“The Browns are good.” This is a statement many general sports fans never thought they would hear. It had developed into another cliche.
For example, “pigs will fly when the Browns are good.”
Since the year 2000, the beloved Cleveland Browns went from a tradition to being the source of ample jokes.
Other than a playoff appearance in 2002, the only other winning season since 1995 was the “Derek Anderson year” in 2007.
You can slowly start to unravel recent Browns history by going down a brief list of quarterbacks, which has become another long standing joke in a Cleveland department store window.
They switch quarterbacks so often (some examples include Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III), that they stopped renewing a jersey and just started adding many different names, on an attached piece of paper, of the guys who were briefly starting.
That list was starting to become absurdly long, and slowly developed into a symbol of the organization that had become the laughing stock of the NFL.
Cleveland fans are mostly good sports, but at some point, the lack of hope has to settle in.
Whenever it did, that energy is renewed, and it’s not just because that legendary mock jersey was replaced by a new individual “Mayfield” jersey. There’s a completely new swagger to this legendary franchise.
Since 2000, the Browns have been an agonizing team to watch and follow due to their inconsistency in direction and lackluster decision making. They’ve accumulated a league low .307 winning percentage, going 93-210-1 since the beginning of the new century.
To put that in perspective, the Detroit Lions, the second ranked team on this list, has still won 111 games.
Despite their consistent uncertainty, perhaps the most compelling thing about this historically adverse franchise is their faithful, passionate followers.
The Browns fans, self proclaimed “The Dawg Pound,” are amongst the most loyal and rowdy football enthusiasts in the country.
Through almost constant failure, year in and year out, somehow fans of Cleveland never give up on their team and watching their boys take the punches.
As to how they remain so intuitively loyal, lifelong Browns fan, Mike Wiley, simply thinks it’s a value the entire fanbase embodies.
“It’s just one of those things you get taught from the get-go as a Browns fan, it’s all about loyalty,” Wiley said. “No matter what happens, it’s your team. I think any Browns fan will tell you the same thing.”
Wiley was raised as a Browns fan from the time he was born. It was something his father instilled in him as he grew up, similar to how his grandfather brought up his dad. The Browns became a family tradition he is also passing down to his son.
Being loyal is difficult for him and many other Cleveland fans, but there’s a certain “eventually” mindset to it all.
“There’s been a lot of times where there’s false hope at the beginning of the season and it just dwindles away,” Wiley said. “But there’s always that little sliver of hope that something has got to change eventually.”
That sliver of hope kept dissolving, bad draft pick after bad draft pick. By the end of 2017, Cleveland had dug themselves at the bottom of two decade long hole. They went 1-31 during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 NFL seasons. The Browns were as desperate as they’ve ever been.
They were a reoccurring target on social media and ripped apart. Some fans were perhaps just as restless as the organization to see them turn it around.
“You’re always hoping next season is going to be different, it always is, but it’s never good,” Wiley said. “The Browns have been in rebuild mode for 20 years. When you don’t have stability, you can’t have success. It’s hard to watch sometimes.”
Some fans weren’t so restless and were more accepting.
“When you’re changing head coaches every year, it’s hard to establish anything,” another lifelong Browns fan, Scott Costello, said. “You just have low expectations. So if they do great, you’re wowed. But if they don’t you saw it coming.”
Costello, 60, became a Browns fan on his own, growing up in southwestern Ohio. He never really became part of “The Dawg Pound” though, never really becoming too emotionally and mentally attached to sports.
Costello recognizes he has no control over the team’s direction so he decides to just support his team diligently and not get too caught up in his fandom.
“It’s not that big of a priority to me. When it’s going good, it’s fun, but when it’s going bad. Eh, it’s whatever,” Costello said. “No one is calling me up like ‘hey, we’re going to draft this guy in the first round. What do you think?’”
Indeed no one was calling Costello in 2017 when they had the first pick, but Cleveland needed no one’s advice for the first overall pick.
Myles Garrett’s name was called by the Browns that night and since then, he has become one of the most prolific defensive ends in the NFL.
That was one of the first moves the Browns made that started to give fans hope. But the 2018 draft will go down in Cleveland history forever as first pick Baker Mayfield, who has already engraved his name in Browns’ history with not even a full season of play under his belt, already being designated as the “savior” of this poor franchise.
The fourth pick, Denzel Ward, was a pro bowler and an already tremendous cornerback in his first year. Those were two positions the Browns had been trying to fill for years, and now they had elite players.
Even after this draft, fans were still skeptical due to prior failures. “I can’t say I was super excited with drafts, I was stale. You don’t want to get excited in fear of being let down,” Mike Wiley said.
Last season, the Browns finished 7-8-1, a miraculous feat considering their dreadful start to the season with Hue Jackson and Tyrod Taylor running ship.
The end of last year brought out the sun in Cleveland, restoring hope for the future. It also established that Cleveland had built a foundation.
“That entire team showed a lot of special things at the end of that season,” Wiley said.
Those special things couldn’t begin to prepare fans for the off-season. The Browns signed troubled, bonafide star running back Kareem Hunt, in February. This made shockwaves through the league. Hunt could bring a lot of trouble, but also an elite skill set at one of the league’s most dynamic positions.
They went on to sign a fantastic defensive tackle, Sheldon Richardson, but not before they went all in. On March 13, Browns history changed forever, as social media and Cleveland went nuts together.
They traded a first round pick, a third round, and the versatile Jabrill Peppers to the New York Giants for Odell Beckham Jr., one of the most electric wide receivers in the NFL.
That move completely reshaped Mike Wiley and every Browns fans’ point of view.
“I feel like we’ll compete for a playoff spot, and definitely the division title,” Wiley says.
There’s a complete 180-degree flip when it comes to the morale of these fans. They went from dreading the season and drowning their sorrows, to rejoicing and having Superbowl expectations.
There’s a different demeanor to Cleveland now. There’s that chip on their shoulder. The kind of swagger that can only draw from being underestimated.
“All you want to do is be able to root for somebody who you can take pride in. But what’s more powerful is to see an underdog rise from the depths and when that day comes, I’m going to have all the power in the world,” Wiley said.