*Re-posted from BenThere_DoneThat's Blog:
Caution: nostalgic reminiscing ahead:
I grew up with an intense dislike for the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills. I'm from "north" northwest PA, near that little northern tip that touches Lake Erie. Geographically, we were as close to Cleveland and Buffalo as we were to Pittsburgh... so the fan bases for all 3 teams were about equal. When the Steelers hit the skids in the 80's and early 90's... the Browns and Bills were STRONG. We Steelers faithful took some abuse. Some even converted. Dark days, indeed.
Then Art Modell took the Browns to Baltimore. He just stole them away in the mile of the night... like the Irsays did to Baltimore, when they moved the Colts to Indianapolis. This wasn't like the Houston Oilers, who had entirely lost their support, moving to Tennessee. Browns fans were rabid... and loyal. At the time, the Browns were second only to the Steelers in nationwide fans base... even bigger than the Cowboys. It would be like stealing away the Bears, Packers, or... dare I say... Steelers. It was horrifying to all fans that loved and understood the game. But for Browns fans...it was devastating.
Browns fans were shocked... hurt... confused... and lost. What were they supposed to do next year? The NFL promised emergency expansion, but there would be at least one season with no Cleveland Browns. Fans packed away their pennants. They threw away their jerseys emblazoned with the names of players who were all now "Ravens"... and weighed their options. Since the Ravens stayed in the same division, some Browns fans became honorary Steelers fans, mostly out of spite. But others couldn't overcome the years of animosity and rivalry. Bears fans... try to imagine becoming overnight Packers fans... or vice-versa. Some of those that couldn't overcome the rivalry remained loyal to Ohio, and became Bengals fans... thereby still supporting a Ravens divisional opponent. And some chose to support the powerhouse Bills... from right across Lake Erie. Meanwhile, the Cleveland mayor and city council sued to retain the Browns identity and history.
Cleveland got their team back via NFL expansion. Their fans didn't complain... expansion Browns were better than no Browns. But they weren't THE Browns. The weren't Paul Brown's Browns. They weren't Jim Brown's Browns. They weren't the Cardiac Kids who had lost to Elway and the Broncos on "The Fumble" and "The Drive". They were just a team... from Cleveland... with similar uniforms. But hey... still better than nothing! Then the Ravens (former Browns) won the Super Bowl they never reached in Cleveland. Talk about a slap in the face. Oh, brother... if ever a fan base could hate an NFL team... Browns fans HATE the Ravens.
And Bills fans? After decades of chronic underachievement, the Bills went to 4 consecutive Super Bowls. Sure... they lost them all, but the Bills were at the top of the NFL radar. After decades of being less than an afterthought, the Bills and their fans were relevant to EVERY football conversation. The Bills got the sort of media attention that the Colts and Pats get now. It was finally GREAT to be a Bills fan! TRUE lifelong Patriots fans... you know how good that feels.
Jim Kelley, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Don Beebe, Steve Tasker, Bruce Smith, and Marv Levy. They were a dynasty, even if they never brought home a Lombardi Trophy. At the very least, they were Buffalo icons. And then... suddenly, it seemed... it all changed. After a week of trash-talking in the media... and joking about how they were looking forward to padding their stats... the Bills went into Pittsburgh on a Monday night and got absolutely pounded. Kelley, Thomas, Reed, and Beebe finished the game from the bench with various injuries. Marv Levy looked lost and baffled. And the Bills began a slow drift back into NFL irrelevance.
To me, the big story of this Sunday's Bills-Browns game isn't the final score. It's Week 15 of the regular season, and this game REALLY matters. In a way, it's alreay a victory for both teams... and especially their fans... because the game is relevant. It's great to see, because it's good for the game. Congratulations Bills and Browns... and fans. Your patience and perseverence are being rewarded. And to the other long-suffering teams out there... see?... it CAN happen. Keep the faith!