About midway through the third quarter of the Monday-night debacle, Brady Quinn threw a screen pass to some receiver for some inconsequential number of yards. I can’t really go into detail since each play from scrimmage, both in style and yardage, was indistinguishable from the last. Boos rained down from the crowd, which was to be expected. Then a Browns winter hat came flying from about 10 rows up in section 349, sailing over the railing to the seats below. A fight? Someone throwing his friend’s hat for fun?
Nope. As everyone turned around to see where the midair millinery had come from, there — standing on a concrete platform — was an older gentleman with gray hair. He had clearly launched the hat himself in disgust. As if pausing for maximum dramatic effect, he waited until the crowd had turned around before defiantly thrusting his right arm toward the field, pointing and screaming, “Youuuuuuuuuuu suck!” Then he marched out in a manner that called for an invisible cartoon bubble above his head reading “Harumph, harumph.”
I was struck by his willingness to chuck something he spent money on just because it bore the Browns’ logo, even if it was just a $10-$15 hat. And it got me thinking about Browns jerseys. I spent a good deal of the third quarter scanning the stands for them — obviously, there wasn’t much else to watch. Which got me thinking about Confessions of a Shopaholic and the “girl in the green scarf” and her essay on investment. Which got me thinking that between football teams and movies, I need to seriously reevaluate my entertainment choices.
Anyway, the result of these idle thoughts, beside mentally protecting myself from watching another screen pass, was the decision that the Browns have to top the unofficial Number of Different Players Represented by Jerseys in the Stands rankings. There was an Antonio Langham jersey in the row ahead of me, a Daylon McCutcheon in the concourse. There’s too little space to rattle off the litany of different jerseys that have littered the stands over the past decade. We’d need the whole paper to do that. That’s what happens when you sign free agents with all the calculation you use to select off Taco Bell’s drive-thru menu, run through a dozen quarterbacks, waste virtually every draft pick and cut or trade anyone who might entice a fan to buy a jersey. It means the only fans looking good are the ones donning Kosar, Matthews, Slaughter or Brown. Thomas and Cribbs are the only current respectable choices. Hell, I saw a Tupa jersey in the Muni Lot and thought it was cool.
You would think that parading a colossal failure of an NFL franchise on the field every Sunday would deter Browns fans from forking over their cash for jerseys. But you’d be wrong. Although the NFL doesn’t release full merchandise sales, an Akron Beacon Journal report in December of 2008 said: “Despite the losing record, Browns merchandise sales actually were up this year compared with last year at NFLShop.com, the official merchandising website of the National Football League, according to the league.
“The Browns ranked ‘in the middle third’ of team merchandise sales on the website from April 1 through Dec. 29, NFL spokeswoman Joanna Hunter said.”
What’s that mean? It means that by purchasing a Browns jersey, fans aren’t supporting just one local organization. They’re also supporting, by proxy, Duck Brand Duct Tape. I saw plenty of Winslow jerseys around the stadium yesterday, and more than a handful used tape to turn the nameplate into “Win,” including one that read “WinPlease.” Couch jerseys become “Ouch.” Old Courtney Brown jerseys become “Browns.” And there’s the well-known Couch jersey that a fan has made an ode to the franchise’s suckitude by listing on the back with tape and a marker all 13 quarterbacks of the expansion era.
Across the region, closets and thrift stores are filled with awful memories — jerseys that make you wince like your ex-girlfriend's shirt that she left at your place right before she walked out on you, and right after she kicked you in the nuts. Like we need that, as if the Browns excremental existence wasn't made stark enough by simple wins and losses. Hey, look! There’s Reuben Droughns! There’s Willie Green! Surprised there hasn’t been a movement for a jersey bonfire yet. (Hey, Dawg Pound Mike, protest idea! Go get ’em, champ!)
So, Mr. Lerner, Mr. Mangini (if you’re still around next year): When you go looking for free agents this off-season and examining who the Browns will draft, please remember that we fans don’t have a ton of expendable income to be dropping on jerseys year after year as players disappear and move on. In the interest of letting us buy a jersey we can wear with pride for more than a season, in the interest of letting us use our creativity through tape some more, please see if you can acquire a player with the last name of Fernlerner or Funnamangini. That would help a lot. Thanks.