I don’t get to go to many games, one a year if I’m lucky, as I live three hours away. The previous one was last year’s win over the Ravens, my favorite in-person Browns experience in 26 years.
My dad and I were there yesterday, and the pre-game excitement was palpable within and throughout. The coach had hyped the playoff atmosphere. A girl with a Hillis jersey was in high demand for photos as she sported her “Fear the Midget” sign.
The weather was mild and calm, a welcome contrast to a previous December memory of freezing through my long-johns for three hours to see only a single gimmick touchdown. Even then we stayed ’til the bitter, bitter end.
But dear god, yesterday, by the second quarter, the Bengals were averaging a point a minute, and the only people standing in section 102 were the beefy dudes right in front of us. When we finally got our first first down (by penalty), the crowd was sarcastically chanting “Super Bowl, Super Bowl.” By then the lady right behind behind me was obsessively chanting “BRI-an HOY-er” after every offensive fail, despite her husband telling her to give it up already.
And speaking of giving up, it was obvious that our no-nonsense, “Play like a Brown” head coach knew we were done for. Down 23-0 very early in the fourth quarter, it’s fourth-and-14 from near midfield, and he sends in the punter. That signaled Game Over for me. Five minutes later, fourth-and-two, same score, same decision. Punt the ball away.
Now I’ve been known to sit through the sloppy end of boring night exhibition games with my car parked on a dark Detroit side street. But yesterday I had a surprisingly strong new urge to get the hell out of that stadium right there and then. My dad convinced me to stay for one more offensive series so that if the Browns were somehow to score, we wouldn’t have missed it. As you know, they yielded a 14-play touchdown drive that took nearly all of the remaining nine minutes off the clock.
By then we were in the car wondering when the line to leave would start moving. Through the windshield there was just enough daylight left to see glum-faced fellow fans silently straggling away, the shoulders of their souvenir jerseys slumped forward.