Feeling ‘Browned’ off at the not always lovable Cleveland losers

Paul McFadyen doesn’t mince his words when it comes to talking about his favourite NFL team. And for many people reading this blog who are strong followers of the NFL, they would think nor should he.

For being a fan of the Cleveland Browns, for thirty years (no really) he has seen plenty of lows and lows and plenty of opportunities that got away. In fact that was the start of his love affair with the sport, when the Browns were in their hey-day but just weren’t able to get over the line. Literally.

“My first ever football memory was listening to an Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast on a patchy radio with my dad of the AFC Championship game between the Browns and Broncos in ’87. This was the best of the Browns, a time of Kosar, Byner, Newsome, the Dawg Pound of Minnifield and Dixon – a collection of gritty but talented stars. And they were poised to head to the Superbowl before disaster struck in the form of ‘The Drive’, Elway’s 98 yard touchdown drive to force an overtime the Brown’s heart-breakingly lost.”

But for Paul he was hooked. For him it would have been easy to follow the Broncos from that moment on, but he fell in love with the plucky losers. And they lived up to that early billing, the next year they lost to ‘The Fumble’ on the 1 yard line with a minute to play. It became then a passion to follow the losers.

Paul’s journey into American Football came through his Dad, who had been enamoured with the Green Bay Packers. For him, the majesty of those first two Super Bowl wins of Lombardi’s was spectacular. “For my Dad, it was Lombardi’s force of will and passion for the game, taking a small town backwater team to winning multiple championships which resonated with him as a sports fan. Also Jerry Kramer’s auto-biography Instant Replay really brings to life the romance and pain that makes the game great was instrumental in hooking him into the game and it gave me something to connect with my old man.

This weekend sees the Browns visit London for the first time and it’s a big move for Browns fans in the UK. And yes there are some. In fact there are lots. No really! Something that Paul admits he finds a little hard to comprehend too.

“I know many non Browns fans won’t believe it but there is a weirdly large fan base in the UK. I can’t imagine all have been hanging on like me, desperate over 30 years to have that playoff experience be a positive one, but there is a large following over here. I can only say it’s testament to the British passion for a loser! And not galant ones at that!”

But for Paul, the fact that the Browns are playing in his back-yard is a once in a lifetime experience. Having the ‘success’ that they have year in and year out means they don’t get shown on primetime or Monday night, they just don’t have the kudos to get the good slots. So this is worth waiting for.

“Honestly, this team has to be the most depressing fan experience in all of professional sport – and still I follow them. Yes, some of it is beyond their control, but equally there are things they could have done better. We literally ceased to exist after Modell relocated to Baltimore and won Super Bowls soon after, we have had nothing but pain rain down on us fans. But am I looking forward to seeing them? You bet.”

As a Browns fan it’s hard to really consider the possibility of a win in London and Paul is realistic about their chances too. For him, it’ll be close and it will be heartbreak at the death. And not for the Vikings.

“I don’t see a Bradford led team racking up the points against us and therefore I see the Browns keeping it close. Really close and then my beautiful Browns will break my heart and lose. I’m so prepared for it though, it’s happened so many times this shouldn’t be any different.”

But win or lose there is certainly some talent on the Browns team and plenty for new fans of American Football to look out for at Twickenham. This Browns team has got probably one of the best teams in terms of talent for a long time and certainly have the chance to be more competitive.

“Well we have the No 1 draft pick in Myles Garrett and he is the pick of the bunch but there are others too to watch. Deshone Kizer will be a blend of exceptional talent and rookie mistake of holding the ball too long, Corey Coleman and Isiah Crowell will be expected to expected to carry the skill positions behind first ballot hall of famer (and living legend) Joe Thomas. Gregg Willams blitz heavy defense should at least keep things interesting.”

For those not that accustomed to the Browns they may not believe that they have had a host of strong players or that they have even won championships before but it’s true, they’ve had both. Does Paul see that those days can come again?

“Hey, hope springs eternal! But seriously the way that the NFL is structured gives hope to any team that yes they can win a championship, it’s the dichotomy of the US that the world’s standard bearer for free-market enterprise and capitalism, has a communist approach to sport. Doesn’t matter what money you have, the draft ensures that generational talent ends up on the worst teams and the salary cap stops player hoarding like we get in the top tier of the premiership. Outside the Brady/Belichick Pats, no-one can dominate for extended periods. Certainly not because of financial might.”

Certainly a different system to say soccer in the UK where Paul grew up on the Isle of Wight and supported Southampton FC and knew, that his team weren’t going to win a Premiership as they didn’t have the cash other teams did. He lives to dream that the players of today can live to be like the heroes of yesteryear and bring glory to the Browns.

“In my lifetime, my hero, no 19 Bernie Kosar. Eric Metcalf, Minnifield, Dixon and Ozzie Newsome were the best players we have had. Historically though the Browns have as rich a talent pool of any team ever. Otto Graham (the winningest QB ever) and of course Jim Brown (arguably the best player ever in the history of football) are all-time greats.”

Still though the Browns get a terrible press from a lot of NFL fans and are seen very much as the league whipping boys and the ones to poke the most fun at. But for Paul he doesn’t think it is completely undeserved.

“If I wasn’t a fan I’d be knocking them too. They’ve been mismanaged and delivered nothing but pain since reforming in 1999. They’ve been utterly shoddy for years.”

Paul has passion in abundance and a very open relationship with his frustration and love for the Browns all rolled into one. We know where his heart and head will be at Twickenham but what would he say to anyone that might just be tempted to go the Cleveland way too?

Get “Get on the band wagon for a gallant loser before they get big, just so you can brag to your mates you were there first. At least no-one will ever accuse you of being a glory seeker as a Browns fan, and you get to watch them every week at 6pm Sunday. It’s a world of fun.”

Or pain. You decide, one day they may reign supreme!