There is a deep and lopsided bond between Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos fans that dates back to the AFC conference championships of the late 1980s.
Broncos fans don’t need to remember what happened then. Unfortunately, neither do Browns fans.
“The trial and error.”
There is no need to rehash this now.
Few fans can relate to Cleveland’s sports agony. But those rooting for Denver, a pivotal team in the history of this agony, can relate as well as anyone.
So please indulge in this missive from a Clevelander, who inherited the curse of the Browns fandom, transplanted into Broncos territory and deals with the deep fear of loving a tortured franchise.
Because despite all the heartbreak the Browns have caused, that irrational love has never wavered. That is, until the Browns traded for Deshaun Watson and, in doing so, compromised his identity and relationship with the city.
Watson, an All-Pro quarterback with all the on-court attributes any team would dream of, has been recommended for a six-game suspension for sexual assault and improper conduct allegations made by 25 women in 25 different civil lawsuits.
That’s right, Watson had over 20 women accusing him of sexual misconduct and worse in massage sessions and the Browns emptied the bank for him, trading three first round picks, a third and a fourth round l ‘were then signed for an unprecedented $230 million guaranteed five-year contract.
This contract included a wink and a nod: a base salary of $1 million for the first year and the remaining $45 million in signing bonus, which is not affected by the fines associated with the impending suspension Watson was to receive.
Although he has remained silent in public since the allegations began to pile up, Watson defied remorse when pressed to speak about his situation. He denied the allegations, but showed little interest in clearing his name. That says a lot for someone accused at best of the problematic, criminal at worst habits and predatory patterns they are accused of.
Retired federal judge Sue. L. Robinson, found substantial evidence indicating that Watson engaged in sexual assault, by NFL standards. But the six-game suspension fell short of league preference throughout the year, largely due to its own flawed and inconsistent history of uneven punishment, such as in the landmark cases of Ray Rice, Tom Brady and Calvin Ridley, to name a few. .
This turbulent precedent set Robinson’s six-game decision, despite his opinion on Watson’s guilt.
But the league gets what the league wants. The NFL has filed an appeal, and while the next steps are complicated in a way that the law is and justice is not, it ultimately has the power to issue any suspension or fine it sees fit. .
As a Browns fan, perpetually embarrassed by the proxy and prone to defensiveness, that’s the least of my worries.
If the league is successful, it’s likely the Browns will have to wait another year before their $230 million man plays a game.
In a way, it’s a relief. While Watson undoubtedly makes the Browns better, and perhaps better than they have been in my nearly 30 years of life, no level of performance takes away from the level of compromise it brings. to the franchise.
A one-year suspension gives another year to process the dissonant experience of seeing the success of a team you love depend on the success of someone you despise. There’s almost something heartwarming about having one more year of a team capped at mediocrity led by a non-Watson quarterback who’s definitely “not the guy.”
The problem is that the dismay goes far beyond Watson. The front office has carried fans through two full seasons with just one victory, with the promise of rebuilding the right way. This promise was on track. Then suddenly, an opportunity presented itself. The team veered towards the shortcut, unaware that it compromised the very finely tuned and adaptive morals of its own hardened fanbase.
Although fandom can be inherited to some degree, a product of closeness and tribalism, there has always been something more meaningful than that.
The Browns, in all their well-intentioned failures, embody so much of what Cleveland is as a city and what it instills in its people.
In Cleveland, good things don’t just happen. Reality presents itself at an early age. Life is tough and disappointing, why shouldn’t the sports fandom reflect that? The people of Cleveland do not live in expectation of miracles, they anticipate and often receive the opposite.
But despite the seriousness of it all, I promise you, it’s a lot less cynical.
Because behind all this pessimism, there is an incessant glimmer of hope. For as irrational as the Browns fandom is, there is a belief that is perhaps even more irrational. Good things don’t just happen, but sometimes they do. When they do, it’s deserved.
There are no shortcuts, long shots or miracles. Instead, there’s a belief in working hard and doing the right thing. Only then, despite all the evidence to the contrary, could our luck turn.
It’s serious but genuine.
As bad as the Browns are, they’ve always stuck to that philosophy.
Watching Watson ever play for the Browns will be confrontational at best and impossible at worst. But watching the Browns play without him in the meantime, after the team’s management broke its unspoken code with fans who stayed loyal far longer than they had business to do, may be even more so. hard.
Of course it will. Loving this team was never meant to be easy.