There have been two episodes so far of this season’s HBO series Hard Knocks, a show where HBO cameras follow an entire NFL team around for the preseason and edit the dull and repetitive into an hour of reality television.  This Browns fan has watched both episodes so far, and the experience has been . . . difficult.

I’ve been a Cleveland Browns fan for as long as I can remember.  I know, I know, you feel sorry for me. It hasn’t always been bad.  If you know your Browns history, you know about Bernie Kosar and how close we came to the Super Bowl – three times.  Stopped by Denver, of course, three times. Then they left, and won the Super Bowl in only a few years (as the Baltimore Ravens), with some of the same people who had been Browns.

Anyway, being a Browns fan is about having hope.  And a thick skin. That’s something that non-Browns fans don’t always understand.  We develop a kind of selective hearing. It’s easy for us to tune out for a year, or a decade, while the team is slumped.  When something good happens, we’re on the bandwagon. We’re a little hesitant – it’s a bad idea to buy a Browns quarterback jersey, for example, unless you find one on clearance – but we celebrate pretty big.

The danger of Hard Knocks is how it gets under that skin.  For example, we’re suddenly aware of an unknown tight end named Devon Cajuste.  He’s a so-so football player who has struggled to make an NFL team for several years.  He’s currently at training camp with the Browns. I don’t know if this guy has a chance to make the team, but after watching him explain how his father motivates him, how his father’s health has been up and down for years, and that stupid whistle they do . . . In the second preseason game, when Baker Mayfield connects with Cajuste for a big gain, it’s huge.  I’m jumping up and down inside for this guy. In a few plays, when a touchdown is called back because of a pass interference call – on Cajuste – it’s a punch in the face. That thick skin doesn’t help anymore.

Corey Coleman is another example.  I liked this guy when he was first drafted, and I felt that he showed that the Browns wanted some “razzle dazzle.”  When he dropped some passes and got injured, I looked the other way. I hoped for and expected better, with a better quarterback and time to adjust.  Here in his third season, Hard Knocks made him look weak.  His shoe collection looked ridiculous.  (He even apparently made a mistake identifying his favorite shoe.)  Now, I’m not sure how I feel about this guy.

Hard Knocks brings us closer to the people who play this game, and that could be a great thing.  Or, if the Browns find a way to fail again, it could make the usual disaster into a human tragedy.  Viewer beware.

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