On the morning of Sept. 1, 1996, Mike Vranic woke up and prepared to cheer on the Cleveland Browns, like he always did. He threw some beer and hot dogs in his car and headed to Cleveland Municipal Stadium, like he always did. He arrived at the Muni Lot and, along with his brother-in-law, settled in for some Sunday tailgating, like he always did.
There was only one problem: The Browns were in Baltimore that day, after Art Modell stole them and called them the Ravens.
"Maybe they can take away our team, but they can't take away our feelings for football. As the [opening weekend] got closer, we knew we couldn't just not go, and miss it," says Vranic, now 48 and living in Willoughby Hills. Nearly 100 people showed up at the Muni Lot that day, the official beginning of a three-year hiatus from Browns football.
Shortly before 1 p.m., the tailgaters locked their cars, walked over to the empty stadium and wandered around. In the coming weeks and years, Browns fans continued to wander, in search of things to fill the void. Vranic turned to college football and the Indians. Fantasy football helped, too. "That's pretty much how we got through," he says.
When the Browns returned, so did Vranic, who continues to purchase season tickets despite just two winning records since 1999. "It's really strange. There's such a strong pull toward football around here," he says. "It may not be as happy as it used to be, but we'll get through it somehow." Just like we always do.