Browns’ season might finally erase years of disappointment

Published 1:37 am Saturday, December 30, 2023

I became a Cleveland Browns fan in 1962 at the age of 8. No one in the house was a sports fan except me. My mom said she must have brought home the wrong baby from the hospital.

Two years later in 1964, I saw the NFL championship as the Browns blanked the Baltimore Colts 27-0. And then I watched them lose in the title game in 1965.

There were more playoff trips and they all ended with a loss. The Browns have 4 championship titles but they have never been to the Super Bowl trying to win that fifth NFL title.

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The Browns had playoff appearances in the late 60s and early 70s. I remember the year the Dolphins went unbeaten in 1972 and the Browns opened in Miami and had the Dolphins sweating bullets. Miami held on to win 20-14.

Then there was the conference title game in 1981 and the Browns lost to the Oakland Raiders 14-12 in the frigid cold on the Red Right 88 pass play that ended with an interception by Mike Davis in the end zone. the Browns were at the Oakland 13.

That disappointment was bad but couldn’t match The Drive and The Fumble in back-to-back seasons of 1986 and 1987, both at the hands of the Denver Broncos.

The Browns led when Denver quarterback John Elway engineered a 98-yard drive to tie the game and the Broncos scored in overtime to win in 1986.

The Browns were driving to go ahead and tie the game in 1987 only to fumble at the 2-yard line as Ernest Byner was fighting to get into the end zone.

The Browns did make the playoffs in 1994 with Bill Belichick as coach, but then they missed the playoffs 20 out of the next 21 years.

Owner Art Modell — seeking money to bail him out of debt — packed up the team and headed for Baltimore where the Ravens won the 2000 Super Bowl which would have been the Browns if not for the controversial move.

The Browns got their team back in 1999 and managed to make the playoffs in 2002 only to lose at Pittsburgh.

Baker Mayfield got the Browns to the second round in 2020 and lost when the officials missed Kansas City DB Dan Sorenson’s spear in the back on the fumble at the Chiefs’ goal line. As a result, the Browns lost 22-17.

The Browns were snake bit. This was never going to happen.

New Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry thought getting rid of Mayfield for a better quarterback was what the team needed. Berry — like most GMs — wanted to make his mark and have his players win big. He convinced owner Jimmy Haslem to pay $3 million a year fully guaranteed and the Browns would get Deshaun Watson,

But Watson’s massage perversion led to a year-long absence with the Houston Texans and then he missed his first 8 games with the Browns. When he was reinstated this season he played in 8 games. Other than the second half of the Atlanta game, Watson was a disappointment. He suffered an injury and headed for the injured reserve list. He is rarely seen around the team although he did get treatment in Los Angeles and sat in the seats of the Browns game at Las Vegas.

And now, the most improbable seasons of all. The Browns have used 4 different starting quarterbacks. They lost their starting All-Pro running back Nick Chubb in the second game.

More injuries have followed. And a 38-year-old quarterback came off his couch and led the team to the playoffs on a night with last-second replacements at placekicker and punter and without star wide receiver Amari Cooper as the Browns beat the New York Jets 37-20.

Sometimes the stars just align right as Flacco has been nothing short of amazing as he has led the team to a 4-1 record and a playoff berth. It may all end in the first round, but it’s been a great season and the Browns did it without Massage Watson at $2.5 million a game and with Joe Flacco at $75,000 a game.

Being a Browns fan brings a lifetime of frustration and disappointment. A man named Scott Entsminger from Mansfield died in 2013 and had a final request asking the Browns to send six players to be pallbearers so that the Browns could let him down one last time.

The 55-year-old lifelong fan who was also a musician would write and record funny songs or letters to the Browns’ management with suggestions to make the team better. The Browns sent a representative with Entsminger’s name on a number 76 jersey since it was the number of his favorite player Lou Groza.

With the Browns in the playoffs and Flacco and the defense a threat to take the team to the Super Bowl, maybe, just maybe, this story book fairy tale will have a magical ending and leave Entsminger dancing in his grave.

Hey, Browns fans can dream, can’t they? They have for the last 59 years.


Jim Walker is sports editor emeritus of The Ironton Tribune.