CLEVELAND — In different times, downtown bars and restaurants would have been packed for Sunday night's Browns game, but a pandemic can change things.
Caps on crowds and a state-mandated curfew have impacted gatherings, but they have not stopped fans from supporting their team.
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The Browns Backers are one of the largest organized fan clubs in all of pro sports and continue to rally both remotely and in-person for their team. They have found ways to gather and cheer and will once again be doing so tonight.
One of the biggest groups gathers at Niko’s in North Royalton, where primetime games are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, there are more people watching the game on TV; on the other, the night ends early.
The crowd is also about a third smaller than in previous years, when fans could still stand inside.
"We all have to be home by 10; that’s halftime [Sunday]," Tim Rudnick from North Royalton Browns Backers said. "I think about Niko’s specifically, but downtown…it’s a tough thing, and we’re missing some of the electricity that comes when the Browns are good."
Yet fans are hopeful about the future of the season.
"[I'm] feeling really great about the way that they’re going to end the year," said Alex Budin with Hingetown Browns Backers. "Looking at the potential matchups in the first round, certainly I’m optimistic that we could take a game. I don’t know, [maybe] we can hang with Kansas City or the elite teams in the AFC, but that’s all we want--that’s all you want as a fan is to be competitive."
For fans who weathered so many years of disappointment, a pandemic may not be so big of a hurdle.