frazee. Frazee sold Babe Ruth. Modell sold the Browns (in name and spirit, at least). Earnest Byner is Bill Buckner. Byner fumbled the ball at the goal line against Denver in 1987. Buckner never even got his hands on the ball in 1986. Too bad Byner wasn't Johnny Pesky. At least Pesky held the ball.

Ted Williams is Jim Brown. The greatest hitter who ever lived, and the greatest running back. Roger Clemens is Bernie Kosar. Great players who couldn't lead their teams to championships. Bucky "bleeping" Dent is John "bleeping" Elway. The Red Sox had the great Tony Conigliaro until a beanball in 1967 effectively ended his career. The Browns drafted Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis in 1962, but a preseason physical revealed he had leukemia that would kill him in a year.

Both teams have won championships, but it's been a while -- 1918 for the Sox, 1964 for the Browns.

And the two cities have even crossed paths to enhance each other's misery. The Indians knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs twice in the '90s, contributing to Boston's unbreakable record of 13 straight postseason losses. And more recently, Bill Belichick, maligned for his failures in Cleveland, has had his greatest success in New England. The Browns disappointing draft pick last June was William Green -- from? Boston College.

But the biggest similarity between these two franchises isn't just that they lose. It's the way they lose. Losses that would violate the Geneva Convention. Losses that keep enrollment way up at the Hair Club for Men -- and women. Losses that cause fans to claim diminished capacity. Tough losses. Losses that really hurt.

John Elway
Browns fans' hearts sink just thinking about John Elway's drive in the 1986 AFC championship game.
In 1986, their worlds collided. First, the Red Sox made that improbable comeback from two games down to beat the California Angels and advance to the World Series, only to lose to the New York Mets when the ball trickled through Buckner's legs. A few months later, the Browns came from 10 points down to beat the Jets in double overtime in the divisional playoffs, only to lose the AFC championship game when John Elway engineered The Drive and the Broncos won in overtime. A little more than a year later, Byner did his thing.

The Red Sox and Browns also create emotional ambiguity, because the heroes are also the goats. Johnny Pesky is a lifetime .307 hitter, and they even named the right field foul pole after him. Ted Williams won the 1946 American League MVP award ... and then had one RBI in seven World Series games. Bill Buckner drove in 102 runs in 1986 and had a lifetime fielding average of .991. Earnest Byner had 187 total yards and two touchdowns before The Fumble.

Can you hate these guys? No! And that stinks! Villains should be vilified, but a long line of crushing defeats merely creates a morbid acceptance of the next one. And we all know there will be a next one.

Bill Buckner
And then there's always Bill Buckner.
These defeats are cruel and unusual. And they're harder to swallow than warm beer.

The Red Sox just won 93 games ... and they're watching the playoffs. I'm assuming they'll watch, but their apparent lack of interest in the game of baseball does have me wondering.

The Browns, meanwhile, barely missed the playoffs a year ago during a season in which they lost a game to Chicago when the Bears scored 14 points in the final 28 seconds of regulation, and the Browns also lost that Dec. 16 game when "instant replay" inspired fans to throw plastic bottles onto the field. Don't judge the fans too harshly. It's been building for quite a while.

It's not easy being a fan of the Red Sox. It may even be tougher being a fan of the Cleveland Browns. But at least we have each other. Misery loves company

Bob Halloran is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.





IT COULD BE WORSE

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