The following is an oral history of events that took place between 1995 and 1996 between four grown-ass adults in or near the city of Cleveland. In the tradition of oral histories, The Prompt has decided not to edit, censor, or fact check these accounts. They are presented here without agenda or context. Go Browns.
They were hard times, everyone will tell you. D’ya remember what it was like? Sawing your seats outta the stadium? We wasn’t much, we’d no illusions about nuthin’. But we was Browns fans. That’s for sure.
Must’ve been late ‘95, early ‘96 when I thought of it. I got the guys together. My mother used to make the most amazing cannelloni. She grew up Polish-Italian, food was important. Still is.
So I says to my guys, I says, “Why don’t you guys come over, my ma’s cooking, and we’ll catch up.” And that’s when I pitched it to them.
Jerry had that vanity plate since it became available. He says the previous owner assaulted him in front of a rack of Docker’s at a Dillard’s one spring. I never believed him. Seemed too specific a story. He always wanted to prove how important that thing made him.
Randy’d always wanted that vanity. There was some old beef between him and Jerry. Something about a card game and a bet. I think Jerry won it from Randy during one of our poker games. But I was always drunk back then. Had a big drinking problem. Still do. It’s inactive these days.
How’d you hear ’bout Dillard’s? Was it Tina? She’s always talking ‘bout me. Yeah, it was no big deal. I was trying on some Arizona jeans. Had come out of the dressing room to show Tina, ya know, cuz it’d be weird if she came back there with me, ya know, to the dressing room. Like people’d be thinking we were doing it or something, and I don’t like people getting the wrong idea. I mean, not in a Dillard’s. A JC Penney maybe.
So I was sitting there. Homemade cannelloni in my belly, and I’d had the speech planned out, had gestures and everything. I’d heard that you needed to practice that stuff in front of the mirror, so that’s what I’s done. I started by pushing my plate away, “Guys,” I says, “Guys, why don’t we have our Browns no more?”
Jerry thought the plate made him a big shot. But nobody cared. It wasn’t like that Witness car that one kid had for LeBron, remember that? No, it was nothing like that. Just a Chevy. Nobody cared that much. ‘Cept for Randy. He was obsessed.
But I was sober for the game we played when we made the pact. I thought it was a ploy by Randy to get the car back. Never thought Jerry’d agree. But maybe he was having a good night, I can’t remember that part.
So I stood there asking Tina what she thought, and this big guy comes over and asked if I had the Chevy with the “Go Browns” license plate on it. This was before Modell fucked us.
Editor’s Note: Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, announced that he would move the team to Baltimore in 1995, breaking his stadium lease with the city, many verbal promises, and the hearts of children across the globe. He is regarded by northeast Ohio, if not the entire Universe, as the worst human to live.
It ain’t cuz we don’t love ‘em. It ain’t cuz we haven’t gone to games. It’s cuz the Devil’s got it in his mind to destroy northeast Ohio. First, he had Stipe throw that intercept on Red Right 88. Then he had Elway drive the Broncos all the way from the one. And then next year, when it looked like we finally had it, Byner fumbled… But now he’s here to kill us, he’s come for our heart and soul.
So Randy finally gets Jerry to lend him his car one day. I can’t remember what it was for—pick up his girl from work, buy some mulch from Stambaugh’s, I dunno. Some errand. He calls us up that night. There wasn’t any three-way calling back then. Just one-on-one landline. So I get this call and Randy’s giddy, I figure he’s high or something.
Well then I says, “Why don’t we all get to borrow the car. Drive it around. The Browns had belonged to all of us.” Something like that.
So the big guy says, “Is that your car?” And I says, “Yeah.” And he says, “Fuck yeah, man.” Gives me this skin-smacking high five. Then he asked me how much. I said it wasn’t for sale. He says, come on, it was his once. And I says, even so, I didn’t think the DMV would allow it. He nodded and walked away.
“The only way we can fight the Devil is through grit. Like what Earnest Byner showed us. Fight and grit.” I swear they were all cryin’. All four of ‘em. Even my mother, may she rest in peace.
So Randy says—and I can barely hear him cuz I got Jeopardy on and it’s already round two, you know, where the answers are worth double? He says he was downtown and a mob surrounded his car barking and chanting “Go Browns!” And I says you get outta there alright, you know, concerned for the guy. But he doesn’t understand the question or hear me. He says he was at the grocery store and people kept barking at him.
Well Jerry didn’t like the idea of all of us getting to drive his Chevy. I don’t think he was worried about my suspended license—I don’t think I’d mentioned it. I think he was more concerned about Scott using it to pick up underage girls or something.
But I had a lot of great memories with that car. So I wasn’t surprised when Randy started getting all this attention with it. I’d let him take the car—his was in the shop or something. I think he was at a grocery store and the local news was there, you know, interviewing people about the team leaving. And up he pulls—orange Chevy with those block letters on an Ohio plate. The whole block went nuts. Was on the eleven o’clock news.
So I worked it out that we’d each take the car round the city and honk at large gatherings of people. The four of us worked ‘round the clock. ‘Cuz to rid the Devil, to really cleanse the city, we had to be omna-present, right? That was how I got on the news.
He insisted that each of us take the car, try to use it to build support to stop the move. Well, I’d been laid off and had nothing better to do. Next day, I drove it to one of those rallies. Cops wouldn’t do nuthin’ to ya back then, not for rallying for the team. Browns meant that much to everyone. Anyways, I made it onto the news, saying something like, “This car is Cleveland’s car cuz it’s all we have left of our team.” I’s never good at speaking.
Jerry finally agreed that we could each take it to one rally. The goal was to get on the news every night. And maybe it could’ve become something more, but I was a little self-destructive back then.
I was getting calls left and right—could the car come to this business opening, could it come to this political rally. I had the governor calling me, begging me—“Come down to Columbus,” he said. I’d have gotten him to waive my taxes for life if it wasn’t for those cops in Maryland.
After my interview, I had calls from all these famous people. Jerry Springer, Al Roker, Cher. They found our message of hope so moving. I truly believe we coulda stopped the move. If only we had a few more days.
I dropped the car off at Jerry’s that night and we had a beer and he popped in a tape to record the news. You ever have an outta body experience? Well I had one then. I sat there and watched that interview, and it was like I was watching the President. Except it was me there on the TV. When I left his house that night, I like to think I kissed the car and thanked it, ‘cuz it really did change my life. But that was the last time I saw it.
So finally it’s my turn to take the car out. Randy had mentioned that there was a rally near the Muni lot. But I’d known that such small displays wouldn’t do much.
I got the call that afternoon. Maryland State Police. Guy asked me a ton of questions, you know, was it my car, had I lent it out, trying to see if Al had stolen the thing. And I says no he had my permission because, one, it was the truth, two, he was my friend, and three, fuck you you’re taking our team you fucking cop.
I wasn’t sure how Maryland fit into this. They’re always getting involved in things that aren’t their business. So the guy tells me, Al’d crashed my car into a bank. Totaled it.
The day Al totaled the car, I cried like a puppy that lost its mom. I mean, first they take our Browns and now they take our hope. Man, the Devil’s a dangerous enemy. He’ll get you. Right at your best moment, he’ll get you.
Maybe it wasn’t just seeing myself in the news. Maybe it was also seeing Al go to jail for something so stupid. That’s when I decided to leave Cleveland. I had to do it. Didn’t take no time, either. Found an IT job in Pittsburgh. Good pay too. And THEY still had football.
I don’t remember much about that day. Only a sense that I was driving to Baltimore to talk some sense into those people. I mean, this was no better than what Indianapolis done to them. Worse! I can’t even remember getting in the car. Woke up one day in a jail cell and that was it.
I asked them if I could get the car back or at least the license plate, but they told me it’s already been sent to the junkyard. I tried to get the plates again, you know, ‘cuz they’re supposed to be yours for a certain amount of time. But when I called the DMV, they said the plate had been re-classified or something, and it needed to go to auction. And let me tell you, that system is rigged. I didn’t even bother to go. I looked it up later. Plate went for something like a few thousand.
I tried to pool our money. Started standing on corners with a sign cuz back then you didn’t have the GoMoneyMe sites. Got a few bucks outta it, but not much. Didn’t matter anyway. Fix was in as soon as them government officials got involved. Went to some guy in Shaker Heights. Probably never been to a game in his life.
I still dream about those plates, how it really brought the city together, even if only for a few days. Haven’t had something like that since. World Series, LeBron, Johnny Football. But nothing like those last days of being a Browns fan.