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Browns’ crowded bandwagon includes superfan wrestling stars – Cleveland Browns Blog

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Unless they have their AARP cards, ardent followers of a certain team in Ohio probably don’t remember the words “Cleveland Browns fan” without the words “long-suffering” in front of them.

The Browns haven’t won a division title in 30 years. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1994.

In 1995, owner Art Modell even absconded with the franchise to Baltimore.

Now, everyone wants on the bandwagon. The arrival of Odell Beckham Jr. to pair with 2018 No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield has Clevelanders positively giddy.

So give the large Browns following among professional wrestlers a lot of credit: They have stood by their team. They are hardcore fans through and through. They remember Bernie Kosar, Earnest Byner, Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, the Dawg Pound, Cleveland Stadium … hanging Modell in effigy.

The wrestlers who are unabashed Browns fans include WWE superstars The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Johnny Gargano and EC3, wrestling legend Jerry “The King” Lawler and Impact Wrestling star Dave Crist of the tag team oVe, which stands for Ohio Versus Everything. And despite their own successes, they’re all basically fanboys when it comes to talking about their team.

All of them were born in Ohio save for Lawler (though born in Memphis he spent some portion of his formative years in Lorain, Ohio, after his father was transferred to a Ford assembly plant there), and all of them save for “The King” are in their 30s. ESPN spoke to The Miz, EC3, Gargano and Crist about their Browns fandom, their earliest recollections and the future of the franchise (hint: they all agree it’s bright).

THE MIZ

WWE superstars The Miz (Mike Mizanin) and Ziggler (Nic Nemeth) are both 38. When they were discovering football in grade school, Kosar was putting the Browns in the playoffs annually.

Miz said he can remember riding the bus to school in the fifth grade and the students singing to the tune of The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” with the words, “Bernie, Bernie, ohhh ohh … Super Bowl!”

“Bernie is my first recollections of the Browns and of a quarterback,” said Miz, who despite the extraordinarily busy schedule of a WWE superstar manages to get to a game or two every year. “I’m too young to remember Jim Brown.”

Miz acknowledges how hard it has been over the years to be a Browns fan, with the harassment from his friends who root for other teams. But he said when you’re from the area, it’s ingrained that you stick with the Browns, come what may.

The Browns are now the pick of many to win the AFC North, and Miz cut a promo on the rest of the division moving forward.

“Baker is the real deal,” said Miz, who was born in Parma, Ohio. “And the young crew that we have will make heads turn. The North is going downhill. The Steelers are a mess with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. They just can’t figure that stuff out. You’ve got two All-Stars who don’t want to play there. Why is that? The Bengals are already downhill. I don’t think the Ravens can sustain it. I don’t think Lamar Jackson is that guy. Baker is. He’s the guy people will talk about for years to come. I’m excited. I say playoffs this year.”

One of Miz’s fondest Browns memories actually occurred last season, and he documented it on Twitter.

Miz was at his then-new home in Austin, Texas, when the Browns broke their losing streak with a 21-17 victory over the New York Jets on Sept. 20. Ziggler was there, too.

Anheuser Busch gifted Miz one of its Bud Light refrigerators set to open when the Browns ended their losing streak. The problem for Miz — well, really for his wife, former WWE competitor Maryse, who is French Canadian — was that the lock for the fridge took some assembly.

“I was setting up the lock,” Miz recalled, “and Maryse was like, ‘What are you doing? Why are you locking the refrigerator?’ I said, ‘You don’t understand.’ She said, ‘No, I get it. But I don’t get it. Why would you lock it? Why don’t you just drink the beer?’ ‘Because we haven’t won a game in a long time. When we win, we get free beer.’

“It was a whole discussion. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. What a great idea by Bud Light. I didn’t think it would even open. It was legit five seconds later when the lock dropped.”

Miz said he, Ziggler and another friend proceeded to drink all of the beers that very night.

JOHNNY GARGANO

At 31, “Johnny Wrestling” is the baby of the group with which ESPN spoke.

And speaking of babies, Gargano’s ties to the Browns go back literally to the womb.

He was born on Aug. 14, 1987, which in and of itself isn’t an especially significant date in Browns history. But what it does mean is that when his parents attended the 1986 AFC Championship Game between Cleveland and the visiting Denver Broncos on Jan. 11, 1987 — the game known for “The Drive” — Johnny was there, too.

In his mother’s belly.

“I guess you could say I experienced my first Browns heartbreak while I was in the womb,” Gargano said.

Cleveland fans could do without the details of “The Drive,” but it’s interesting to note that Gargano’s father was there to root on John Elway, his favorite player. Despite also being born in Cleveland, he just had an affinity for Elway, who engineered a 98-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to tie the game. Denver won in overtime on a field goal.

Gargano’s first real recollection of anything Browns-related was running around at the wild scene in Cleveland when Modell was hung in effigy in December 1995 after announcing he was moving the Browns to Baltimore.

“My parents brought me downtown. Everyone was going crazy,” Gargano said. “I was like 7 or 8, so I didn’t really understand the execution of a mannequin.”

Gargano said his father had Browns season tickets from the late 1990s into the early 2000s. He said he bought the jerseys of players such as Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Charlie Frye.

“I distinctly remember going to training camp a lot,” Gargano said. “I got Jeff Faine’s autograph and was super pumped about it.

“I started getting really into the NFL draft because as a Browns fan, that’s our Super Bowl. Every year it was new hope. ‘We got Luke McCown! We got Charlie Frye!’ I was such a big draft guy and still am to this day. Every April I would hone in on a player I wanted the Browns to go after and just hope and hope. Then they would draft somebody else and I’d talk myself into him, like all Browns fans do.”

The Browns’ first-round draft history pre-2017 is spotty at best. But they’ve added four building blocks since, with 2017 No. 1 overall Myles Garrett, 2018 No. 1 overall Baker Mayfield, David Njoku (No. 29 overall in 2017) and Denzel Ward (No. 4 in 2018). Their other first-round pick during the recent span, Jabrill Peppers, was traded to the Giants in the deal that brought Beckham and Olivier Vernon to Cleveland.

The acquisition of OBJ took the excitement of Browns fans for the upcoming season to a whole new level.

“The first thought that went through my mind was, ‘Oh man, our bandwagon is gonna be full this season!’ To go from the team that everyone clowned on year in and year out to America’s new must-see team is quite the jump,” Gargano said. “On paper, our offense looked great before OBJ. And now it’s a straight-up video game with him included. It’s literally ‘Madden.’”

EC3

EC3 (Michael Hutter) is 36. He was born in Cleveland, and his father is a diehard Browns fan.

“My dad started taking me to games back when the Dawg Pound was the real Dawg Pound,” EC3 said. “My favorite player and one of the first ones I remember was Leroy Hoard. I liked him and Eric Metcalf.”

EC3 recalled sitting close to the front row of the Dawg Pound at one of his first games as just a boy. He said he wasn’t aware of all that was going on around him, but that it was loud.

“It could get nasty and messy, and there were beers flying all round,” EC3 said. “I was almost like a mascot for the day. But I can remember Michael Jackson caught a touchdown on our end, and he pulled me out of the Dawg Pound and gave me a bear hug.”

EC3 also holds the distinction of having been banned from Cleveland Stadium by then-Browns owner Randy Lerner.

“I may have gotten a little unruly once. I have a letter from 2006 that says I’m not welcomed back,” EC3 said. “I got it framed, and it hangs in my office. I sent a letter saying I won’t be coming back due to your management.”

Apparently, the ban was lifted at some point. EC3 and Gargano were invited guests on the field last year for the season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“The energy was completely different,” EC3 said. “You could feel the change coming.”

DAVE CRIST

Impact star Crist, one half of oVe with his brother Jake, is 36. He was born in New Carlisle, Ohio, just outside Dayton.

He also is the proud, first-time owner of Browns season tickets for 2019. Club seats, no less.

The Browns noticed Crist mentions them on social media. A lot. Almost every time he tweets or posts on Instagram. So they invited him to tour the facility in Berea and ended up convincing him to get all the way on board for the upcoming season.

Crist, whose father is a Browns fan, was blown away by the invitation.

“Being a lifelong Browns fan, it has always been a dream of mine to visit the practice facility to see where they hone their craft,” said Crist, who made it to four home games in 2018 and road games at Cincinnati, Oakland and Baltimore. “Larry Ogunjobi was literally 5 feet away from me. I missed Baker by like 10 minutes. I was just … it was an amazing situation. When I was talking to them, they were like, ‘You’re a pro wrestler, but your knowledge of football is pretty good.’ I was like, ‘This is what I do.’ Football season, I submerge myself in football.”

Not wanting to miss his 1 p.m. appointment in Berea, Crist and his fiancée arrived at the facility 30 minutes early and sat in the lobby. He said she told him this was going to be the longest 30 minutes of his life. He just stared at the jerseys and photos on the wall.

They went on their tour. They took loads of pictures. Crist had a goofy smile plastered on his face from start to finish.

“The entire time,” he said, “my fiancée was like, ‘You need to calm down. I love that you’re this happy, but like, you just need to calm down a little bit. You’re coming off as though you might be a little off.

“When we sat down to talk — this was the craziest thing — when we sat down to talk about pricing, and they were like, ‘How would you feel about club seating?’ I was like, ‘She’ll never be about this. I’ll never be able to get these.’ So they said, ‘They’re extra-wide chairs, better cushions …’ and she goes, ‘OK, we’ll take them.’ I was like, ‘What?!?’”

Crist and his brother, along with fellow oVe member Sami Callihan, were in the front row of the Dawg Pound for the season finale last year when Gargano and EC3 were on the field. Fortunately, a battle royale didn’t break out.

Crist sees a bright future for his team. He’s all about the quarterback.

“Baker is my dude,” said Crist, who recently started a podcast called “Wrestling with Sports” with former MLB All-Star Jason Kendall in which they talk to wrestlers about their love of sports and to athletes about their love of pro wrestling. “The thing I like most about Baker is he just has that intangible, that ‘it’ factor. When he cut that promo and said, ‘I woke up feeling dangerous’ (after the Browns beat the Falcons), that literally woke up Cleveland. That was the spark that Cleveland needed. From that point on, the team followed him and he was ready to rock and roll. I think he’s a natural-born leader.”



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Broncos rookie QB Lock could open season on IR

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Drew Lock said Thursday he’s not sure when he will be able to throw a football again, and coach Vic Fangio said it’s possible Lock could at least open the season on injured reserve.

Lock suffered a severely sprained right thumb — on his throwing hand — early in the third quarter of Monday night’s preseason loss to the visiting San Francisco 49ers. He underwent an MRI exam Tuesday and a sprain was confirmed.

X-rays taken at the stadium Monday night were negative.

Lock will neither play nor practice for the remainder of the preseason and will be limited to conditioning work only.

“Obviously because it’s his throwing hand and a thumb, that’s a pretty serious injury for a quarterback,” Fangio said. “It will be some time before we know exactly where he’s at and how much time he would miss.”

“[I’m] trusting the [training] staff in there to get me back as soon as possible,” Lock said. “Whenever that is, we’ll decide on whenever I’m 100% ready to go.”

Lock, who was selected in the second round (42nd overall) of April’s draft, was in a battle to be the team’s backup quarterback behind Joe Flacco. Asked Thursday if putting Lock on injured reserve was now a possibility if his recovery time was slated to include part of the regular season, Fangio said: “Yeah, it could be if we don’t think he can play for a while. The bad thing about it is because of the injury he can’t do much.”

If Lock were to be placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, he would have to be on the Broncos’ roster in Week 1, taking the spot of a healthy player at that time — and he would have to miss half the season.

If he were to be placed simply on injured reserve, he would miss the entire season.

In the meantime, as the Broncos try to decide what to do based on his progress in healing, Lock has been in the quarterback meetings as well as on the practice field with the team. Because he cannot participate in drills, he said using the team’s virtual reality system is going to be an important part of his recovery.

Lock said he will have to do “two times” more classroom work since he will not be practicing, and “the VR stuff upstairs is going to be heavily used. … It helps a lot, being able to see what Joe [Flacco] does, kind of from his angle and things … being able to see every single rep, being able to see what the defense does, being able to see it in a ton of different looks.”

He said he used VR in his sophomore and junior years at Missouri as well.

Lock played 30 snaps against the 49ers as he finished 7-of-12 passing with 40 yards to go with the sack he was injured on. Lock played just one more snap after that sack and left the game with just over 13 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

After opening training camp as the No. 3 quarterback behind Flacco and Kevin Hogan, Lock had been moved up to the No. 2 spot in practices and was the second quarterback into the game against the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers.

For the preseason, Lock has completed 60.8% of his passes with a touchdown and an interception.

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Garoppolo aims to bounce back at site of injury

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After a rough stretch in which he threw five interceptions in a practice and posted a 0.0 passer rating in a preseason game five days later, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is aiming to move on in the same stadium where he suffered a season-ending injury in 2018.

On Thursday, Garoppolo said he was “very hard” on himself when he watched the film of his 1-of-6 for 0 yards with one interception performance against the Denver Broncos on Monday night, and again when he re-watched it on Tuesday.

But Garoppolo, who said he’s sure he’s had a similar week before in his career, also reminded himself he doesn’t have time to think about it any more as he prepares for the regular season opener on Sept. 8.

“At some point you have to move on,” Garoppolo said. “You’re still trying to correct those mistakes and not make the same mistakes twice, but if you just dwell on the past and dwell on that one game, you’re going to get stuck there and have no success going forward. I think it’s good to be hard on yourself, but at some point you have got to move forward.”

Moving forward this week for Garoppolo means a trip on Saturday to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, the same venue in which Garoppolo tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Sept. 23 of last season.

In the days after that game, Garoppolo admitted to replaying the injury in his head, pondering what he’d have done differently and everything that led up to the injury. On the play, Garoppolo scrambled down the left sideline before attempting to plant his left leg and turn upfield. The left leg buckled as he threw himself into Chiefs defensive back Steven Nelson.

That injury cost Garoppolo the remaining 13 games of the season and set him on a lengthy rehabilitation that is still ongoing as he gets re-acclimated to playing in live games again.

“It will be a good steppingstone,” Garoppolo said of his return to Arrowhead Stadium. “Definitely, it will be a little weird getting back there but (I’m) just trying to treat it like a normal game.”

That’s a task that likely would have been made easier had it not been for Garoppolo’s recent struggles. Monday’s game in Denver was his first live action in 330 days and the rust was readily apparent.

It was also the first time Garoppolo could be tackled since the injury, and it resulted in some discomfort in the pocket.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, who has cautioned against making too much of preseason struggles, suggested Thursday that getting back in game action was another in a line of mental hurdles for Garoppolo to clear as he comes back from injury.

“I know anytime you come back from injury, there’s a bunch of mental hurdles you have got to get over even when you are healthy and feel good,” Shanahan said. “I’m sure there’s some stuff with it just being eerie going back to that same place.”

Although Shanahan said he felt it would have been “a matter of time” before Garoppolo got going against Denver, he opted to take him out after just 10 snaps with an eye toward Saturday night in Kansas City.

Garoppolo should have ample opportunity to get back on track against the Chiefs. Much like last preseason, Shanahan said Garoppolo and the starting offense will likely play the entire first half, depending on how many snaps they get and how it’s going.

Shanahan didn’t rule out the possibility of some snaps in the third quarter if the offense doesn’t get the needed work in the first half.

“It will be good,” Garoppolo said. “Hopefully we get to string some plays together, get some good drives and everything and get the offense moving. It’s taking it from the practice field and bringing it over to the game field and making it happen.”

In the meantime, Garoppolo said he has done his best this week to block out the outside criticism of his performance in Denver and focus on fixing the mistakes of last week.

At the top of that list was the interception he threw in the first quarter that came as a result of poor communication on an offensive line protection. Garoppolo and Shanahan went over the play with Shanahan emphasizing the importance of making sure everyone gets any changes up front.

Those are the type of errors that can be corrected and should go away as Garoppolo gets more opportunities. As Shanahan is quick to point out, many of Garoppolo’s growing pains should have already happened.

Alas, the knee injury.

“That’s all Jimmy needs is just to play football,” Shanahan said. “Whether he was coming back from injury or not. We thought we were going to get that last year and unfortunately we didn’t and that was out of everyone’s control. So now we’re back to that plus he’s coming off an injury with it. So I want Jimmy to play as much as possible in the preseason and into the regular season, but that’s a fine line, too. You don’t want to put your quarterback in there against a starting defensive line when you don’t have your starting O-line in there. So trying to balance that out.”

Garoppolo, who still has just 10 NFL starts to his name, said Thursday his knee is holding up well and he intends to bounce back against the Chiefs.

“It’s one of those things that you can react two ways to it: You can crumple up and kind of go into a fetal position and surrender, or you can go out and fight,” Garoppolo said. “We have got a locker room full of guys who want to fight, myself included. Every day you have to come in and earn your spot. It’s never going to be given to you so you have got to come earn it.”

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Terrence Brooks could be key piece in Patrick Chung fallout – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With starting safety Patrick Chung scheduled to be arraigned next Wednesday on a charge of cocaine possession, the New England Patriots have to be prepared with contingency plans if they are without Chung for any period of time.

Chung is one of the key cogs of the defense, having played 85% of the defensive snaps in 2018, with linebacker Kyle Van Noy affectionately referring to him as a “beast” and “one of the most underrated” players in the NFL last year.

Chung’s ability to match up with opposing tight ends is a significant part of his value to the Patriots. His physicality and tackling also is critical for a defense that plays about 90% of its snaps with five or six defensive backs on the field, which means they are a lighter unit and need their safeties to fill a linebacker-type role at times. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Chung does that exceptionally well.

There probably isn’t one player on the roster who can fill that type of role, but a possible silver lining for the Patriots is that defensive back is one of the deeper positions on their roster — especially when factoring in some cornerbacks who can flex into a safety role in certain packages, such as Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and Duke Dawson.

Six-year veteran Terrence Brooks (5-11, 205 pounds) is probably the Patriots’ closest facsimile to Chung in terms of a pure safety. He entered the NFL as a third-round draft choice of the Baltimore Ravens in 2014, and has only one career start on his résumé, with his primary niche coming on special teams in stints with Baltimore (2014-2015), Philadelphia (2016) and the New York Jets (2017-2018).

He has opened some eyes this preseason, but asking him to fill a potential Chung void might be too much, even though the Patriots obviously liked him enough to give him a two-year, $4 million contract in the offseason.

“Terrence is a smart kid, works hard, has a lot of versatility,” Bill Belichick said on Aug. 12. “We’ve asked him to do a number of different things. He’s handled that well.”

One of the points Belichick made was how important communication is among players in the secondary, and given Chung’s experience in the team’s system, Brooks obviously has some ground to make up in that area. That would be a big part of what the Patriots potentially miss without Chung.

Devin McCourty is locked in at one starting safety spot, with his range and speed top assets. Seven-year veteran Duron Harmon is a top backup, with core special-teamer Nate Ebner an emergency option.

Chung and Brooks are top options at the other safety spot, with undrafted Malik Gant (Marshall) also in the mix.

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