After a somewhat disappointingly uneventful early morning Greyhound ride from Detroit (with an extended stop in Toledo) I arrived at my Cleveland hotel about 9:30 on a grey and chilly Sunday morning. For some reason, the hotel must have thought it was my birthday since waiting for me in my room was a cupcake and pretzels with an index card wishing me a happy birthday. A nice surprise even though it was a mistake – but they hardly roll out the red carpet for guests on their birthday – I mean one cupcake and a handful of pretzels – really?
The Cleveland Browns were once a football powerhouse in the ‘50s and ‘60s pre Super Bowl era NFL led by coach Paul Brown and boasting such great stars like Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Lou ‘The Toe’ Groza and of course, the greatest running back in NFL history, Jim Brown. But in 1995, owner Art Modell stunned the city by agreeing to move the franchise away to Baltimore. As part of the agreement, Cleveland was to retain the Browns name, the team branding and all franchise records – problem was that this gave little comfort to the fans without a team to use them.
Negations began at once to land a new expansion franchise in Cleveland to assume the Browns name. Three years later in 1999, Cleveland got their new franchise – the problem now was that the team sucked – and has pretty much continued to suck ever since. In the 19 years of existence – the new Browns made only 1 playoff appearance, blowing a big lead and losing to the Steelers in a wildcard game. The team’s futility has reached epic proportions mainly as a result of dreadful draft picks and a carousel of crummy quarterbacks (none worse than “Johnny Football” Manziel).
FirstEnergy Stadium is in a nice location, just off the shore of Lake Erie right next door to the the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. There is a wonderful statue of the great Jim Brown in front of the main gate and lots of banners and signage including a huge “Welcome to the Dawg Pound’ banner. Outside the stadium, Dawg Pound Drive features a number of food trucks and lots of other activities. The actual ‘Dawg Pound’ is an area of the stands in northeast end zone (similar to Oakland’s ‘Black Hole’) where the hard-core fans hang out, many with bones and dog masks. Browns players scoring in this end zone will often jump into the pound. Inside the concourse there are plenty of other murals and plaques paying homage to the Browns history.
Food wise, it’s pretty standard stadium fare with the highlights being the Dawg Pound Deli, Sideline Express and Brown’s Bistro. You can also get local Cleveland beer from Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Just like at Progressive Field for the Indians game, the fans join in singing and spelling out and chanting “O-H-I-O” during the playing of “Hang On Sloopy” in the 3rd quarter. Instead of a costumed mascot, the Browns have a real one – an energetic and talented Bull Mastiff named Swagger.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score completing 26 of 42 passes for 288 yards on the day while improving to 17-2 in his career against Cleveland.
The Browns are now two losses from becoming the NFL’s second 0-16 team and are 1-29 over the last 2 seasons. The Ravens meanwhile remain on path to playoffs, thanks to NFL’s best big-play defense.
Between the cold and the blowout score – I left mid fourth quarter and headed over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve been here already, but they are always changing the exhibits. Afterward I walked back up 9th Street and spent some time at the bar in the Winking Lizard to watch the Pittsburgh – New England 4 PM game.
Tomorrow I have a nice day planned. I’m grabbing a rental car and driving up to Canton to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, afterwards I’m exploring some of the great neighborhoods outside of downtown including Tremont and Ohio City, then a late afternoon flight back to Jersey.
Fans – C – Fans I met ranged from angry to apathetic to jovial. I guess winning only 1 of your last 30 games will have strange affects on your fan base. In spite of the losing, most fans were still very strongly behind their Browns
Features – C – Nice statues. Easy to move around the concourse. Nothing else too remarkable
Location – B+ – On the lakefront, a short walk from downtown. Right next to the Great Lakes Science Center and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Food – C – Basic stadium fare. Great Lakes Beer was nice
Game – C – It would have been nice to see the Browns break their losing streak. It pretty much was all Ravens with not many exciting moments.
Overall Experience – C+ – Despite the Browns being such a horrible team going to see them is actually kind of fun. The location is great, the fans are understandably easy going and the ticket prices are cheap. Cleveland is also a fun and interesting city.