Browns no longer deserve your allegiance
A seminal moment occurred in a Cleveland Browns household as the bad aftertaste of a loss to Baltimore gave way to the Cincinnati Bengals' win over Pittsburgh.
In an instant one young fan died, only to be reborn in new team colors. Neither the death nor birth was physical, but both felt real. Being a fan of a particular team means a life cycle of emotional highs and lows that are as authentic as any earthly experience. Sometimes -- this time -- the cycle comes to an end in a burial without a tearful farewell.
A 12-year-old boy weighed his options -- continue to call Cleveland his favorite team or switch to Cincinnati -- and chose the Bengals. With his father's blessing. The Browns-fan-since-birth had seen enough -- who hasn't? -- and reached the wise conclusion that when a team doesn't even attempt to accommodate its fans, that team no longer deserves the loyalty it has enjoyed for generations. So he officially died as a Browns fan on Sunday evening, when Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw a winning touchdown to defeat the Steelers.
Is that selling out your team? Hardly. Not when you mean less to the Browns than the ground they spit on. Is that hopping off the Cleveland bandwagon? Not when the band on that wagon won't play a single pleasing note.
Many longtime Browns fans consider such talk blasphemous, but their numbers are dwindling as a new generation of followers emerge who know chronic ineptitude when they see it. The old fan base takes distorted pride in hanging tough with a team that tests its patience while mocking its allegiance. I know this because my blood once ran as orange as theirs. I lived through the Mike Phipps years, the 1980s calamities and the early expansion seasons. I understand the culture. Sticking with the Browns through thick and thin is considered a badge of honor. It means you are a real fan.
To which I now say: Baloney. Show me where it says in the Good Fan Rulebook that true fans should stick with a loser who refuses to improve.
Quite the contrary. The stand-up thing is to stop enabling the behavior. The Browns, from owner Randy Lerner to the ball boys, need to know that actions have consequences; fail to put a competent product on the field and risk losing young fans to other teams.
Maybe old fans, too. If you're not wavering in your unconditional commitment to the Browns, then you are the sucker. That's no overreaction. A passerby notices a man banging his head against the wall and sympathizes, for the man must have deep concerns. But if on a return trip the passerby sees the same man denting his noggin, sympathy no longer is the sentiment. The headbanger is simply out of his mind.
Being a fan is supposed to be fun. The tailgating and pregame taunting are available for all to enjoy, but the core of fandom is the game itself, and watching it is becoming increasing difficult in Cleveland. Sunday's game was blindingly bad, much like the previous game at Denver and the season opener against Minnesota. Come to think of it, when was the last Browns game that didn't turn the stomach?
It is worth mentioning again and again and as long as it keeps happening: The Browns have scored one offensive touchdown in the past nine games, and it came against Minnesota's scrubs with 28 seconds left.
There was a time when I would have lectured my son on the importance of clinging to your team regardless of circumstances. The Browns might be lousy, but they're our lousy. No more. The Bengals have no special place in his heart beyond being the closest NFL team to home. But I cannot deny him the joy of following a team that at least shows hope. Consider those words: The Bengals have hope. It is all a fan can ask for. Just don't ask the Browns, because they refuse to answer.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.