Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: The "Q"
Re: hey RBA...
"When I was in high school, before the steel industry went bad," Lavelli continues, "the main thing was to get a ticket to Massillon's game on Saturday, even though I played for Hudson High School myself." From Hudson, Lavelli went to Ohio State ("Most of the guys on our 1942 team are still living," he says proudly) and from Ohio State to the Browns ("We were like a family, those teams"). In '75 Lavelli was inducted as an end into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just down the road in Canton, and these memories of a lifetime now warm him like a summer sun.
Until, that is, Modell is mentioned. Lavelli had been chatting pleasantly in the furniture store he owns in suburban Rocky River, a big painting of a Brown helmet hanging from the showroom's facade. He has had season tickets to the Browns since his retirement in 1956. But now he goes ballistic and begins loudly defaming Modell in a way we cannot possibly print or even hint at. Nor, on reflection, does Lavelli want us to. "I'm at the end of my rope," he says, by way of apology, after he has calmed down. "It's just that everywhere you go, waitresses, salespeople, truck drivers, eighth-grade kids—everyone mentions the guy, and after a while, you get tired of listening to it." He sighs. "It's hard to accept."
Lavelli steps outside the store to be photographed, and his righthand man approaches. John DePolo is a sunny 68-year-old who speaks in soothing tones, a good cop to Lavelli's bad. "You have to understand his emotions," DePolo says softly, with evident concern for his friend. "This isn't just football that's being taken away. It's a part of people's lives."
It's a part of people's lives. On each autumn Sunday, 13-year-old Jenny Sheeler watches the Browns, whether they are home or on the road, with her sister, Katie, and their parents, Pat and Russ. The Sheelers hang Brown signs in their house in suburban Twinsburg and root in their Brown warmup suits. "To know that when I have my own kids, I can't bring them to Brown games, that hurts me," said Jenny, standing outside Cleveland Stadium before the Nov. 19 game between the Browns and the Green Bay Packers. "It's sad that we won't be able to come to games as a family anymore."
"The Browns are the only real team I've known," said 13-year-old Angela Woody, attending the game, as she always does, with her little brother, Michael, and her father, James. "They're a part of the history of our family."
And so it goes, across every age, gender and racial group in northern Ohio. Tune in to Brienes's radio show. Listen at random to two consecutive calls. The two voices seem to be those of African-American males. And it isn't static that makes both of them crack on the air.
"I have a four-year-old whom I wanted to raise a Brown fan, like I was," says a man who calls himself Brainchild. "And this sucker Modell has snatched that away from me. When you have grown men crying about a football team, you can't say it's only about sports. It goes way deeper than that. You ask why we still go to games, even though they're leaving? Because it's who we are. Football is in our blood. The Cleveland Browns are in our blood."
"As I view it," says the next caller, who doesn't give his name, "Art Modell has murdered my memories. He's murdered a friend. I'm going to [Sunday's] game even though I know my money goes straight into Modell's pocket. But I'm not going for him. I'm going for my father, who raised me on the Cleveland Browns. I'm going for [former quarterback] Bernie Kosar, who cried when he had to leave the Cleveland Browns. I'm going to see a friend. And to pay my last respects."
Have you noticed? Every one of the aforementioned fans grieved as though he or she had lost family. And now you know what the game means in this part of the country. Now you know why the grown men cry.
And cry they do. For 18 years Thompson has been a Brown season-ticket holder. For the last 10 he has also been Big Dawg, the most visible—and not just because he's 5'11" and 385 pounds—Brown fan in a world full of Brown fans.
Last edited by RedBlackAttack : 11-19-2009 at 02:15 AM.