AVON — A few drafts helped them deal with the draft, at least until the Cleveland Browns picked Johnny Manziel.
“Browns fans are put through an excruciating ritual every year,” said Matt Smith as he watched the NFL Draft at Mulligan’s Pub & Grille on Thursday. “Somehow we survive. Probably because of beer.”
Smith, a 54-year-old retired Firelands High School teacher, watched the draft with Tom Smith, his 55-year-old brother and a retired Elyria Schools English teacher. They were joined by their cousin, Kent Schwartz, 59, an employee of Nelson Stud Welding Inc., in Elyria. The three men, all lifelong Browns fans and high school football players from Avon, said they go to draft parties at bars because of the camaraderie of the event.
“We know there’s no Steelers fans here,” Matt Smith said. “If they are here, they’re keeping a low profile.”
The friends’ mood was the same as after recent Browns-Steelers games — the Steelers hold a 25-5 record against the Browns since 1999 — early in the draft. They were disappointed that the Browns, who entered the draft with the fourth pick, traded down.
They had been hoping that the Browns would draft Sammy Watkins, a fleet-footed, sticky-fingered receiver from Clemson who helped torch Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. The Buffalo Bills chose Watkins with the fourth pick.
“The guy I wanted in a Brown’s outfit is going to be in a Buffalo uniform,” Tom Smith said.
The men made a sarcastic toast to Browns draft busts like Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren and Tim Couch. Schwartz has bittersweet memories.
He recalled watching Jim Brown play for the Browns as a child and said he was on the sidelines working a part-time job as a maintenance man running a heater during “The Drive” in 1986 when Broncos kicker Rich Karlis broke Browns fans’ hearts with a game-winning overtime field goal. “The kick was wide,” Schwartz insisted.
There were no owls in the packed bar, but “Who?” was heard a lot after the Browns drafted Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the eighth pick.
Schwartz left the bar in disgust after the pick, but fan Phil Serina said Gilbert will go well with Browns all-pro cornerback Joe Haden.
“This guy’s got speed, and he’ll also give us somebody who’s a return man if Travis Benjamin is hurt,” said Serina, a 33-year-old online school teacher from Litchfield. “It gives us options.”
Serina said the bar erupted when Manziel, the cocky, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, was chosen with the 22nd pick. Serina said he had doubts about Manziel’s size and durability, but it doesn’t matter.
“He’s a Cleveland Brown now,” he said. “We’re going to throw all the support behind him that we can and hope that he leads us somewhere down the line.”
Reached by phone at home, Schwartz’s mood had changed with the Manziel pick.
“I’m excited,” he said. “This changes the whole thing.”