It's buried deep at the bottom of my dresser drawer, folded neatly and undisturbed: a large No. 2 on the front, Couch in block letters across the back of the brown jersey trimmed in orange and white.
It could pass for new — like that initial heartbreak when an 11-year-old boy sobbed on the basement steps when his team, our team, should have just kicked that damn field goal in the '81 playoffs.
But clearly the jersey is more trash than treasure. The Tim Couch era came and went, just like the Charlie Frye era, the Derek Anderson era and the Brady Quinn era. Time passes — they threw incompletions.
That's not to say there haven't been some good moments since this team returned in 1999. But for me, the present era of Browns football feels like watching the 1987 playoff game against the Jets. While most fans remember that game for the amazing fourth-quarter, Bernie Kosar-led comeback and the subsequent double-overtime victory, my hazy recollections are filtered through a fog of the flu that had me lucid enough to realize that all was lost, then have a vague sense that it wasn't, and finally miss out completely on the celebration that eventually ensued. Sad, I know.
Maybe that's why I hold on to a jersey that on the surface seems to hold very little value. Maybe that's why you see so many names and numbers on any given game day partying down in the Muni Lot or cheering in Cleveland Browns Stadium. They're all there — Kosar's 19, Hillis' 40, Quinn's 10, Sipe's 17 (or is that an Edwards?), Matthews' 57, Spielman's 54, Cribbs' 16, Kelly's 44, Anderson's 3, Droughns' 34, Brown's 32 — echoes of our hopefuls, heroes and has-beens all gathered in one place.
That's why I'm fascinated by this month's photo feature, "Dawg Tags," because while it reveals who we are as fans, it says so much about who we are as a town: loyal, gritty, and pessimistically hopeful. We are brown and orange unadorned.
"Being a Browns fan is in your genes. It's like family," says Kim Francesangelo, of North Royalton, who talked to our reporter before the Browns-Dolphins game. "I would never change it. Even if you have a dysfunctional family, it's still your family."
That's why I can't get rid of my jersey. I don't want to forget the disappointment that I feel when I look at it now or the promise that it held when I bought it.