LAKEWOOD, Ohio — On the eve of the NFL draft in Cleveland, the team's super fans, members of Browns Backers clubs from around the country, gathered at Plank Road Tavern in Lakewood for a reunion on Wednesday night.
There were Backers from Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, North Carolina, and as far away as California who heeded the call from the team to make the pilgrimage home, just in time for the draft.
"It's family," Clark Patton, a Streetsboro native who's now part of the Crystal Coast Browns Backers in North Carolina, said. "Everywhere you go, it's family. Anywhere you go, you run into a Browns fan."
Many expressed their excitement for the upcoming season. John Rivera, a member of three local west side Browns Backers clubs, said he's thrilled that the team isn't faced with having to pick another quarterback in the draft.
"Finally!" he exclaimed. "We can just watch and enjoy the show. We deserve this. We were there when they were 0-16."
Just then, a famous Browns face entered the tavern, and fans immediately walked up with their sharpies in hand to get an autograph from special guest Eric Metcalf. The former running back and return specialist was drafted by Cleveland in 1989 with the 13th overall pick and made two Pro Bowls in six seasons with the team. He was inducted as a Cleveland Browns Legend in 2008.
"I always joke with my family, my wife and kids, 'You guys don't have to like me; I can go to Cleveland,'" Metcalf said with a hearty laugh. "I know they like me there."
Metcalf played for five other teams and even made a third Pro Bowl with the San Diego Chargers. However, he was once quoted as saying that if he had his way, he would have spent his entire career in Cleveland.
"That's absolutely true," he confirmed. "I enjoyed playing here in this city, I enjoyed the fans, and I still love them, so you know, it's just a special place in my heart.
"When people talk to me about who I played for in the league, I played for a lot of teams, but I always tell people all the time that I only want to be associated with being a Cleveland Brown."
That loyal fandom Metcalf values so much is perhaps why the Browns Backers Worldwide is considered to be the largest organized professional sports fan club in the world, with 350 official chapters in 14 countries. About 50-75 members made it to the reunion in Lakewood.
"There was no way I was going to miss this," Mike Manz of the Sarasota, Florida, Browns Backers declared.