"If the crux of ardent fanhood holds a touch or more of madness, then Cleveland fanhood is a bug eyed, shit smeared lunatic, howling for a God who's never going to come."
Scott Raab, The Whore Of Akron
"It's easy to win. Anybody can win.”
Philip K. Dick, Scanner Darkly
What does it mean when the awfulness of the only team you've ever truly loved is so apparent that their unrelenting shittiness is considered a fitting premise for a film? When their incompetence is so taken for granted that the feelings that others hold for your team have moved past derision into the realms of condescension and finally, most terribly, pity. This was a question I had cause to contemplate as I waited in line to purchase my ticket for Draft Day, a movie whose entire plot is set upon the crux of how much The Browns suck at football.
Not that I had cause for a lot of hope going in. Kevin Costner hasn't exactly been raking in the quality scripts lately and by my count Ivan Reitman hasn't made a watchable film in twenty years. Ghostbusters notwithstanding I don't have the affection for his earlier work that others of my generation have (surely I cannot be the only one who thinks that Meatballs would work much better without the bizarrely prolonged quasi rape scene). But one's team is not the subject of a film everyday and I'm nothing if not loyal.
For years I've answered questions about The Browns with a sheepish grin and a quick change of subject (but always honestly). When pressed on why I'll say something about growing up watching them. That is only a half truth.
Because I really didn't start to enjoy watching football until my late teens. So the post season contending "cardiac kids" of the late eighties were never a conscience memory for me. What is a conscience memory are the nineteen starting quarterbacks we've had since the reformation (count 'em). It's watching with a slack jaw as Jeff Garcia whipped the ball into a referee's crotch with sniper's precision and force. It's Brandon Weeden managing to trap himself under a giant American flag during the pregame. It's having my heart broken watching Jim Brown: All American as the documentary about the greatest player ever to wear a Browns uniform opened with Brown giving a pep talk to the Baltimore Ravens and declaring that Art Modell, AKA the worst man who ever lived, should immediately be inducted into the hall of fame. It's watching Peyton Manning throw a game to get home field advantage in the post season, keeping us out of the playoffs with a 10-6 record in the process. It's watching hyped saviors without number be they Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards, Brady Quinn or Peyton Hillis all fail to deliver and implode spectacularly. It's about watching Mike Holmgren suck salary as a GM, doing about as much to earn it as a statue of a walrus carved from platinum would have. It's about a never ending litany of, "Holy shit what's next?"
Most of all it's never giving up hope in all that time. Never being content to be the lovable losers, (as one friend has been known to growl between quarters, "We're not the fucking Cubs"). We go into every season genuinely believing that it will be different this year, or at least there's a chance it will be.
So why do I do it to myself?
In part I watch The Browns because it connects me to Cleveland. A city I love but will never truly be a part of. I've spent enough time there to have it permanently influence who I am (not to mention instill a life long craving of Swenson's Galleyboys). Though many of the people I have loved the most in my life live and have died there, it will never be home the way that California, or even Austin is. I go there as a welcomed outsider and when I do visit it's almost as if I spend my time looking for an alternate universe version of myself; one that I am keenly in tune with every Sunday in the fall. Or maybe I can't help but relate to something that has been on the receiving end of so much love and support and yet never comes within swiping distance of achieving its full potential.
I watch The Browns because it's taught me the value of loving something that doesn't love you back. Something that doesn't make its rewards immediately evident. The love of a fan that has never been tested is a poor and brittle thing. Dynasties are pumped up by fair weather fans and bandwagoners. Anyone can love a winner; it takes character to do the other thing. It takes pride to love something that long. There are of course the fleeting moments of glory and the friendships one makes with fellow expats and true believers. In other words I'd say being a Browns fan has done me good and will do me good and I saw God bless it. Keep your humbugs I will stay with Dayenu.
Draft Day gets that. I don't want to oversell the movie. It's less the kind of film that will blow you away as it is the kind that will pleasantly surprise you on cable or netflix, its pleasures are modest. Modest but real, it's the good Kevin Costner who's shown up this time, grumpy, stoic but charming and Jennifer Garner and Dennis Leary both make surprisingly good foils for him. The movie has a deep bench as they say, with an enjoyable ensemble populated by the likes of Frank Langella, Terry Crews, Pat Healy, Chadwick Boseman, Ellen Burstyn, Sam Elliott. Hell even Diddy and Tom Welling acquit themselves well. The script is filled with a few exchanges that really crackle and Reitman mostly gets out of their way, shooting in two shots and editing to their rhythm (only a few distractingly permeable split screens spoil the effect). Reitman shoots Cleveland without indulging in rust belt condescension, or trying to glamour it up. A montage set to a sports radio, starting with the team's extending to the hopeful of today sums it up beautifully.
Draft Day may ultimately be nothing more than comfort food for fans who need it ("I cried like six times," said the friend I went with, I suspect he was only half joking). Nothing more than a fantasy. But it is a fantasy that looks appealingly achievable. I know the day is coming. I'll be waiting for it this Autumn and the next and the next.