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Dog Days Revisited

I was born with a dog bone in my mouth. Well, that's not exactly true. They weren't the dogs back then but if they had been I would have been sucking on a bone shaped pacifier. By the time I was 2 my father was subtly letting it be known to the world that he intended his son to be a football fan, at the least, but between the lines I know what he wanted was a chip of his own quarterback's block. At this age my father purchased a complete football uniform for me-helmet included. Growing up in north-eastern Ohio meant a lot of things during the week: Dad on his way to the office, school days, bus rides, and family dinners. But Sunday was a holy day. At one o'clock, every Sunday in the winter, I learned about religion Cleveland Browns style. There, on our enormous console television set, which perched its boxy self on the floor because it was too big to go anywhere else, I saw the gridiron battles that could make or break the mood of a city for an entire week.

I don't know the first time I saw them on TV. I can't remember. Photographic records indicate that I probably was exposed to them by the fall of my first year of life. With those months of maturation I had an edge on the babies born in mid season.

I can tell you my first memory though. I was 3 or 4. My living room was bigger back then. We had that little coffee table as the centerpiece. Things were greener: the hideous 70's style carpet and the cheesy lampshades. My little rocking chair wiggled back and forth, directly in front of an enormous box that crackled and showed wavy lines sometimes, pictures others, and sometimes nothing at all.

Dad never paid much attention to the thing during the week. On Sunday it was the center of the universe. I sat dressed in orange and brown. These colors had the power of transformation. In these moments I was no longer just Dave, I was Dave Logan-Cleveland Browns wide receiver; my Dad was a guy named Brian Sipe. I was the quarterback's favorite target. When the two teamed up for a big play my dad would toss me around in ecstasy.

I can even remember one play in particular. It was a long pass Dad/Sipe to me/Logan. As I appeared to be on the verge of being knocked out of bounce, I did something that excited my dad like nothing else could. He called it a stiff arm. I thought it was a face mask penalty. It wasn't. It was good. The big fuzzy television sparkled in those moments and during half-time or commercials, my dad would let me turn the channels for him. The enormous knobs took two hands and the last of my strength to turn and the channels clicked into place with a loud thump.

But channel changing got easier and technology got better. I grew into quite a good Browns fan, but never a player. I was 9 or 10 when we would have traditional football parties at my dad's. Dad had a much nicer TV than mom. His remote control seemed sleek. It had a silvery face and the big buttons shimmered against its background. I hated when the silver smudged and I couldn't see my reflection in it anymore. Dad didn't need me as a channel changer now.

My two uncles, light beer, chips and the women out shopping. That was Sunday.

On one Sunday we were playing our arch-rivals-the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since the construction of Three Rivers Stadium we had never won there. My uncle was sure we never would. The "jinx", as it was known, loomed over our heads. Every year I believed we'd win. Every year we lost. My uncle was cynical on every play. If a player got up shakily, my uncle said his career was over. It was how Browns fans had learned to deal with years of disappointment. I resented it. I still believed.

That day a young quarterback named Bernie Kosar and his new favorite target, a rookie named Webster Slaughter, led the Browns to their first victory in Three Rivers. I cheered. I jeered at our Steeler fan neighbors. Even my uncle was happy.

The Steelers hit a rough spot in the mid 80's which opened the way for my beloved Browns. Their gritty defensive style earned them the nickname "Dawgs" and the open end of Cleveland Municipal Stadium became fondly known as the "Dawg pound." In 1986 the Browns made the playoffs and had a game at home. My dad and his wife (with the ticket that was normally mine) attended and I sat with grandpa watching the game. Our TV was even bigger now. It sat on a shelf, free from the possible obstruction of a passer-by, there in our condominium with the oak walls and fluffy blue carpet.

I sat, face painted in orange and brown, in Dad's favorite yellow recliner. Grandpa sat on the couch. We were losing to the Jets by ten points with around 4 minutes left. Grandpa asked me if I wanted to turn the game off. My face got red. Was he really my dad's father? The impending reality of a loss and the apparent generation gap set in like weights on my stomach. They tingled in my body and I sat in dad's chair, a ball of nervous energy.

Somehow we got the ball back. Quick drive and we scored a touchdown, somehow, I can't remember. Still, two minutes remained. They had the ball and only a defensive stop would give us a chance. We got it. We had the ball and 1:30 on the clock. The quarterback lofted a sidearm gem along the sideline to Webster Slaughter or maybe Brian Brennan. I always wanted to be Brennan, the underdog athlete that becomes the hero-slow, white, unathletic, but with golden hands and a knack for big plays. Whoever caught the bomb was jumping around so much he almost didn't get back in time to stop the clock for a field goal. Overtime victory. Jubilation.

Browns fever went crazy. We were one game from the Super Bowl. We'd never been. Ryan Bomer had a party with all the cool fifth graders. His TV was small. He lived with his mom in the bottom of a house near the bad end of town. He didn't' know who Brian Brennan was. Little plates of chips and pop glasses were spread about the room. We, like all fifth graders, talked every second of the game. It was blasphemy but we did it. My dad still doesn't know.

The game was pure adrenaline. We dominated. We had the lead and were kicking off with 2:10 on the clock. The Denver Bronco returner fumbled but recovered. The ball stood at the Bronco 2 yard line. Just over 98 yards separated them from tying the score. We huddled around the 13 inch TV. The girls were even paying attention. I kind of cared what they thought. I didn't know it but my dad was chanting with 80,000 people at Municipal Stadium two words that all would regret. "Su-u-u-per Bo-o-o-wl," went the echo. Why couldn't I have known? We slapped hands. We spilled our drinks. John Elway calmly lead the Broncos down the field converting on 4th and 13 at one point. We lost in overtime. The people at the Stadium, my dad included, stopped chanting Super Bowl. A deadly, funeral silence must have fallen over all of them. The little TV got turned off after we watched four or five instant replays of the game winning field goal. I can still see it. It floats directly over the goal post. The ref had no chance to see it from his angle. He hesitated then raised his arms. I kept denying that it was good. He broke my spirits. I fell. Later someone offered to file a lawsuit about the game. The replay showed the field goal to have missed. I said that our judicial system was probably too corrupt to change anything anyway. Misery.

Misery described the Browns for a few years in the late 80´s. Still, we had our highlights. One weekend I went to Bowling Green University with Mike Jahn , who was 23, to visit my cousin. My cousin was in college. Another Pittsburgh game. Cousin Jimmy's room was three shared bedrooms complete with the typical college desk chairs and a common room with a semi-cozy couch. In the corner was a silly hat that was worn by the "asshole" in a drinking game of the same name. We sat and drank beers in a college dorm room. I was 17, but much older. A small monitor style TV sat on a makeshift shelf and the room was designed around it.

Bernie Kosar's career was waning. My uncle had predicted this after an injury three years ago. He'd been right. We had no offense that day. We were losing in every phase of the game. Down 14, Eric Metcalf electrified the crowd with a 90 something yard punt return. I always like Metcalf. He was fun to watch-fast, athletic, a natural. We were hanging around. My head was light and fuzzy with cheap beer, rebellion and Cleveland Browns hope. With 2 minutes left we were getting the ball back. Maybe Kosar, the quarterback, could lead the team to victory. Maybe things could be like the used to be. He didn't need to. Another punt return for a touchdown by Metcalf. We won. The quarterback sat on the sidelines watching. I ignored him. Our drunk voices echoed down the dormitory halls. We ran in perfect circles. We shouted. My dad's TV would have had a clearer, bigger picture but I didn't even care.

Soon my cousin's college status became my own. Freshman year meant going to Tulley's sports bar to watch the games. New York people didn't watch the Browns. My new friends and I watched games together. One week the Browns and Patriots played. My roommate was from Boston. I actually watched a game with someone who cared about his team almost as much as I cared about mine. We made a bet. The loser had to wear a the opponent's team jersey out for a whole night. He watched the TV behind my head. I watched behind his. A million TV's flashed different messages. During commercials I watched other games. My eyes went everywhere. The Browns weren't on any of the big screens. We ordered beers with our fake ID's. We shouted too much. We were freshman. The Browns lost. I never wore the jersey though. I still couldn't. With free agency we were only rooting for uniforms anyway, I said. I called my dad after games, usually.

My sophomore year I watched a lot of ESPN on our 19-inch with a fading picture and a remote control that didn't work half the time. I first heard a story that the Browns might move sometime in the fall of my sophomore year. I called my dad but the Cleveland news kept reporting that they would probably stay. ESPN was less optimistic. The national network reported a stronger possibility than Cleveland's local press.

One day I flipped on a press conference. Art Modell, our faithful owner of 30 years, was standing in Baltimore. The "Save the Browns" campaign was over. We had compromised. Modell owned the Browns, I guess. He decided their fate. He was smug as he stood cutting ribbons or unveiling something. The new team was to be called the Ravens after the Poe poem. I guess Modell stood and told Browns fans something like "Nevermore." The new team wouldn't be called the Browns. That was our consolation. I kept hearing words like capitalism, taxes, personal seat licenses and free agent franchises instead of off tackle right and fly pattern. Our laundry was repainted. The Browns were the Ravens. I repeated Seinfeld's "with free agency sports becomes merely rooting for laundry" joke over and over. My dad and I talked about how greed was at the center of sports. My dad said he wouldn't miss the Browns that much. Sundays were better for golfing or relaxing anyway. Golf sucks.

The Sabbath is spent doing other things now. I sleep in until 3 or 4 sometimes. I don't have to go to Tulley's which was pretty expensive. I still watch football sometimes. I saw the Super Bowl in Spain and it was pretty fun to see all the Patriots. The TV was pretty big and people organized themselves in pews around it. I stood at the bar, arms crossed, and talked to a girl I am infatuated with. For a moment I thought of how I stood at the rubble of Cleveland Stadium before I left to study abroad. The rubble pile was much less spectacular than the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome, but they were much less intact. My dad tells me our baseball team looks pretty good. I doubt it, though.

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