Area man details his Browns fanaticism
BEAVER TOWNSHIP — As a native of the Mahoning Valley, Ray “Showdawg” Prisby knows the importance sports plays in one’s daily life.
He also knows the area’s professional football loyalty is split between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.
As a loyal, lifelong Browns’ fanatic, he has taken that loyalty to the next level and turned his home into a living shrine of all things Browns, buying, saving and displaying memorabilia that would make even the Pro Football Hall of Fame jealous.
He has thousands upon thousands of Browns memorabilia, ranging from bobbleheads to ticket stubs, programs to helmets and even players’ contracts.
His children call him an organized hoarder with keepsakes he cannot display, neatly packed away in a box or bin hoping someday to make it to his mantle or shelf.
Prisby’s items link him and fans to the team’s glory days of the 1950s and 1960s, going as far back as 1946 in their years in the old All-American Football Conference, and now in the years since their return to the NFL in 1999.
When a friend suggested he enter an online contest seeking NFL teams’ most extraordinary fan, he did so on a lark. For his efforts and love of the Browns, he will be enshrined in August as one of six new members in the Ford Hall of Fans Hall of Fame, located in a wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
“I love sports and love my Browns,” Prisby told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s meeting at Avion Banquet Center. “When I got out of the U.S. Air Force in 1989, my son was telling me about an area card show. I had never heard about a show like that so I went, looked at the prices of the cards, then ran to a pay phone to call my mother to see what she did with all the cards that I had collected as a kid.
“This was the pre-cell phone era and when she said she packed them away neatly in a box, then put them at the bottom of my closet, I raced home to see them. As soon as I saw them, I got bit by the bug.”
The emergence of the Internet and sites like e-Bay convinced Prisby to kick his collection up a notch, eventually taking that collection through the roof and into uncharted waters.
“Before there was online access, I’d go to garage or yard sales and find stuff, but the internet made it so easy and accessible,” he said. “I became an ‘eBay-aholic.’ I started with cards then branched out to anything and everything Browns. I remember going to games in the ’60s and receiving a bobblehead giveaway and now have more than 100. My OCD kicks in and won’t let me stop until I have them all.”
After Jim Brown, Ernie Davis — the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner from Syracuse who never played a game for the Browns, dying of acute monocytic leukemia before he could ever don a Cleveland uniform — is his favorite player.
“After I got out of the Air Force, I was working at General Motors and working 12-14 hours a day, six days a week. There wasn’t much time to do anything but work so I’d get on the Internet,” Prisby said. “I had a lot of expendable cash which allowed me to purchase things I probably would never have gotten.
“I have (Ernie) Davis’ original contract, which was being auctioned off by Leland’s Auction House. I called Leland’s, asked them what price it would take to pull it from the auction, and when they called a few days later with that price, it became mine.”
Other prized possessions include a 5-foot-by-3-foot photo of the 1964 NFL championship game that he had members of the team sign. It hung in former owner Art Modell’s office and is now located near several Jim Brown contracts and a printing roll of the cover of the ’64 championship game program, which he also had team members autograph.
When informed that the selection committee would be coming to his house to verify his collection, little did he know that he was already one of six finalists.
“They sent me an e-mail requesting more photos and a paragraph on why I thought I was the Browns’ biggest fan,” he said. “I thought it was just routine, a part of the process. They arrived on Sunday for a walk-through, then on Monday did the videotaping.
“We broke for lunch and at 1:16 p.m., a time that I will never forget, I was informed there was a knock at my door. They asked if I was expecting a visitor? I was not. I opened the door and there he was — Jim Brown — in person in his gold Hall of Fame jacket and congratulating me as one of the finalists.
“Social media then took over. I have a large presence, being on 50-plus Browns groups, while military and even Steelers fans voted for me. I’m truly blessed.”
Just last week, Prisby was fitted for his Hall of Fame jacket and sized for his ring with the next thing on his agenda the installation in August.
Next Monday, Hubbard native Craig Muder, director of communications for the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, will serve as guest speaker.