August 30, 2006

Training Camp, the Cleveland Browns, and My Father

By Sean A. Donahue © 2006

Training camp opened today for my favorite team, the Cleveland Browns. Many people wonder how I, someone born and raised in New York, rooted for the Cleveland Browns. Well let me tell you the story:

The year was 1985, my dad worked for American Airlines and he was promoted to the Hopkins International Airport to be the General Manager of Cleveland. My mom, the entire family and I wanted to be anywhere but Cleveland. When we first got off the plane I smelled the smelting of the iron and metal that was my first example of a true blue collar town. This town had soul, passion and had never known what winning was. The Cleveland Indians were perennial losers and the Browns were also rans every year. As we walked to my dad's rented van for the trip to our new house all I could think thru the snow and the smell was "What the hell am I doing here?"

I didn't want to be there, I was fifteen, thought I knew it all and was routinely wrong. I was away from my friends in Hurst, I was missing my sophomore year at L.D. Bell high school and I'd always wanted to be a Blue Raider. Now looking back at it maybe it was fate that I became a Red Raider, but I digress. Back to the story I'm intending to tell. We moved from the warmth of Texas to the cold, cold air of Ohio. I resented my dad for moving us. I resented him for spending too much time at work and not enough time with us kids. I just resented my father. I had no respect and no love for him.

Fairview Park, Ohio is a small community in the outskirts of Cleveland. The entire town is no more than a few miles wide and a few miles long, but it was to be my home for the next four years. I hated everything about it, from having to ride the public transportation to school, to the inability to drive, or even get a learner's permit. I was in teenage angst and hell. I didn't know how my life could get worse.

You might be wondering, how does all of this deal with the Browns? Well I have to give you the background before I set the hook. One of my father's perks of his job were season tickets to the Cleveland Browns. I had grown up a New York Jets fan, remembering the great games against the Raiders that my mom's father and my dad would take me to see. I remember the joy I had seeing games as a child. But I was in Cleveland. Ugh, Cleveland. I hated it. I hated having to be there as well as having to deal with this "second rate team." But dad made me go. I had to keep peace in the family and that was dad's way of making up with us boys. One time my sister Tara was even taken to a game.

I remember the games like they were yesterday, 70,000 fans packed into old Cleveland Stadium. What a lousy stadium, falling apart and just pitiful. I remember the walks we would make from dad's secret parking place that always found us in and out quickly. I remember getting lucky one week and having our pastor move services back, so we could all go home in time to see the Steelers game.

But the thing I remember most is the way my dad and I saw eye to eye. We would argue on the littlest of things, but never about the Browns. We could argue about me helping my sisters or not fighting with my brothers and especially about school, but never about the Browns. There was something sacred about the team. I remember the days where we were frozen and cold yet dad always had a thermos of hot chocolate. How my dad’s eyes would glare at us to not try to take our clothes off and be like the morons two rows down with no shirts on.

"They are trained professional fans, Sean, you are just a visitor."

And so I was. I remember going to see Big Daddy Carl Hairston, Chip Banks bruising people on defense. The Wizard of Oz, Ozzie Newsome, making catch after unbelievable catch thrown by the least nimble man in the NFL, Bernie Kosar. Bernie’s scrambling is best described by Clevelander Drew Carey by saying "Bernie’s scrambling, he's at the 31, the 32..."

Behind Kosar you had the running tandem of Mack and Byner. What a team, I remember the games like they were yesterday.

As we went to each game my dad's personality rubbed off on our neighbors and we were slowly accepted.

"Hey Tom, how's Tatiana?"

"You think we can beat the Steelers again, Tommy?" said the season ticket holders around us.

My dad had the loudest bellowing voice and he would never hesitate to give Marty Schottenheimer a piece of his mind.

"What are you thinking about Marty? You're an idiot. I saw that play call from here and I'm just a fan," he'd bellow.

My brother and I would join in. It was the time that I bonded with my dad. We barely spoke back then, rather than starting a fight, silence was golden. I could never do right, or good enough. My father was a tough taskmaster and I hated him for pushing me. But he never had to push me on weeks of home games. If I did well and kept out of trouble, I was rewarded with tickets. If I didn't, my brother, sister or one of my dad's work colleagues would get the tickets. I disliked the days I screwed up, because slowly but surely I learned that if I did, I wasn't going to the game. The ride to, during and back from the game was when I bonded with my dad. I treasured every game where he explained the minutia of the option and how the run and shoot was going to ruin the game of football. And then came the game in which my allegiance changed forever.

January 3rd, 1997. My brother, my dad and I were all at snowy Cleveland Stadium for the playoff game against my first team, The New York J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS!

It had snowed and was freezing. We watched the most exciting game in the world and it looked like we had lost. I was sad beyond belief and we slowly started the long walk to the car when a giant cheer rose from the crowd. My dad had the portable radio, listening to Nev Chandler call the miracle. The Browns were going to overtime. We rushed back to the game, to our seats and watched the Browns drive in overtime and beat the New York Jets to advance to host the AFC Championship against John Elway and the Denver Broncos. My dad and I celebrated the entire way home. How we were going to see "our" team win the AFC title and go to the Super Bowl.

January 11th we watched the Browns fight one of the greatest fights ever. And then a punt put Elway and the Broncos ninety-eight yards from the end zone for the tying score. You know the rest of the story, and how the game ended in overtime. But what you didn't know was my father's reaction. "Son, that’s how you lose. You give it all you got, if you win that's good. But never give up, give it all you got"

I had become a Browns fan and a fan of my father.

We don't talk much, which is ironic, for even though my father runs a reservations call center for American Airlines still, he hates to be on the phone. A normal conversation with him is "Hi, how are you doing? Here's your mother." This year he and my mom are finally moving to a house they are renovating in preparation of his retirement. He packed up plenty of things to move from a four-bedroom, two-story house to a smaller house, but he gave me a box. Inside the box was an autographed AFC Central Division Championship Cleveland Brown Football from 1985, '86, and '87 . "Your dad wants you to have it. He knows that no one else would appreciate it more than you," my mom told me.

My dad said nothing as I gave him a hug. "Thanks Dad, I love you," I told him. "Go help your mother," was his reply. He didn't have to say a any more. I knew what he was really saying.

Sean A. Donahue is a freelance writer, radio personality and poker amateur. He is the author of Instant Tragedy a website looking a life, liberty, and the ability to have Instant Tragedy when you just add water. He is divorced with two children and lives in Lubbock Texas.

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