A surprising buzz has been building around the Cleveland Browns for months now.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com picked the Browns as one of four teams that will surprise NFL fans this year, and predicted they would finish second behind the Steelers in the AFC North.
Marc Sessler of NFL.com picked the Browns to go to the playoffs. This year. His reasons might even be convincing – quarterbacks who might actually play well, skill at key positions, a strong defense (led by Myles Garrett), and a weakening division.
I think most people don’t believe it, though. If it were a matter of public opinion, the Browns would have already been relegated, English-Premier-League style, to Division 3 college football. They are (or they were) perhaps the biggest joke in professional sports.
That kind of reputation doesn’t fade with a few articles, or even an HBO circus.
I have been riding high on the positive talk lately. However a chat with an older acquaintance of mine brought this hard reality back to me.
“What’s up with Baker Mayfield?” the older acquaintance asked me, referring to the Browns third preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. “He looked terrible. He looked like he couldn’t even complete a pass.” For the record, Mayfield was 8 for 12 on passing in that game, with a 66.6% completion percentage. That’s the same percentage as Tom Brady and Cam Newton in their third preseason game, for example.
The Twitter hate was unrelenting during that third game, which garnered more than the usual attention due to its national audience on Fox and the fact that it was against the defending Super Bowl champion. Here are some typical comments:
- “Philadelphia is playing so bad that they’re making Cleveland look good, and that’s hard to do.” – @chris_drop
- “Wow, the NFL really does have a D-league.” – @xLeeshaSx
- “The Cleveland Browns are a hot mess.” – @peepthisgal
- “The Factory of Sadness is re-open for business.” @2ndclarence
I’m a Browns fan, so of course I’m biased. But it hurts when your team has a chance, and so many people aren’t willing to listen. This is where Hard Knocks helps. The polished narrative they are making of a messy training camp is helping people see the Browns as more than “The Factory of Sadness” or “The Mistake on the Lake.” Hue Jackson has fans outside of his team, and I think fewer people are demanding his immediate firing.
I think we want to believe that our conversations about sports matter. That cheering for our team helps our team win. Perhaps it does help a little, if the athletes see and hear our support and try a little harder or longer because of it. Perhaps changing enough minds about the Browns can help change the way they play.
Or perhaps not. Cleveland has a long, challenging season ahead of them, and this Browns fan is hopeful. But he’s also, of course, a Browns fan.
Ben Kuhlman is a Cleveland Browns writer for Full Press Coverage. So follow him on twitter @bkuhl2you