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.
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).
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.
“Did they open the bud light things” -Baker Mayfield
Yes Baker. YES THEY DID.
— The Miz (@mikethemiz) September 21, 2018
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.
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 (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.”
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.”
Lamar Jackson limited in Ravens practice with quad injury
Jackson, the frontrunner for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, leads the league with 28 touchdown passes and tops all quarterbacks with 1,017 yards rushing. He has never been sidelined since taking over as Baltimore’s starting quarterback, playing in 20 straight games.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated Jackson was hurt during the game when a Bills defender hit him “around the knee.” Harbaugh declined to say whether Jackson would be limited in practice Tuesday.
“It’s less than 24 hours after the game,” Harbaugh said a day after a 24-17 win at the Buffalo Bills. “It’s hard to say. It’s not a serious injury in that sense. This is day to day. We play Thursday night. We’ll see where we’re at.”
The Ravens (11-2) have a quick turnaround with Thursday night’s game against the New York Jets (5-8). Baltimore can clinch its second straight AFC North title with a victory.
Jackson didn’t participate in any drills during the media-viewing portion of Monday’s practice, which was a 90-minute walkthrough. He entered the indoor fieldhouse when reporters were leaving, walking with a slight hitch. Jackson wasn’t present on the field when practice ended.
Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III took all the snaps during the portion open to media. Griffin has not started a game since 2016.
Jackson participated in all 60 offensive snaps in Sunday’s win in Buffalo. He was 16-of-25 passing for 145 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Jackson was held to 40 yards rushing, his lowest total since the season opener, and needs 23 yards to break Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for quarterbacks.
This marked only the second time Jackson has been listed on the injury report this season. Jackson missed a practice in Week 10 with an illness.
“I’m not going to get into injuries,” Harbaugh said. “The guys who are ready, will play. The guys who aren’t, won’t. Just look at the injury report and take it from there.”
Freddie Kitchens – Browns not sitting banged-up Odell Beckham Jr.
BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said Monday that the team is not considering shutting down Odell Beckham Jr. for the season, even though the star wideout has been battling hip and groin injuries since the beginning of training camp and could require surgery during the offseason.
Kitchens also said that he spoke to Baker Mayfield about critical comments the quarterback made following Sunday’s 27-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals concerning how the Browns’ training staff has handled Beckham’s injuries.
“We don’t want him addressing other players’ injuries, in that manner especially,” said Kitchens, who met with Mayfield on Monday morning. “Odell and our training staff have done a tremendous job of getting Odell to the game each and every week.
“It’s been addressed and [Mayfield] understands how to handle things like that moving forward.”
Beckham has been limited in practice since the beginning of training camp amid the worst statistical season of his career, excluding his injury-riddled 2017 season with the New York Giants.
Sunday against the Bengals, Beckham finished with only two catches for 39 yards, his seventh consecutive game without 100 receiving yards, extending the longest such streak of his career.
After the game, Mayfield called out the Browns’ training staff, suggesting that if Beckham had undergone surgery before the season, he and the team might have been in better shape.
“I’d say that it wasn’t handled right,” Mayfield said Sunday. “He’s not able to run as well as he should be able to, as well as he knows. And that’s frustrating for him. You can sense that’s some of his frustration, where that comes from. It wasn’t handled the right way in our training room. It is what it is. His not 100% is still good enough for us.”
Later Sunday, Mayfield apologized on Twitter, clarifying he didn’t intend “to throw our medical staff under the bus.”
Kitchens declined to say whether surgery was debated for Beckham during the preseason or the specific nature of the injury. But he did say there’s been no discussion about shutting Beckham down, even though the 6-7 Browns are now a long shot to make the playoffs.
“I think he is helping the team,” Kitchens said. “Odell is doing a great job. … He wants to be out there for his teammates and I like him to be out there for his teammates. He has been doing a good job of getting prepared during the course of the week to get to the game on Sunday.”
Kitchens also pushed back on reports surfacing over the weekend that Beckham is unhappy and wants out of Cleveland. During its pregame show Sunday, Fox Sports reported that Beckham has been telling opposing players and coaches before games, “come get me” out of Cleveland.
“Did Odell say that?” Kitchens replied, when asked about it. “OK, case closed then. Odell did not say it. Odell has not told me anything remotely dealing with that.
“I can only tell you what I think and what I have seen from Odell, and what I have seen from Odell is nothing like the reports indicate, so sorry.”
49ers C Weston Richburg out for year; Richard Sherman, Dee Ford also hurt
Starting center Weston Richburg suffered a torn right patellar tendon early in the third quarter of the Niners’ 48-46 win in New Orleans, coach Kyle Shanahan announced Monday afternoon.
The injury ends a strong season for Richburg, who will miss the final three games and postseason and have to undergo surgery and the accompanying rehab. Richburg’s injury was the most serious but the Niners also had a pair of shorter-term injuries to key players as cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive end Dee Ford are expected to miss some time with hamstring injuries.
Shanahan said Sherman would likely miss “a couple of weeks” with his right hamstring strain and Ford, who aggravated a previous right hamstring injury, would be expected to miss “at least” three weeks. Nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams is in concussion protocol and defensive tackle D.J. Jones is dealing with a sprained ankle.
“It’s tough,” Shanahan said. “It was a huge win and we enjoyed that a ton obviously but some mixed feelings today with some of these injuries, which is tough, especially losing Richburg for the year. The other guys got some serious ones, too, hopefully we can keep playing well so we can give them a chance to come back and help us if we can make our season longer than three games.”
Emmanuel Moseley figures to step in for Sherman opposite Ahkello Witherspoon while the Niners have already been using Ford in limited snaps because of hamstring, knee and quadriceps injuries. Shanahan said he anticipates some roster movement coming, though any moves have yet to be decided.
Richburg’s injury happened on third-and-1 when running back Tevin Coleman was stopped for a 3-yard loss. On the play, Richburg was driven back at the same time as guard Mike Person, with Person’s left leg crashing into the back of Richburg’s right leg.
Almost immediately, Richburg crumpled to the ground and grabbed for the injured leg. In the Superdome press box, the injury was announced as ankle and knee issues, and Richburg left the locker room on crutches as his teammates lamented losing one of their most important and underrated offensive players.
“Losing Weston is big,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “He’s the center position on our offensive line. He’s one of the captains for our group and you don’t want to see him go down at all.”
After the game, Shanahan indicated the injuries were serious, though further testing was needed to determine the extent. That testing confirmed the Niners’ fears on Monday and they will now be without Richburg for the rest of the season.
The patellar injury comes a year after Richburg played 12 games of the 2018 season with what turned out to be torn left quadriceps. Richburg believed that injury to be a knee sprain, so he played through it before doctors told him it was much worse at the end of the season.
Richburg had surgery in the offseason and didn’t return to practice until just before the start of the season. In his absence, Ben Garland will step into the starting role. Garland, who filled in for Richburg in training camp and the preseason, earned positive reviews for how he played in Richburg’s place against New Orleans.
“Ben came in and I think we have a deep group,” Staley said. “I think we’ve seen that all year. Guys just step in and I think that just talks to the urgency that everybody has and the way that they understand the next man up and how special this team is.”
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