Cleveland Browns fans commiserate winless season with a parade of protest
As the NFL playoffs prepared to kickoff on Saturday in Kansas City and Los Angeles, a few thousands fans gathered on the shores of a frozen Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio to toast a different milestone altogether: a winless season by the Cleveland Browns.
Despite single-digit temperatures and wind chills well below zero, around 3,000 fans wound up lining the street that encircles First Energy Stadium where the Browns play football and where the Browns have only won three times in the last three seasons.
The cold didn't dampen spirits at the parade, which was more a tongue-in-cheek protest of team management than a celebration. Many of the signs took aim at owner Jimmy Haslam, whose stature in Cleveland is just barely above that of former owner Art Modell — who infamously moved the team to Baltimore in 1995.
Saturday's event has also split the Cleveland sports fandom in half, between those who are dismayed by the absolute joke the Browns have become and those who think the parade reflects poorly on the city and the fans.
Even Browns players took to Twitter to call out those who planned on attending.
It's understandable the players would feel this way, especially given the team's 4-44 record over the past three seasons and the ignominy of being only the second NFL team to ever go 0-16 (the 2008 Detroit Lions were the first). It's like rubbing salt in the wound.
But the parade wasn't meant to laugh at the players. It was — and this was clearly evident on Saturday — a catharsis for a city that's endured unending frustration with a team that's used over two dozen different quarterbacks since the franchise was brought back as an expansion team in 1999, including the infamous drafting of Johnny Manziel (who himself mocked the Browns, despite being pretty bad during his short stint with the team).
Since returning in 1999, the Browns have had two winning seasons (9-7 in 2002, 10-6 in 2007) and only one playoff game appearance (a Wild Card loss in 2002), while the team has gone 19-70 since Haslam became the owner in 2012.
It's also a team that's on its ninth coach since 1999 and has chosen to keep its current coach, Hue Jackson, who boasts a 1-31 record in his two seasons on the sideline.
Meanwhile, Cleveland itself is a city that deserves better. It's a city withit's ownset ofproblems, for sure. But it's also a city with growingstart-up and biotech industries, not to mention a world-classarts scene.
I'm biased. Full disclosure, I'm not a full-on Browns fan (go Saints!) but I live here, married into a family of Cleveland natives and long-time devoted (and frustrated) Cleveland sports fans. I know from personal experience that Cleveland is far better than its "Mistake By The Lake" moniker and the ongoing jokes about the Cuyahoga River catching on fire.
And in sports, it's a winner, too. LeBron James has made the Cleveland Cavaliers perennial NBA contenders and, in 2016, champions. The Cleveland Indians (terrible Chief Wahoo logo aside) have made the MLB playoffs three of the last five seasons, including the dramatic 2016 World Series against the Cubs. And don't overlook the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League, winners of the 2015-16 Calder Cup.
Yet, the Browns continue to be the punchline that brings the city down. It's why there's so much pent-up frustration. Cleveland is, at its heart, a football town with a bad team being driven into the ground by bad management.
The parade was the idea of Columbus-based fan Chris McNeil, whose Twitter account, @Reflog_18, has a huge following thanks, in part, to brilliant tweets like trolling pro-Trump Twitter users (including a fake GOP account that turned out to be a Russian bot) into thinking a photo of the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers NBA championship parade was the crowd at a Trump rally in Arizona.
As the Browns barreled towards an 0-16 record in 2016, McNeil came up with the idea of the parade which was derailed when the Browns pulled off a Christmas Eve miracle victory over the San Diego Chargers. Despite a 1-15 record, there would be no winless parade.
Until the Browns managed to do worse this year, failing to win a single game. And the parade was on again.
And McNeil gets that frustration, the idea that no NFL team should be this bad, that no NFL team should seem to hit rock bottom and only get worse.
Speaking to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer earlier in 2017 about plans for the 2016 parade, he said:
It was a feeling that held true on Saturday. Besides one sign making fun of beleaguered rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, I didn't see any other signs mocking players. But I did see a lot of signs directed at Haslam who isn't exactly known for his smooth business dealings.
It's worth mentioning, too, that the parade has raised thousands of dollars for the Cleveland Food Bank, proof that, at its core, this parade isn't something nefarious for the city.
As frustrated as the players must feel, imagine being a years-long season-ticket holder who continues to pour money into supporting a team whose management shows no apparent effort to be, well, worth that support.
The fans and the city deserve better. Yesterday's parade wasn't one of celebration but one of commiserating. These are dark times and if we only find misery in the distractions, well, then something's gotta give eventually.
McNeil, after all, is a fan who has said before that he wants the Browns to succeed, not to be a joke; he recently told ESPN, "The last thing I want to do is embarrass the city... We just want to see the Browns win."
So did the thousands that were at the stadium on Saturday. They were there out of love for a team that just hasn't loved them back in a long time.
And in the end, if you're going to be made miserable by something you love, you might as well try to have a good time.