CLEVELAND — And so on the sixth day of January, fans of a professional football team braved zero-degree temperatures to commemorate a season of zero wins.
They came to shame the shameless.
An estimated 3,000 Browns enthusiasts attended the “Perfect Season” parade on Saturday not to celebrate losing.
No, that’s where the narrative gets contorted.
They came to celebrate still being a fan despite the losing.
Like Ahab and the whale, they stalked their tormentor, taking a cathartic no-victory lap around FirstEnergy Stadium.
I joined the jolliest bunch of [bleeps] this side of the nuthouse, and let me tell you, it was, uh, something.
The parade included 80 vehicles — including a garbage truck — and hundreds of marchers. But more than anything, it was a festive free-for-all.
Fans dressed as everything from Big Bird in a Johnny Manziel jersey to T-Rex (”#1 Fan the Last Time the Browns Won”) to almost nothing — one man wore only a star-spangled Speedo — with any and all invited. Even a smattering of piling-on Steelers fans and consoling Lions supporters were spotted.
One of the latter, Toledo native Tony Scarleto, wore a No. 20 Barry Sanders jersey and brought a sign that read, “Welcome to the club.”
The 2008 Lions, of course, are the only other team in NFL history to go 0-16.
“I come as an empathetic Lions fan,” said Scarleto, a 1992 Whitmer graduate who is a lawyer in Cleveland.
The support was appreciated.
Speaking for all fans, longtime season ticket holders Tony Pollina and his son, Mario, blasted Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take it” from their car.
“[Owner] Jimmy Haslam has no loyalty to the Cleveland fans whatsoever and this is a way for our voices to be heard,” said Tony, 53. “This shows how much fans care.
“Enough is enough.”
Or as one group of chanting marchers put it:
What do we want?
When do we want it?
“I don’t even know where to begin,” said Troy Rittner, a 36-year-old iron worker from Toledo who suggested Cleveland should let the Browns move again and get another expansion franchise. “But you might as well celebrate something. Every year, a team wins the Super Bowl. How often does a team go 0-16?”
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. And for the wet blankets who said the parade cast Cleveland in an embarrassing light, that’s your right.
“That parade is a joke don’t call yourself a true browns fan if you go to that thing! Going 0-16 was embarrassing enough as a player,” Browns defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah tweeted Saturday. “That is like adding fuel to the fire and it is completely wrong!”
But three things here: The parade is not a shot at the players. It is a protest. And sports are ENTERTAINMENT.
Have a little fun.
Only the Browns’ contemptibly clueless owner should be embarrassed by this.
Haslam owns two companies. One of them — Pilot Flying J — fleeced trucking companies in a fuel rebate scam that resulted in guilty pleas by 14 former employees. The other is the Browns.
It is unclear which is the bigger case of consumer fraud.
As one fan sign said, “The Browns make Flying J look legit.”
Haslam passes off a team with two victories in its last 43 games as an NFL product at NFL prices, and it’s genius, really. Because of skyrocketing media rights deals — NFL teams raked in $7.5 billion this year — a franchise he bought for $1.05 billion in 2012 is now valued by Forbes at $1.95 billion. That’s why Haslam can tell fans, “We’re delighted to have Hue Jackson as our head coach,” and keep a straight face.
But he can only attempt to play this proud city for a fool for so long.
Saturday was the breaking point, a day to shame the shameless and raise money for a good cause doing so. Organizer Chris McNeil said the event raised $14,000 for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.
Many beaten-down fans left the parade feeling re-energized.
“I do think there’s some hope and promise,” Rittner said. “Where else can you go from here but up?”
On second thought ...
See you next year?
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