Drew Carey stood in front of 73,000 screaming fans, looked into the television cameras and let loose. “I want to send a message to anyone whoever made fun of Cleveland, a message to anyone whoever told a Cleveland joke or laughed at a Cleveland joke: You can now officially SHUT UP!”
And the crowd erupted, chanting “Cleveland Rocks,” the theme song of Carey’s sitcom that started right as the Browns left. It was a weekly nod to Cleveland on TV that filled the hole in our viewing schedule but not our hearts.
And when the chanting softened, Carey pushed his big, black glasses up his nose and introduced the 1999 Cleveland Browns. He introduced the team like they’d never left, and, maybe, that’s why those words landed so hard. Cleveland Browns. Our Brownies. They were back.
The old rituals returned: Sundays with dad. Barking at passersby at the grocery store. Rushing home from church and marking myself unavailable for the work schedule.
For years, we were subjected to looking backward. While the NFL moved forward, we looked to Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe. We tried to ignore the Ozzie Newsome sitting in Baltimore and focused on the Ozzie Newsome in our memories.
Before the game started, a video played featuring Big Dawg kidnapping our No. 1 draft pick, quarterback Tim Couch, who then had the franchise history of Jim Brown and Reggie Rucker “downloaded” into his brain. The Browns understood the importance of reminding fans that this was the same franchise, even if so many of the players were new.
And it still felt a lot like Cleveland football at first.
On the opening drive, the Browns held the Steelers. By the end of the game, it was a 43-0 embarrassment. Tim Couch entered the game and his first pass was picked off.
But it was football again in Cleveland.
I was barking at the TV. I’d tell folks on Monday that the Browns were going to struggle for a couple years, but we’re back. The Browns. The Cleveland Browns.
I didn’t care how bad we were. I cared that I had my team back. And football, as long as it was in Cleveland, could never truly break our hearts again.
Andy Netzel has had Browns season tickets for far longer than he served as an editor at Cleveland Magazine. He now works in management in one of the tall buildings in downtown Cleveland.