On Jan. 7, 1987, my father Jeff Carey left his seat and went down into the concourse of Cleveland Municipal Stadium to call his friend Jim Lesko.
“Jimmy,” he said, “we're going to the Super Bowl. Call everyone we know and tell them to meet us in The Flats. We're going to the Super Bowl.”
Ninety-eight yards later, John Elway made my dad eat his words. He was not the only member of my family in the stadium that day, and the loss was a crushing blow for them and Browns fans everywhere.
Even so, it doesn't even compare to the disaster we have on our hands now.
I was born on Aug. 15, 1994, meaning I was just three months old the last time the Browns won a playoff game. I am part of the so-called “lost generation” of fans, those too young to remember either the fun of Bernie and Ozzie and Clay or the pain of Art Modell's betrayal. Many of my ilk have since moved on to better teams and players. Yet here I am, still with orange and brown coursing through my veins.
Since I became a devoted fan at the age of 12, I have seen nothing but garbage from this team (save for one “magical” 10-6 season in 2007). I've put up with it as much as I could, thinking at some point things would have to get better. But this season, I feel like I was one of many fans who reached a breaking point. The stench of 0-16 is nothing but an embarrassment, and for the first time I can remember, I couldn't wait for it to just be over. All of the botched draft picks, horrendous front offices, and terrible quarterbacks have just taken their toll.
Things have not gotten better; they've somehow managed to get worse. That's why I fully support the “Perfect Season Parade” set to take place on Saturday.
Let me state for the record: I completely understand why many fans (including a good number of my colleagues here at the station) do not want this spectacle to take place. It will only seem like another black eye for a region that has dealt with more than its fair share over the years. Truth be told, I would rather see a massive protest outside the team headquarters in Berea, with no semblance of “fun” visible from what has justifiably become an angry and bitter fan base.
But let's remember what the parade is at its core: a protest. Organizer Chris McNeil (@Reflog_18 on Twitter) said as much during his interview this week with our own Jim Donovan. McNeil's message is clear: “These are not our Cleveland Browns.”
Regardless of your feelings on the parade or even McNeil himself, you cannot keep a straight face and say he is wrong. The Cleveland Browns franchise has one of the proudest histories in the National Football League, from the Paul Brown dynasty to the Dawg Pound. It's a history this city fought to keep (and won) when Art Modell tried to steal it.
Since returning to the league in 1999, the Browns haven't even been a shell of what they once were. Sure, they had their backs against the wall as an expansion team, but time has run out on that excuse. No professional sports fan base should put up with the amount of repeated incompetence that has oozed out of Berea, and certainly not one with a history like that of the Cleveland Browns. Do you honestly think Steelers fans would tolerate this level of consistent failure? Heck, I still have to listen to Pittsburgh friends of mine talk about how Mike Tomlin (a coach who's been to two Super Bowls and won one of them) may be in danger of being fired.
The parade, to me, should only be the start of fans finally telling a team that has skated for far too long that enough is enough. Ticket sales have already declined to their lowest levels in three decades, but that has been a trend for a few years now, and still no change on the field. Maybe the shame of watching their fans march around FirstEnergy Stadium to “celebrate” not winning one measly game will finally wake Browns management up to the fact that they are quickly losing support. If fundamental changes aren't made soon, that support may never be what it once was.
We should not believe it is impossible for the Cleveland Browns to return to their former glory: The New England Patriots were thought to be one of the worst teams of all time before the arrival of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and we all remember what a dumpster fire the Cavaliers were until a kid named LeBron saved them. It can be done, folks.
Protesting worked for us before when the NFL quickly pledged to bring a new team to Cleveland after the original Browns moved away. The parade likely won't change things instantly, and it's not exactly the type of protest I had in mind. However, it is a much-needed step in the right direction. Fans deserve a chance to vent their anger and frustration over the bag of goods they've been sold over the last 19 years.
The Browns have only themselves to blame for this. They deserve the embarrassment, and with the parade, we are finally, mercifully seeing fans start to stand up and say, “No more.”
It's about time.
To donate to the Cleveland Food Bank (which has partnered with the parade), click here.