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The Joyous Masochism of Rooting for the Cleveland Browns

Terrance Mitchell of the Cleveland Browns celebrates with fans in 2018. Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

My favorite parable about the joyous, mad futility of being a sports fan involves a man named Scott Entsminger. On the whole, there was nothing remarkable about Scott Entsminger. He lived in Mansfield, Ohio, worked for General Motors for 32 years before retiring to fish and spend time with his wife and teenage son, and spent his off hours playing music with a group of friends in what they called the “Old Fogies Band.” And more than anything (except his family), he loved the Cleveland Browns. They were the center of his world, so much so that he wrote a song for the team every year and sent it to them, along with “other advice on how to run the team.” Entsminger was a thoroughly ordinary man, but in July 2013, when he died suddenly at the age of 55, his extraordinary love for his Browns won him immortality. In his obituary, in addition to “encourag[ing] everyone to wear their Cleveland Browns clothing to the service in honor of Scott,” his family made sure to include the following line:

He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time. 

If the 2013 Cleveland Browns had a sense of humor, they would have provided six players, ideally in full uniform, to lay Mr. Entsminger to his eternal rest. But, then again, they probably would have dropped him.

caused you to fall onto the floor, uncontrollably vomiting and defecating, you’d would no longer eat there. If every time you tried on a sweater from the Gap it caught on fire, you’d shop somewhere else.

to write the names of loved ones who never got to see the Cubs win a title in their lifetime? It was very sweet, but those people are dead. They watched the Cubs every day for their entire freaking lives, the Cubs never won that title, and then those people died. Game over.

it sorta did — it took them off the long-suffering sports fan tote board, joining Red Sox fans (2004), White Sox fans (2005), Saints fans (2009), Cavaliers fans (2016) and, more recently, Eagles fans (2017) and Raptors fans (2019). The Cubs winning the World Series is one of the few positive sports stories that broke through from the sports world to the front-page-of-the-Times real world, a spot usually reserved only for national teams like the USWNT and individual heroes like Serena Williams or Tiger Woods. There aren’t many teams like that left. The Cleveland Indians, maybe; the Buffalo Bills, probably; the New York Knicks, definitely.

there’s an epidemic of Browns fans urinating on his grave) perpetually approached greatness but always fell infuriatingly short, and whose current incarnation (which began with an expansion team in 1999) has been flat-out terrible for 20 years, reaching the playoffs only once in those two decades. But their fanbase has remained steadfast and frighteningly dedicated: I went to a Browns game in Cleveland a few years ago, and it felt like a cross between a frantic gathering of lunatic soccer hooligans and an unhinged Mad Max sequel. Few people on earth want anything as much as Browns fans want a Super Bowl championship. One Browns fan is trying to conjure one into existence by inking a prophecy on his body.

https://t.co/18qViNA4q1 pic.twitter.com/W2dwIadmc3

— WKYC Channel 3 News (@wkyc) August 22, 2019

And that’s why the biggest story in the NFL this upcoming season — other than the sport’s inexplicably increasing success dancing between the raindrops on matters CTE, Trump, Kaepernick, and Goodell — might just be that the Cleveland Browns are going to be one of the best teams in football … and almost certainly the most fun. During years in the wilderness in which the team, run by a Moneyball-esque analytics team (which included former baseball exec Paul DePodesta, the inspiration for the Jonah Hill character in that film), lost at a rate even previous Browns teams couldn’t match, they built up draft picks and planned for the future, and that future, at last, seems to have arrived. The Browns, amazingly, have everything. They have a young, ferocious defense led by former No. 1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett. They have a deep running-back core, with one of the most likable players in the league in Nick Chubb and, well, one of the least likable in Kareem Hunt, the man suspended for the rest of the season (and then released by the Chiefs) last November after video surfaced of him punching and kicking a woman in an elevator. (He is extremely talented so now is — of course — back, after sitting out eight more games to start this season.) They have mercurial but astonishingly gifted wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., precisely the sort of hypnotic player whose skills more than make up for his personality quirks. And they have the rarest commodity of all: A true franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield (another No. 1 pick), an outspoken, ornery cuss of a player who thinks nothing of insulting other teams’ quarterbacks (which Mayfield has attempted to clarify and walk back from, which, frankly, is no fun at all) and flipping off the opposing sideline. He’s the sort of player everyone hates — hates to love and loves to hate — basically what we were all hoping Johnny Manziel was going to be. He’s exactly how your team becomes the team everyone is talking about.

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