A deeper shade of brown

For three long years, Cleveland’s football fans waited anxiously, scorned lovers brooding while our only true love frolicked in Baltimore.

Then something amazing happened. A new lover appeared, one with a fresh spirit. Sure, she looked the same, but she carried herself with a new energy, a new vitality. And while she has a lot to learn about us, we’re patient. We’re loyal. And it is that deep, undying love that has astounded the players who wear the brown and orange.

Growing up in Cleveland, writer Scott Huler developed the passion that engulfed his father, uncle and brother. It is that continuing love affair that led Huler to write “On Being Brown,” a collection of essays and interviews with fans and former Browns players. SBN spoke with Huler, who now lives in Raleigh, N.C., for his thoughts on the return of the beloved team.

How long did it take for you to write this book?

It was one of the very first things I wanted to write about. As a writer, you write about what you care about. And this is something I cared about right from the start.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a computer that didn’t have a file on it called “On Being Brown.” From the mid-’80s, by the time I started using computers, I was writing about the Browns, trying to express this crazy connection that was there. And one thing led to another and I would write a little bit more and a little bit more and another fragment of this or that.

And then when the team died in ’95, I just spent a lot of months cursing myself out. “You idiot. Here you’ve had this pretty good idea for all these years, and you’ve blown it. Now the team is gone and you’ll never have a chance to write about them.” And then the team came back.

You use the word died when you talk about the team leaving in 1995. Was that what it felt like?

That’s an interesting perspective. I don’t know what the town went through, because I wasn’t here. I was in Raleigh, N.C. I know what I went through at the time was not really mourning so much as disgust.

I was just glad. I was like, “O.K., fine; I can quit watching this game. I’m tired of this business — the money and all that kind of stuff. I give up. Fine. I just got my Sunday afternoons back. I’m not going to sit around and mourn for football.”

And I think I even believed that for a while. But it eventually came back. I realized as soon as they made clear that they really were going to have another team, I knew that as soon as that team came back, I was theirs again — that they were going to own me.

What do you see as the significance of the return of the team to this town?

One thing that I found interviewing the guys that I did for the book was that they all, over and over said: “We were going out there and fighting for the honor of the city of Cleveland.” They really felt like this downtrodden little city where the river caught on fire, and the mayor’s head caught on fire, and ran out of money, and the business and industry left — well they’ve still got the Browns and we’re going to go out there and show everybody that Cleveland is second to none.

This is an amazing thing. There was that little blue-collar heritage. But if the team was to represent the city, what would it be? It would be a team that was really friendly to small business and supportive of entrepreneurial public/private investment.

Cleveland is changing so much. But I would think Cleveland would always treasure its blue-collar industrial heritage.

I think it’s so cool and I’m impressed by the spirit of the town. I think that fighting and getting the Browns back is a very Cleveland story. This is a town that’s sort of used to people trying to dump on them. And sometime in the ’80s, [we] sort of figured out we can just stand up on our hind legs and change it if we want to.

We changed our whole city; kicking the NFL’s butt was nothing for these guys. On Being Brown (Gray & Co. Publishers, $10.95 softcover, $18.95 hardcover) is available at area bookstores or online at barnesandnoble.com, books.com, amazon.com and borders.com. For more information, call Gray & Co. at (800) 915-3609 or visit www.grayco.com.