CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 13: Cleveland Browns fans react after their 13-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
The Cleveland Browns recently chose Josh Gordon in the NFL's Supplemental Draft. When the Browns chapter of SB Nation featured their story, unbelievably, the story was accompanied by a picture of Ike Taylor in the playoffs last season. Ike Taylor? Really? When I tuned into WKNR, the local Cleveland sports talk radio, to learn more about Gordon, there was a trivia segment called "Are you smarter than a Steelers fan?" The amount of obsessive hate that many Cleveland fans feel toward "outsiders," especially Pittsburgh, is really hard to comprehend. If you go to Dawgs By Nature (as I write this) you will see one recommended fanshot, and sure enough, it is their usual amount of vomit that they typically emit against the Steelers. Yes, we have a rivalry and I want to beat them every time we play, but I never saw a picture of a Cleveland player connected to one of our stories completely unrelated, and I never heard a Pittsburgh professional sports talk show ask about being "smarter than a Browns fan."
It was quite interesting to see the television ratings for the recent NBA Finals. Other than the markets home to the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, the highest-rated market in the country was Cleveland, which pulled an incredible 50 percent higher rating that the average for the rest of the country. No, Cleveland people weren't rooting for either team. More accurately, they were rooting against Miami. That's what has been trending in Cleveland for a long time. They "negative cheer" against others far more than they root for their own teams.
Haters hate, and in the City of Cleveland these days, hate is the sentiment du jour. During the most recent NFL playoff season, there were two fan bases that celebrated after each of the four NFL playoff weekends. One was the New York Giants, who of course won each of those four weeks, and the other was the Cleveland Browns, who celebrated someone else's pain. They were dancing in the streets when the Steelers lost to Denver as if somehow their team won. Facebooks, twitters, blogs, you name it, lit up with joy - not from their gain, but from someone else's loss. The next week Browns fans celebrated Denver's loss - remember they hate Denver from the Elway ‘80s. In Week Three, Clevelanders were thrilled to see Baltimore lose and then in the Super Bowl, fans were delighted to see Bill Belichick lose. The NFL playoffs unfolded beautifully for Cleveland people, and it had nothing to do with the Browns.
It's so rampant that even the Cleveland media has lowered themselves into the gutter. The lead writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer actually asked Mike Tomlin, "So when did James Harrison decide to become a headhunter," just two weeks after the Browns decided that Harrison's impact on Colt McCoy wasn't serious enough to keep him out of the game. How's that for a loaded question? When the Cleveland Cavaliers want to rouse their fans on the jumbotron, they show a picture of Ben Roethlisberger. How obsessively sick is that? In all my years of reading and listening to Pittsburgh media and professional sports teams, I have never seen or heard anything so pathetically unprofessional.
Certainly, within any fan base or large population of any kind, there are going to be idiots. There are going to be those outliers who do not represent the great majority. There are Pittsburgh fans that are an embarrassment to the team and city. But we are not talking here about anecdotal incidents or outliers that exist within any large population. We are talking about extensive, widespread hatred far beyond normal outliers. If any of you come in contact with any Cleveland Browns fan web site, fan Facebook or other such emailing or social networking, you will clearly see what I mean. The garbage spewed from Browns fans against the Pittsburgh Steelers is almost equal to the positive cheering of their own team. No matter what subject is discussed, invariably the Steelers will be brought into the discussion with hate, name-calling, jealousy, vindictive venom, you name it.
It's actually a brilliant strategy if you stop to think about it. If you root for your own team, like the rest of the country, you will lose much more than you will win. Every NFL franchise, no matter how successful, still suffers more heartbreaking playoff losses than championships. It's the law of averages. If there are eight superior NFL teams capable of winning a title, seven of the eight will fall short. Over time, you will still be heartbroken 88 percent of the time - even if you are among the top eight in the league. We certainly know that in Pittsburgh. They also know it in Baltimore, Green Bay, New England, New York, etc. But in Cleveland, they get to celebrate every year. Between Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England and Denver, at least three and probably all four of those teams will eventually lose. It's win-win-win for Browns fans. Give the Browns fans credit for having it all figured out. Hating others will bring about a much higher success rate than simply loving your own team.
Browns fans will justify all the venom by claiming the woes of the last 20 years, but really? Big Ben on the jumbotron at Cavs games? Professional media lowering themselves into the gutter? Web sites obsessed with Pittsburgh with such incredible hate? I vividly remember the 1960s when the tables were turned and recent 20-year history was reversed. I never witnessed anything close to the hate and angst that courses through the veins of Cleveland folks.