How to cheer for a perennial loser? Ask a Browns fan

Cleveland Browns fans look on from the stands during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013. (Tony Dejak/AP)

This story originally appeared as part of the How-To package in the March issue of Sportsnet magazine.

MARK LLOYD is a businessman with a Ph.D. in political philosophy. He’s also a lifelong Browns fan. (Guess it’s true—you really can’t have it all.) The 46-year-old lives in Toronto, but he was born and raised in Cleveland, and he makes the four-hour drive every game day. He knows as well as anyone how to keep the home fires burning long after the house itself is in ashes on the ground.

“All my early memories are Browns memories. Red Right 88 [the infamous play that knocked the Browns out of the playoffs in 1981]. I’m nine years old watching on the TV in my pajamas on the coldest day ever when Brian Sipe throws the interception, and my heart is broken.

“We always expect to lose. This franchise is utterly incompetent, right? It’s like a hollowed-out state. They can’t touch anything without it falling to pieces. The bad decisions are unbelievable. Josh Gordon got suspended for a year for marijuana, which is so perfect—he’s the best wide receiver maybe in the history of the franchise, the most sensational player that the Browns have had in the expansion era, and he can’t stay sober enough to stay on the field. When we drafted [Johnny] Manziel, I knew it was risky. But it comes on the heels of all this drug stuff with Gordon. I didn’t think it could really happen twice in a row that a player would throw away his career.

Johnny Manziel of the Cleveland Browns. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Johnny Manziel of the Cleveland Browns. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

“This is the low point for me as a fan. This is the first year I’ve ever watched another game while the Browns were playing; it was only one half in week 15, but still. I’m getting rid of two of my three pairs of season tickets and only keeping the best pair. But there’s no chance I’m giving up. I couldn’t not be a fan of Cleveland professional football. Football is kind of tribal that way. When I’m in Cleveland, on an NFL football Browns Sunday, I’m in Cleveland for the most important time in Cleveland.

“You don’t get to choose your family. You stick with them even if they’re a bunch of losers. I guess on some level, I realize it reflects well on me that I’m loyal. I don’t abandon people when they’re failing. Optimism is important. I mean, it’s extremely unlikely that any team could be as bad as the Browns. And as much as I’m as demoralized as I’ve ever been, I still think the next 10 years will be better.

“I used to dream of the Browns going to the Super Bowl. In 2014, they were 6-3 at one point, OK? They were 7-4! That was so much fun. I booked a hotel room in the Phoenix area for the Super Bowl, just in case. Just in case! I did. I know. That used to be my aspiration. Now my hope is that they can get into the playoffs, get the wild-card berth and go one and done. That’ll be my Super Bowl. So, lower your expectations. That’s important.”

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