Fanhood for sale! Apply here!
OK, this was supposed to be a long essay about Baker Mayfield and his time with the Cleveland Browns. That essay is written, and was being edited, when this stink bomb detonated on Twitter.
Adam followed that one up with another one saying that the Browns are going to give Deshaun Watson a $230 million contract, the largest guaranteed contract ever given to a player.
And to think, all it took for him to get that raise was to sit out a full season and face 22 civil lawsuits charging him with sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
Look, I’m not going to get into the “innocent-until-proven guilty” conversation or the “everybody deserves a second chance” discussion or the “hey, the grand jury did not bring criminal charges against him” dialogue. Land on those where you will. I’m also not going to get into the obvious Colin Kaepernick aside. And I certainly know that this is nothing new, that the Browns — and pretty much every NFL team — always have and always will sign troubled and troubling players. I mean the Browns already have Kareem Hunt, who was caught on video kicking a woman in a hotel.
But like I say, I’m not going to get into any of that. If the Browns want Deshaun Watson, and the NFL lets him play, that is their business.
But for me, something breaks with this one.
I will declare myself a fan free agent, offering the little I can offer — my loyalty, my fanhood and a weekly diary.
Let the bidding begin.
I think about my life as a Browns fan. It’s about 50 years of pain, heartbreak and misery. Fifty years! I wouldn’t be FRIENDS with someone for five minutes, let along 50 years, who would treat me the way the Browns have treated me.
I can’t even imagine it — a friend who I invest everything in, all my feelings, all my emotions, my heart and my lungs and my stomach and my soul, and then, what, they throw an interception when in position to kick the game-winning field goal? They convince me that we’re Super Bowl bound only to let the evil John Elway drive 98 yards? They fumble on the way into the end zone with the game on the line?
What kind of friend treats you like that?
THEY LEAVE TOWN AND COLDLY REPLACE MY FRIENDSHIP IN BALTIMORE?
It’s unforgivable, right?
A friend who is utterly unreliable — they change coaches every year, change quarterbacks every year, change plans every year. A friend who is utterly incompetent — doing dumber and dumber things all the time. A friend who never, ever, ever, ever takes you to the Super Bowl, even though they promise one every year.
Who needs a friend like that?
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And yet, I was devoted to the Browns. It should have been so easy to jump to another team, any other team, but I didn’t. Because I couldn’t. It wasn’t voluntary in the sense of “acting of my own free will.” No, my family left Cleveland when I was 14 years old — that also wasn’t my choice — and I have always carried Cleveland with me. It’s a part of me. Non-refundable.
So I built a bit part of my life around Browns. I hurt when they hurt and cried when they cried and celebrated when they won … some of the best and worst days of my life, apart from those obvious real moments of joy and sadness, surrounded the Cleveland Browns.
When they beat the Gastineau Jets — elation!
When they lost on the Ahmad Rashad Hail Mary — agony!
When they finally won in Pittsburgh — heaven!
When they cut Bernie Kosar — despair!
I even passed along the Browns’ love to our younger daughter, Katie, even though she didn’t deserve that sort of torment.
It didn’t matter what the Browns did to me, I endured it. That’s the Cleveland in me.
But not this one.
No, I won’t root for a Browns team that has Deshaun Watson at quarterback. I just won’t. I was already angry that the Browns released all-heart receiver Jarvis Landry, and I was angry when they released their center (in position and in truth) J.C. Tretter. Sure, I told myself, these are just the hard business decisions that teams have to make in their salary cap world. But it still stinks.
And then they started using that money to go after Watson while the civil suits are in progress and the NFL’s investigation is ongoing, and that pit in my stomach grew. How much am I, as a fan, willing to give up to see my team finally win?
A lot, 50 years of experience will tell you.
But not that much.
The piece I wrote about Baker Mayfield — maybe I’ll still run it sometime even though it’s now irrelevant — was about our journey together, a wild journey, and how sad I was about it ending. I don’t blame the Browns for looking at other options: Mayfield did not look like a quarterback who could take this team to the Super Bowl. I did not blame Mayfield for asking to be traded: The team treated him shabbily and, throughout his career, surrounded him with various strands of incompetence.
No, I did not blame. I just felt this sadness.
Or as Browns fans call the feeling: Familiar.
OK, I should say this: I honestly don’t know if I can give up the Browns. I’m texting now with friends who are Browns fans and they are really unhappy about this move too, but they will not consider giving up the team. They don’t think, in the end, I will either. The Cleveland Browns, they remind me, are not a choice. They a part of you, like the flab that surrounds the belt.
Theoretically, I could work out and do a million sit-ups and eat better and lose that flab.
But only theoretically.
Even so, no, I’m out. Something really did shatter. On Thursday, I felt such relief when it was announced that Watson had turned down the Browns and would choose either Atlanta or New Orleans. I was so angry at the Browns for being that desperate, but in the end, the meteor missed earth.
So Friday’s news of Watson “changing his mind” crushed me. The craziest part is that from a pure football perspective, it might be a terrific deal. The terms of the trade seem pretty favorable to Cleveland; they’re giving up only one draft pick this year. Watson in 2020 led the NFL in passing yards and had a sky-high 112.4 quarterback rating. I can certainly understand Browns fans who might grit their teeth a little but still feel thrilled about this because Watson is a dynamic and thrilling player who could make Cleveland a legit Super Bowl contender. I totally get that.
I just don’t feel any of that. I don’t know what Sundays will be like not rooting for the Browns. I don’t know what it would be like to write a Chiefs Diary or a Bills Diary or a Lions Diary. I don’t know anything at all.
All I know is the familiar sadness, and also an unfamiliar sadness, and a curiosity if I could ever love another team like I loved this one that broke my heart one final time.