Tough Love

Terry Pluto mines fan memories in an attempt to explain our devotion to the Cleveland Browns.

It's not often that a Cleveland sports team loves you back. The front office may give you T-shirts and fireworks, but when it comes to victories, our winning eras are too often a string of sunny seasons followed by long winters of defeat. No one knows this better than Browns fans, yet their loyalty remains unshakable. Plain Dealer sports columnist Terry Pluto examines the phenomenon in his new book, Things I've Learned From Watching the Browns (Gray & Company, $14.95). But the observations aren't all his. Instead, Pluto asked fans to share their recollections while he sheds new light on moments long obscured by the fog of fandom. Here's what we learned reading Pluto's book:

1. The Fumble didn't cost the Browns a trip to the Super Bowl (Chapter 2): Pluto reminds us that a Byner touchdown would have only tied the game since the score was 38-31 at the time. "So for the Browns to win this game," Pluto writes, "they needed Byner to score. The extra point to be good. To stop Denver in the final minute at home. To win the coin flip in overtime. To score in overtime." Yeah, it was a long shot.

2. Red Right 88 was the right call (Chapter 7): The Browns were down just two points with the ball on Oakland's 13-yard line and 41 seconds on the clock during that 1981 playoff game. So why not kick a field goal? Pluto points out that there was a minus-36-degree wind chill, and kicker Don Cockcroft had been spotty in recent weeks. Most of all, Pluto writes, coach Sam Rutigliano's play called for Dave Logan to be open in the end zone, and he was. "But Brian [Sipe] saw Ozzie [Newsome], and threw it to him first," Rutigliano recalls in the book. "I never blamed Brian; he made great decisions all season."

3. Loving the Browns doesn't make sense, but we just can't help ourselves (Chapter 17): We've sat through enough glum Sunday afternoons since the Browns' return in 1999 to understand that this isn't a novel observation. But Pluto wanted to know why we do it. Maybe Todd Alexander — one of the more than 1,000 fans who shared their memories and opinions — put it best when he e-mailed Pluto this: "It shows character to choose a favorite team, to stick with that team no matter what. ... Our union with the Browns is a marriage, for better or worse."

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