July 28, 2014

Elyria
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67°F
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Fans flock to training camp, but for what?

The number of people who flock to Browns camp in Berea every year astounds me. To quote Allen Iverson, “Practice! Not a game! Practice!”
I have seen high school coaches, before their own two-a-days begin, watching quietly because their interest really is practice. For them it’s a seminar. It’s work. They study the way practice is organized, how assistant coaches go about group and individual instruction, the length of each session, how quickly the players move from one phase to the next, how a lot of work is crammed into a short period of time.
I don’t understand, however, what ordinary fans derive from training camp. Hundreds of them of all ages attend every day. Some plan their vacations around it. But then, who does understand the Cleveland Browns’ fans?
They’ll sit there in portable bleachers for three hours in 90-degree heat in August occasionally applauding an acrobatic catch and five months from now they’ll sit in Arctic cold for three hours occasionally booing a dropped pass. Somewhere between the sun screen and the frost bite is a line about hell freezing over.
It was around this time every summer that Gabe Paul boiled over. Paul, who ran the Indians as general manager or president for much of the time between 1962 and 1984, should have gone on medication when the Browns started training camp.
After the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964, everything changed in Cleveland. When the Browns trotted onto the practice field in July, they kicked the Indians off the top of the sports page. The Indians tumbled below the fold, as we say in the biz. It was as though summer had ended and baseball season was over. Actually, for many of those years the Indians’ season was over by the end of July, if not sooner. Browns training camp made it official.
Newspapers cut back on baseball coverage. Gabe Paul enjoyed the company of sportswriters. He liked regaling them with stories. He loved drinking with them. Suddenly there was one less reporter at Indians games and one less story. The sportswriters were covering the Browns, even though the Browns were merely practicing. Every free agent and low-round draft choice got a story before he was cut.
The Browns were a story of hope. Readers responded to that. The Indians were a story of disappointment. Readers were tired of that.
This was before each team had its own stadium. The Indians and Browns shared the old Stadium and co-existed amicably for many years