Browns fans wear their hearts on their backs. Each jersey reveals a story from the team's past or a hope for its future. Look around any tailgate on any given Sunday (for us it was the Muni Lot on Sept. 25), and you will see a living, breathing, eating, drinking timeline of our highest highs, dashed dreams and endless devotion. There's not one current player who clearly defines who the Browns are or will be. It is an array of names that ranges from Hall of Famer Jim Brown to blink-and-you-missed-him Chris Spielman to Peyton Hillis, the latest poster boy for our collective hope.
That's because we are nothing if not faithful. We remember those years when we didn't have a team and the excitement that surrounded the Browns' return to the NFL in 1999. We know a reminder of our "There's always next year" optimism/disappointment is as close as seeing the next Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn jersey. But we make no apologies. It's our history, good or bad. For Mike Zietz, of Cleveland, (pictured on the previous pages) that's what being a Browns fan is all about.
"Cleveland's the only city to stand up and fight for their team, and they kept everything here," says Zietz, a 29-year-old honorably discharged Marine who up until March was fighting in Afghanistan. "There isn't a team with a tradition and history like this."
He joined the Marines after the 9/11 attacks, served four years and went back in 2010. He picked up the Colt McCoy jersey on his last weekend furlough before the deployment.
"Bernie [Kosar] talks about not having a defeatist attitude. Colt proved that in college," Zietz says. "He's still the winningest college quarterback ever."
While the players come and go, that unconditional passion is what connects every champ and chump who will ever wear brown and orange. And despite bad drafts and perpetual rebuilds, fans like Zietz haven't forgotten the Browns' true identity.
"Someone from the younger generation has to keep the enthusiasm of the Dawg Pound going. Tradition is everything to me."
12:00 AM EST
October 25, 2011