I’m a Northeast Ohio boy through and through. As I sit and write this article, a Black Keys record spins on my Crosley, belting out the rusted tunes of Akron, Ohio. And as is tradition when you are born in that corner of the world, the forces that be indoctrinate you into the Cleveland Browns religion. It’s like being ushered into a dark room where there’s lots of clamor and confusion and occasionally you’re struck hard with something, but underneath the chaos, there seems to be some sort of rhythm to it all. At least you hope so.
Why do I bring up the Cleveland Browns when you people are here for stories? Because the Browns are the closest thing I know to the story of life and how life on this crazy, spinning spaceship circling the sun really goes. Hollywood gets things right sometimes, but I think the Browns get things right more often.
Life is suffering. Even the ancient Greeks got that part right. The old Grecian playwright Sophocles once said that “no one lives a life free from pain and suffering,” and if you ever step foot inside First Energy Stadium, you know this statement to be true. The Cleveland Browns, and more so their fans, are long suffering, riddled with pain, and could star in their own Greek tragedy. But it’s through the weeping and gnashing of teeth over the Browns that I’ve learned something valuable about the story of life: pain. Let’s put some numbers to that word.
The Cleveland Browns are 0-5 in conference championships.
We’ve had fourteen head coaches since 1990 (the year I appeared on this planet). One of those head coaches—Bill Belichick—created a dynasty, while most of the others—Freddie Kitchens, Hue Jackson, Romeo Crennel—have faded into the annals of NFL history.
Speaking of rotating head coaches, the combined win/loss percentages of all head coaches reaching back to 1990 is .325.
The Cleveland Browns have had zero super bowl appearances.
At this point in the story, the Browns looked more like a demented version of Forrest Gump where every conceivable awful thing that could happen has. Heck, even the actual team moved in 1995, adding a heaping dose of betrayal to the stinking pot. Then the 2020-2021 season began and everything changed.
To those well versed in story structure, they could see the 2019 season as the rise from the ashes moment in a classical plot arch. The time spent in the pits, or the dark moment of the soul, was finally over and the Browns rose on the wings of eagles toward the long-awaited climax. I could see it playing out like every classic sports film ever made, where the team finally overcomes their differences despite the insurmountable odds and accomplishes something extraordinary. Things looked that way when the Browns won the wild card against the villainous Pittsburgh Steelers and played in their first playoff game since 2002. Finally, the story could reach its long-awaited conclusion, and the Browns—and fans—could rejoice!
But they lost that playoff game. And things got bad again.
As of right now, the Browns are on a knife’s edge on whether they make the playoffs. Their destiny is not in their hands, and with each passing day, the faith sustaining the team dwindles. They are back in the dark moment of the soul.
And this might be the most important thing the Cleveland Browns have taught me about the true story of life.
Life is not a plot arch. Sure, there are moments that fall nicely into a three-act structure, or moments that look as if they were torn right out of a storybook. But what happens after the movie fades to black? What happens beyond that last page? Life, of course, and all its sunbathed peaks and shadowy valleys. The Browns are in another valley and who is to say how long that shadow lingers? But isn’t that life? Isn’t that our story? We rise and we fall and we rise again. This is what the Cleveland Browns have taught me.
I will always be a Browns fan. I’m strapped with that burden and branded until the day I die. Some might call it a curse (those here in the Steel City love to remind me of that), but I see it as life. I’m glad I was born in the Mistake By the Lake and attend church every Sunday at the Factory of Sadness. It makes me appreciate all the intricacies of life. And when the Cleveland Browns win, well, that’s one of the best feelings life offers.