Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Just because you were born a fan and you have a ticket doesn’t make you one

As I write this column, it is Sunday about an hour before the first pitch of the Tribe game. My head hurts and I feel nauseous. And it is not because the Browns got blown-out by the Bengals.
In fact, the day started out great. The Browns organization tried to do right before the game. They remembered not only the victims of 9-11 and Katrina, but they honored local heroes as well.
Ten men were celebrated as part of the Hats Off to Heroes program including former North Olmsted resident Phil Batten. Each received a plaque from Jim Brown. It was stirring to see Middleburg Heights police officer Ryan Nagy walk on to the field after his horrific accident this summer where he was pinned between cars after a routine traffic stop.
And it was hard not to be emotional when the Browns arranged a video hook-up between Marine Eric Pentek and his family. You could see what it meant for his family to hear his voice and see his face. And it was awesome to hear the crowd roar their approval of Pentek thanking them for their support which he said allowed him the strength to do his duty.
And wasn't just the off field emotion, but the on the field excitement as well. Opening day in football isn't quite the holiday that baseball is, but the signs that the Browns are on the way back were there.
It was exciting to see Trent Dilfer explode through the tunnel when his name was announced. Reuben Droughns had a big run early. And it was almost magical when Dennis Northcutt appeared to break a long punt return. Football often is about hope and a reason for hope was there.
That is until the ugly side of the stadium came out. And I know it isn't fair to blame a building for the behavior of a few fans.
I was a vendor back at the old stadium, when vendors under the age of 21 weren't allowed in the Dawg Pound after kick-off. I have seen my share of Cleveland fandom at its worst.
Maybe I am finally getting old. Maybe this is the start of my decline of sports madness.
I started the game on the field. Here it is the first quarter of the first game, and after Northcutt's touchdown was called back-- the nastiness was on display. Two seats away from an eight year old, a man not just yelled at the official- he borderline assaulted him with his words. When photographers looked up at the intensity of the attack, the man seemed ready to take on all comers. His anger and spit combined with the language was a sight, I can't believe he didn't have a heart attack. A section over, a Bengal fan was singled out and serenaded with chants fit for the WWF and Vince McManon. And then there was the sign about Bengal quarterback Carson Palmer's mom's supposed preferences in bed. This is what Brownstown is? I headed for the press box.
Two years ago, I was in San Francisco for the game against the 49ers. I was appalled by the Browns fans behavior but I told myself that it was non-Clevelanders, mostly California Browns backers making a one time trip. The aggressive unsportsmanlike behavior took away much of my own desire to cheer. We were guests in another park and yet no one was serenading us with obscenities, the Brown and Orange took care of that themselves.
Here is the kicker, in the third quarter, I decided to leave the press box and visit some friends at their seats. I walking my way through the concourse and I looked down at my cell phone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it just in time, a drunken fan, angry the Browns were losing, decided to take what he saw as an easy mark. He nailed his elbow right between my neck and head.
It hurt and it still does. A fan of my own team randomly selected me for violence just because the Browns were losing and he was liquored up.
A cop came and questioned him and the "fan" responded by swearing at the cop and yet he was still sent on his way. I got no apology, no handshake - not even a name. The cop, who seemed like a nice guy, took my card and said to call him if I had to go to the hospital.
I didn't go-- I never do. I have had at least seven concussions in my life. Not much anyone can do for them especially with my insurance plan, except wait them out. Sometimes it takes a few hours for the headache to cease, sometimes months. Whether this was another or not, all I know is their toll is not fun. I have a scan of a spot on my brain and a memory retrieval process problem — with some really bad headaches to boot.
Violence brought on by alcohol at a Browns game is expected. Many of the stadium workers who witnessed this incident (and see something like it every game) seemed were more upset than I was about what happened.
I don't know if this is the start of my mid-life crisis or what. But even before this event, I have been asking myself why do I like sports? Why am I a Browns fan?
Is it because I was born one? Is that why you are a fan? Does that make it ok to get blasted and behave in a manner that would get you arrested in any other venue of life? I don’t understand paying so much for the PCL and the tickets then blacking out before the fourth quarter. That’s fun? At the very least, I doubt it makes you a super fan.
There has been a lot in the press lately about no one going to the Tribe games. And I have something to say about that. Some of the most die hard Tribe fans never go to games. They watch religiously every night on TV. Many senior citizens consider Tom Hamilton a member of the family for bringing baseball to life for them. Some of Cleveland’s most loyal fans never go to a home game.
WTAM's Kevin Keane told me that most knowledgeable sports fans never call his show. That they don't feel any need to so he gets stuck with the bottom feeders, who have the American League save leader Bob Wickman wondering if he wants to play next year. If you never leave your couch that doesn't make you any less a fan and don't let anyone else say otherwise. And on the flip side, getting liquored up and having season tickets-- doesn't make you a fan either.
Sports can build us up and it can break us down. But most of us don't use it as an excuse for violence. Maybe I have in the past, it seems sort of stupid doesn't it. Why bother with sports anymore?
Then after I finished most of this column, I got to see sports at its purest. The Indians scored ten runs in the first two innings. Those of us who have been paying attention have watched this team grow up before our eyes this season. They play the right way. Last night, the Jake was filled and the best team in the American League looked ready to emerge. Maybe I will stay on the couch or in the press box but I am not going to miss this ride.
It is a reminder of why I love sports, most of the time.