Advertisement
News

Browns' finale moving affair Seats sawed, but fans can't cut off love

CLEVELAND — CLEVELAND -- One last time, the sun dropped behind the upper deck in the fourth quarter and a chilling wind blowing off the lake turned the broken-down old stadium into a refrigerator.

Up in Section 53, the heart of the Dawg Pound, fans started sawing off their seats.

Advertisement

At the timeout for the two-minute warning, a "thank you" message flashed on the end zone scoreboard. It's been a great run, the message said.

The fans booed.

Advertisement

Another cherry bomb landed with a boom in the end zone, this time forcing officials to move play to the other end of the field.

A hailstorm of seat cushions and beer bottles flew through the freezing afternoon air.

What was probably the last home game in Cleveland Browns history couldn't end with a whimper, of course. Not after 50 years of the most loyal support in any league anywhere.

Thirty-one years after the Browns last celebrated a league championship, 49 days after their last regular-season victory and 41 days after Art Modell's announcement that the team was moving to Baltimore, more than 55,000 fans came to a game to say goodbye.

One last time, this wrenching situation was displayed for the sporting nation as a moral travesty.

The Browns' fans cheered hard and long for a team that doesn't even belong to them anymore, yet will always be theirs.

A team that drew more than 178,000 fans to three games after the move was announced.

A team with roots planted as deeply in this town as any team's roots in any town.

Advertisement

As much as there are fiscal realities underlying Modell's decision and appropriateness in Baltimore's return to the NFL, there was no sense of decency in the air yesterday. No sense that this was just or fair.

Yesterday's game amounted to the evil twin brother of the Cal Ripken celebration this summer at Camden Yards. Tickets were stamped instead of torn to preserve their value as memorabilia. All programs were sold before kickoff. Browns receiver Michael Jackson even borrowed directly from Ripken and took an emotional run around the stadium before the game, slapping hands with hundreds of fans.

Outside the stadium, fans at one rally cheered as a Modell doll was hung in effigy and fried in an electric chair. At another rally, Cleveland Mayor Michael White led a chant of "It's not over!" Few fans seemed to believe him in their hearts; most signs and posters reflected the end of an era.

Once the game began, the Browns, so lifeless for weeks, shocked everyone with one of their best performances of the season. Earnest Byner rushed for 121 yards, Vinny Testaverde passed for 241 and the defense shut down the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns were ahead by two touchdowns at halftime. All that remained was the countdown to the end.

Many fans rose to their feet and remained standing in the late afternoon chill as the final minutes ticked away. A steady roar rose from the semi-restrained fury of the Dawg Pound.

Some fans cheered with pride. Others cried. Dozens throughout the stadium began whacking away at their seats, plying them off their moorings with saws and crowbars and wrenches. Several entire rows were cut free and tossed onto the field, to mighty roars.

Advertisement

The final seconds were counted down and met with a giddy, improbable cheer. And then the Browns' players, one by one, began racing toward the Dawg Pound.

Steve Everitt, an offensive lineman with a rock star's shock of blond hair, led the way. He sprinted down the field and through the end zone and leapt over the fence into the fans' arms, all but disappearing. Tony Jones, another offensive lineman, followed Everitt to the fence.

Some two dozen Browns made their way to the front lines of the Pound to bond one final time with their most loyal fans. Sentimental music played on the public address system. A steady roar echoed through the stadium. Players and fans hugged and celebrated and commiserated.

Finally, after five minutes, the music stopped, the players headed for the locker room and the fans began to clog the exits. But into the silence came one final, stunning sound: the sound of dozens of fans hammering away at their seats and pulling them free. The souvenirs of a lifetime.

Inside the bowels of the stadium, the Browns players talked to reporters.

"A very emotional day," linebacker Pepper Johnson said. "Lots of tears. Lots of people who didn't know what direction to turn."

Advertisement

Outside, Jones waited in front of a camera on the now-empty field for a national television interview. Several dozen fans came down to the railing to cheer him. One fan, an elderly woman, tossed him a necklace made of dog biscuits and orange streamers.

"I have worn it for 10 years," she shouted to Jones. "Please keep it."

Jones held the necklace aloft in his hand and waved it at the woman. Several reporters who witnessed the exchange went to speak to the woman. Her name was Ursula Baroni.

"I brought my granddaughter out today," she said. "It was her first game. Her last game, too."

She smiled. The sound of hammering filled the old stadium.


Advertisement