Saturday, September 19, 2009

Next Year

So, my dog Trixie has a toilet obsession. Actually, it's more the flushing of the toilet she craves every minute of every day. We have no idea why. We never brought her to the bathroom as a puppy and introduced the toilet to her as a potential toy. She pretty much discovered it on her own. If you happen to be visiting and wonder where Trixie could be, we'll tell you to check the bathroom. Nine times out of ten, there she'll be, staring at her porcelain fixation and begging you to push down on the handle. When you do, she gets up on her back legs and peers down into the circling water, growling and barking at it. She'll chase her tail frantically, then begin to whine for you to do it all over again.

Alan has made a fantastic game out of flushing toilets for Trixie. He teases her mercilessly by running from room to room, waiving his arms wildly and shouting as Trixie runs excitedly behind him. Sometimes he flushes, other times he quickly reverses direction and runs to the OTHER bathroom, flushing THAT toilet instead, sending our dog into a barking, panting, happy MESS! My job during the "toilet teasing" escapade is to sit on the couch, clap my hands, and giggle like an infant playing peek-a-boo! I challenge ANY three-ring circus to provide better entertainment!

The problem that has developed as a result of all of this, however, is that now anytime either one of us laughs loudly, stands up quickly, or raises our arms in the air, Trixie believes it's "game-on" and begins a barking-frenzied sprint to the bathroom. It's especially frequent while we're watching football on TV. Alan and I are very vocal spectators when it comes to watching our beloved Cleveland Browns. We yell, scream and gasp our way through every Sunday afternoon. You can imagine how confused this makes our terrier. So we've decided to compromise with Trixie and award her a "victory flush" every time the Browns score a touchdown. When a player gloriously makes it to the end zone, Alan and I jump up, scream, high-five, then head for the bathroom, where Trixie is anxiously waiting, paws up on the seat.

There's been quite a drought in the Flushes of Victory recently, however, because our cherished Browns are terrible. Last season, they played the last six games without scoring a touchdown. We had to start throwing flushing celebrations over first downs instead. I must confess, it felt wrong, hollow, and cheap.

There's a terrific saying I heard once that refers to the two most famous words spoken by Cleveland sports fans: "Next Year." Our basketball, baseball, and football teams have all been notoriously bad, and the few years we've gotten close to a championship, it's always been yanked away in some heart-wrenching, last second miracle by a player on the opposing team. If you're ever in Cleveland, sitting around at a bar and talking to the locals, just mention the words, "The Drive" and watch what happens. I guarantee you, every person in that bar will sigh heavily and shake their heads in still-wounded disbelief. Their eyes will glaze over as they remember that day in 1987 at the ACF Championship game, when John Elway of the Denver Broncos broke the collective hearts of an entire city in a spectacular come-from-behind, last minute, title-winning victory. Then wait a few seconds, and I promise the conversation will quickly turn to the upcoming season, and the definite potential the new draft picks might bring. "Next year," they say hopefully, "could be our year!"

The Browns became a team in 1946. Their coach and part owner was a meticulous, hard-nosed disciplinarian named Paul Brown. My father talks about how easy it was to be a fan back then, because they never lost a game. Ever. The local paper held a contest to name the team. The overwhelming choice was simply "The Browns" after their beloved coach. Paul was embarrassed by the idea and declined the offer, but the city had spoken. Cleveland is a blue-collar town. The majority of the Browns fan base consists of steel mill workers and factory assemblers. This is a no-frills bunch. They take great pride in the fact that there is no logo on our helmets, no mascot. There are no scantily-clad cheerleaders performing high kicks on our sidelines. Back in the 70's when other cities were building domed stadiums with astroturf, Cleveland still played on muddy, soggy grass in an old, drafty stadium. This suited everyone perfectly. The Browns are about FOOTBALL, we said, no other distractions are necessary.

I don't remember being a Browns fan when I was growing up. My father definitely was. I remember many a Sunday dinner, one that my mother had lovingly and tirelessly prepared, when Dad would check his watch, grab his plate and glass and excuse himself to the family room to catch the opening kick-off. The rest of us would finish our dinner to the serenade of, "Throw it, you Jackass!" or "Where's the god-dammed DEFENSE for Christ's sake?!!"

Ironically, it wasn't until I left home that I became a fan. I guess it had never occurred to me that the rest of the country didn't watch the Browns play every Sunday. In Syracuse, the Bills game was usually televised, and in NYC, the Giants or Jets. I was terribly homesick, so I'd watch those New York games and wait for the ticker on the bottom of the screen to show the Cleveland score. I never quite understood the NY fans. They're teams were really good, yet they booed and whined about their own players who made the tiniest errors. This didn't really happen in Cleveland, and we usually sucked!

In 1995, Browns owner Art Modell (also known as Satan) threw a tantrum because the city wouldn't build him a shiny new stadium fast enough and threatened to move the team to Baltimore. Never mind that our old stadium was still selling-out every week despite the lackluster performance of the players he employed, he wanted his way. League rules state that an owner may only move a team if the fan base is weak and stadium attendance is way down. This obviously wasn't the case in Cleveland. Lucifer met with the Owners Organization and they let him do it anyway. The city was crushed. The fans organized enormous protests and rallies and were successfully able to keep the "Browns" name. The Dark Lord's new Baltimore Ravens team went on to win the Super Bowl in 2000, but Cleveland got to keep it's Browns heritage, and got a new team in 1999. There was a bright side to all of that mess, however. We Cleveland fans can truthfully state that in the years '96, '97, and '98, the Browns were UNDEFEATED!!!

With the lovely invention of the satellite, I was able to go to sports bars and once again watch my team. There are Browns Backers groups all over the country, I believe it's the largest fan-based organization in America. In Orlando, Alan and I were members of a fantastic backers group that met every Sunday at J.B.'s Sports Bar. We were by far the largest fan group in the whole place, even though our team probably had the absolute worst record of any other team being broadcast on all of those TVs!

I guess that's what I love about being a Browns fan. You take a lot of ribbing rooting for a team that is historically bad, representing a city that is frequently the brunt of some pretty cruel jokes. I think that's why we're so strong. We love our city. We love the hard-working people who live here and the no-frills, logo-free team that represents us. No matter what. So, like my crazy Jack Russell Terrier perched and ready, staring into the waters of her favorite porcelain bowl, we Browns fans sit and wait for Fate to decide it's OUR turn and finally push-down on the Handle of Victory. In the meantime, we'll take all the joking and watch as some other team grabs the elusive Super Bowl trophy. But at the close of the season, we'll take a deep breath, clasp our hands together, nod at each other hopefully and say, "Next year..."

Thanks for reading!


Unknown said...

There is no truer Browns fan than you, Joan Donnelly! I go along for the ride, but you are the queen, and this piece shows why you hold the sceptor. Well done!

Jennifer Taft said...

Only you could write an essay incorporating toilet bowls and a bad football team and not have one referring to the other. I've got to say Trixie is endlessly hysterical when in full toilet flush mode! There is something so noble about rooting for a perennially struggling team. Love the way you hooks your readers at the beginning and wrap it up pretty at the end. Bravo!

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