With a laughable loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ backups in Week 17, the Cleveland Browns joined the 2008 Detroit Lions in an exclusive club: They became only the second NFL team to finish a regular season 0-16 since the league expanded its schedule in 1978. It was an utterly perfect season of utter imperfection and, as Browns fans would have it, cause for celebration.
On Jan. 6, plenty of fans—some clad in paper bags—gathered in the downtown Cleveland core for a parade to memorialize the season that was in Cleveland Browns football.
No jeer was off-limits, as fans’ signs highlighted everything from the team’s poor ownership and management to the dozens of quarterbacks behind centre in the last 20 years. One truck carried a toilet along to equate the Browns to fecal matter.
After a miserable season, fans had gathered to enjoy themselves and mock the laughing-stock reputation that has plagued their beloved franchise for over the past decade. Unfortunately, several Browns players were hurt by the event.
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and nose tackle Danny Shelton took to Twitter to voice their disappointment, calling into question the veracity of the Browns fanbase.
“That parade is a joke don’t call yourself a true Browns fan if you go to that thing,” Ogbah wrote.
Shelton added that it’s “funny how these ‘fans’ will be the ones to say ‘i am a die hard browns fan’ but fans don’t disrespect their home team.”
Sure, going 0-16 is a near-torturous experience to the ultra-competitive athletes involved in each loss. They have a right to be annoyed or embarrassed, but fans shouldn’t be reprimanded for having a little fun. When games became miserable to watch, they could have turned off their televisions. But, instead, it’s truly remarkable that Browns supporters continued to tune in game after game, showing their dedication to a franchise that has won only a single game in the past two seasons, and has had only two winning records since 1999.
By parading through the streets, the fans employed their unique ability to turn dreadful misery into entertainment. That’s what professional sport is, after all—entertainment. As Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown told The Guardian on Jan. 9, sports can act as a mechanism of control in society.
“If people didn’t have sports they would be a lot more disappointed with their role in society,” Brown said. “Sports is a way to channel our energy into something positive”.
When the sports on television became less of an escape than they used to be, Browns fans channeled their energy into something positive: A glorious and fun celebration of a difficult season.
The Browns may be a running punchline in the football community, but their fans have developed an endearing sense of humour about the whole thing. Their supporters are great because they embrace their team’s imperfections head on: Because they parade in the Cleveland cold after an 0-16 season. Even better, they’ve already scheduled their Super Bowl parade for 2033—leaving plenty of time to add names to the infamous Browns quarterbacks jersey.
In addition to all the fun media coverage, some good came out of the day, too. Fans raised over $17,000 for a Cleveland food bank and additional non-perishable food items donated will add to a total of over 70,000 meals provided to the community. Maybe Browns fans do have a win to celebrate this season, after all.