A Buc Christmas in Cleveland
Christmas in Cleveland is a phrase that never really caught on in the American holiday lexicon. Ironically though it should considering one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made, “A Christmas Story” was filmed in Cleveland. When little Ralphie asks for an official Red Ryder BB gun, he’s asking for one not far away from where the Browns and Bucs played this past Christmas Eve.
Now that I live in Boardman, Ohio (motto: Bernie Kosar lived here) I am not very far away from Cleveland. When a chance to buy tickets for the Bucs-Browns game came up, I leapt at it. Instead of church my wife and I spent Christmas Eve at Cleveland Browns Stadium to cheer on the Bucs as they battled the Browns in a match-up that was frighteningly close to REPUS Bowl proportions.
I don’t know what kind of penance is in store for me due to missing mass on Christmas Eve, but hey the Bucs don’t come to Northeast Ohio all that often. In fact this was their first trip to Cleveland Browns Stadium as their last game in 1995 was played against the old-Browns at the departed Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
First off let me defend Cleveland. I actually have come to love the city that most in America still refer to as the “Mistake by the Lake.” Granted the Cuyahoga River did once catch fire, but that was a long, long time ago. I invite any of you who can to stop by the city and see what it has to offer.
Cleveland is actually a vibrant city with a beautiful downtown, a great waterfront and a baseball team that has become the second biggest sports obsession to me behind the Bucs, the Cleveland Indians. It is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which is just about the nicest museum one can go to.
We started the day walking all around Cleveland Browns Stadium which is one of the largest in the NFL. This was my second time in the stadium and it really takes your breath away. A double-decker bowl right on Lake Erie, next door to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Browns Stadium can only be visited in December by fans that are either of strong constitutions or highly inebriated.
The wind blowing off the Great Lakes will go right through you unless you are stout of heart or full of stout. I proudly sported my Hardy Nickerson model Buccaneer jersey but did so over about twenty-seven layers of clothing.
The temperature was not so bad, only in the mid-thirties, but if you were caught by the wind it felt much, much worse. My wife and I had lunch before kick-off in one of the many enclosed concession areas and partook in a pre-game concert hosted by WMMS-FM, one of the most famous rock and roll stations in the country. We engaged in some good-natured ribbing with Browns fans and then took our seats.
We were located several rows behind the famous Dawg Pound section in the end zone. The Dawg Pound is known for its passionate fans that are decked out in all sorts of crazy canine outfits. This is the group that became known for throwing dog biscuits at opposing players when the Browns were really in their heyday, the mid 1980’s. I have to admit I was very impressed with the passion with which Cleveland fans support their team.
The match-up between two lower tier teams on Christmas Eve during cold weather wouldn’t make one expect a sell-out, but the stadium was full and when the Browns were introduced there was one deafening roar. I have a lot of respect for Cleveland fans because as bad as Hugh Culverhouse was at least he never stole the team from the community the way Art Modell did in the mid 1990’s. It says a lot for the fans of Cleveland that they insisted that the team name and colors not be allowed to follow Modell to Baltimore. Cleveland is truly a football town and the love they have for the Browns is quite a sight to behold.
The game itself was fun for me as a Buccaneer fan but far from an artistic masterpiece. Tim Rattay played just well enough to lead several long drives, the defense remembered what it was like to hold onto interceptions and Derrick Brooks returned to form. In fact I was lucky to be directly in front of Brooks when he returned his game-clinching interception for a touchdown.
All in all it was a great experience at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Sadly, it will be eight more years until the Bucs return. Who knows where life will take Amy and I in the interim, but if we are still here in 2014 we will be right back at Cleveland Browns Stadium to root on the Buccaneers once more.