PUSKAS: Browns fans show creative venting

There were inflatable swans with Johnny Manziel impersonators along for the ride.

There was someone in a gorilla suit. Or was it a Bigfoot costume?

Another man sported a Big Bird costume and Manziel’s old No. 2 jersey. He identified himself as Reginald Clucker.

Another guy was dressed as a bishop and carried a sign that read, “John 0-16.”

There was a man barely dressed at all, which was impressive considering how cold it was.

There was music, fun and some creative venting on Saturday. And the Greater Cleveland Food Bank came away with a windfall of non-perishable food and money.

And although some signs offered profane suggestions aimed at Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, Chris McNeil’s grassroots Perfect Season Parade 2.0 wasn’t the least bit embarrassing to Cleveland or the Browns players.

But head coach Hue Jackson and Browns ownership were popular targets among the estimated 3,500 to 4,700 Browns fans who braved windchills below zero outside FirstEnergy Stadium to make a point:

They’re tired of losing. And they’re tired of doing it every week, which the Browns did in 2017 when they became just the second NFL team to go 0-16.

The 2008 Detroit Lions were the first and some stray Lions fans even found their way into the parade with signs welcoming Browns fans to a club nobody ever wanted to join.

The Losers Club.

Cleveland handled it as well as it possibly could. There were no clashes or mayhem, although a group of Browns fans protesting the protesters was stationed not far from the parade route around the stadium that has come to be known as the Factory of Sadness.

Full disclosure: I was there with my daughter, Erin. We weren’t going to miss the spectacle, which turned out to have a Mardi Gras type of vibe to it. We weren’t sure what to expect, given the back-and-forth bickering on social media and on the radio between factions supporting McNeil’s idea and those opposed to the very notion of a postseason gathering to commemorate an 0-16 season.

But as McNeil explained at every turn in recent weeks, this was never about celebrating an 0-16 season. Who does that? Those opposed to the parade couldn’t seem to get past the fact it was billed as a parade. But irony, sarcasm and satire were there to see from the start for anyone who appreciates such things.

After Saturday, it’s clear that nobody makes fun of the rudderless Browns management better than the team’s fans. If you can’t see and embrace the ridiculous nature of this franchise and have fun with it, you’re bound to emotionally bleed out on your coffee table every Sunday in the fall.

Even now, I’m not sure some people realize just how close the Browns came to being 0-32 the last two years. Going 1-31 was bad enough. It’s easily the worst two-year stretch in NFL history and Jimmy Haslam capped it by announcing that Jackson — the sideline architect of all that losing — will be back in 2018.

“Enough Hue-miliation,” one sign read. Another more bluntly called for Jackson’s immediate firing. Yet another encouraged the Haslams to join Hue in jumping into Lake Erie, a reference to the coach’s vow to do so if the Browns went 1-15 again this season.

Well, technically, they didn’t go 1-15 again. They actually got worse than they were in 2016, and it was astounding and disheartening to watch it unfold.

The parade was a chance to vent about things and maybe move on to 2018.

The only down side was the cold, which called to mind Red Right 88 for those old enough to have experienced it.

Watching the actual parade — one time around the stadium — wasn’t all that bad. The crush of people around us effectively blocked the wind off Lake Erie. But the walks from the car to our vantage point and back again had me questioning my judgment.

But before long we had thawed out and had photos, video and memories of an event we simply had to see. It wasn’t the parade Browns fans deserve, but it was a cathartic protest they needed to have.

One of the main arguments against the event was an ill-conceived notion that people in other cities and talking heads on national networks would ridicule Cleveland. I’m not sure why that was ever a concern, given how much ridicule has already been heaped on the Browns and their fans after the team went 1-31.

Why are we so desperate for the approval of others? It’s a losing mentality. It’s as if we’re content to always be the little brother to these other places. Aside from the performance of the Browns, Cleveland is a big-league city in every way. Do people in Boston or New York think this way?

New Yorkers invented the Bronx Cheer. This was exactly that, but it went on for a couple of hours and was much more entertaining. There will be no lingering effects, unless it opened some eyes with the Haslams.

Unlikely, based on what we’ve seen, but things can’t get any worse, right?

The parade won’t make free agents steer clear of Cleveland.

The Browns have enough salary-cap space to make several young-ish, talented players very rich men over the coming offseason. You can bet new general manager John Dorsey is already targeting the players he wants.

The parade won’t make all the good quarterbacks who have declared early run back to their college teams or sign instead with the CFL.

The Browns have the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the NFL Draft and a football guy — not a numbers-crunching egghead — will wield most of the power as the front office and coaches evaluate talent.

So even as some of the craziest and most passionate fans anywhere were venting Saturday and giving the Haslams and their beleaguered head coach the business, there was some sense that for once the light at the end of the tunnel for long-suffering Browns fans is not another train.

That would be welcome news if it turns out to be true.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.

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