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A Browns fan's lament

January 8, 2012
By SHAUNNA DUNDER HERSHBERGER - Lifestyles Editor (sdunder@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

"You look ridiculous," my husband, Justin, informed me last Sunday.

I rolled my eyes. Sure, maybe prancing around the living room in my Browns jersey saying over and over, "Come on, come on, come ooooonnnnnn!" wasn't my normal behavior, but it wasn't ridiculous. In fact, I'd wager that his earlier Steelers-scored-a-touchdown-Terrible-Towel-waving dance was MUCH more ridiculous than my jumping up and down.

Welcome to a Browns versus Steelers Sunday in the Hershberger house. As a Browns fan, I pretty much anticipated an unfavorable outcome for my team. But as the game wound down, the Browns created some turnovers and put themselves into a position to actually win during the closing seconds.

"The worst thing about these turnovers," I frantically texted my sister and fellow Browns junkie, Rhonda, "Is that the offense had to take the field." My sister lives out of town and we have to "watch" the games together via text.

"I just said the same thing to my friends," she texted back.

We watched, hoping with a desperate fervor that the Browns could somehow, someway, miraculously beat our hated rival. But the last pass the Browns quarterback heaved into the endzone fell to the ground, and reality set in. I sighed. It was the result I'd expected, but it was more painful to lose that way than to get blown out.

But those are my Browns. I would expect nothing less.

I am so glad this football season is over (well, for me it is). To be honest, the season was over for the Browns after their deflating loss to the Bengals week one. Yeah, I know the Bengals made the playoffs and turned out to be a halfway decent team, but come on. It was still the Bengals. That loss just burst the bubble we Browns fans had for hope of a good year.

Such is the life of a Browns fan. It's like sitting at a table and watching everyone else eat homemade, fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies while you choke down a stale, store-bought Nilla Wafer. Technically we're all eating cookies, but the Nilla Wafer falls miserably short of the deliciousness of the chocolate chip cookie.

Several years ago, while my sister and I walked out of Cleveland Browns Stadium-disappointed as usual-we discussed the option of picking a new favorite team. We logically surmised that if we align ourselves with another team, perhaps there would be some universal shift in the fortunes of the Browns and they would start wining. All this by virtue of us not liking them anymore. But these were all just idle threats. Deep down, we bleed orange and brown.

We watched in sadness when Ernest Byner fumbled during the AFC Championship game. We cried when Denver's John Elway led a brilliant 4th quarter comeback in another AFC Championship game. We protested when then-Browns owner Art Modell opted to move the team to Baltimore. Other NFL fans can sing the woes of down years for your teams, but don't whine about it to Browns fans unless you can say you lost your team for three years.

Justin insists I just switch my allegiance to the Steelers. The Steelers, really? Why didn't he just suggest something else equally ridiculous, like offering to buy me a Baltimore Ravens jersey? Sorry, Justin, but I'm a diehard Browns fan to the end. Of course attending games helps deepen my love for the Browns, but one event in particular showed that the Browns actually cared about ME.

As I prepared myself to head to Morgantown for my stem cell transplant at the end of 2007, my sister and my cousin, Christina, were working behind my back. They wrote a letter to the Browns telling them about the journey I was about to begin and mailed it to the organization just before Christmas. It only took a week for the Browns to send a response-a box my sister brought to the house for me. Inside was a large team photo, a team media guide, a t-shirt, a license plate border and a hat autographed by one of the Browns starting safeties. But the best part was the letter inside. The letter thanked me for being a fan and that the team was "cheering me on" to good health and a complete recovery.

As you can imagine, I took quite a bit of ribbing in Morgantown for my Browns-themed room. "No wonder you're sick," one of the orderlies regularly teased me. But I didn't care. I enjoyed the decorations. They made me feel good-almost normal.

A few weeks in to my inpatient hospital stint, a new patient moved in to the room next to mine. He was a plastic surgeon at Ruby Hospital in Morgantown and was receiving a stem cell transplant from a donor. The donor was his brother, who, as fate would have it, was a doctor in Cleveland. Some of his regular patients included the children of longtime Browns kicker Phil Dawson. While I'd never actually met the doctor myself, I'd seen his wife pass by outside my door and we'd wave to each other. She stopped my mom in the hall one day and mentioned she'd told her husband about all my Browns stuff and that they were also fans.

I never thought much more about that until, after I was released from the hospital and home for a couple of days, I received a package from North Olmstead, Ohio. Who did I know in North Olmstead?

I opened the box and read the card on top. Inside, the card had my name at the top and the hand-written (not typed) message told me that they'd heard about me through their doctor friend. He'd told them about my Browns decorations and also that I'd had a transplant. They wished me a complete recovery and told me that I would be in their prayers. The card was signed "Shannon and Phil Dawson." Inside the box was a football autographed by Phil Dawson and a framed photo of Dawson, also signed by him with the message, "To Shaunna, Go Browns!"

You couldn't even begin to imagine how thrilled I was. But I think I was more touched than anything. How wonderful for two people who didn't even know me to take the time to send me a package that was guaranteed to brighten my spirits. I think it goes without saying, but that entire experience made me a Browns fan for life.

Today, I still have the football, hat and photo on display. I look at them often and think about how just a few nice gestures gave me such positive memories during a very difficult time in my life. And of course, when I look at them, I also longingly wish the Browns could somehow find their way back to the winner's circle. At this point, I'll even take a little bit of respectability. My wish is for an NFL where the Browns aren't the laughing stock and aren't everyone's punching bag.

Hey, it could happen. Next year could be our greatest season ever, but as is the luck of any Browns fan, we really will have the Apocalypse on Dec. 21, thus keeping the Browns (and everyone else, I suppose) out of the playoffs and the Super Bowl once again.

Sigh. Back to wishful thinking, and longing, until training camp. Hey, you with the chocolate chip cookie. You gonna eat that?

 
 

 

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