What better game to be granted a press pass than the Browns verses Steelers? As a Cleveland sports fan, there are only a few great games each year—Michigan-Ohio State, Indians-Yankees and Browns-Steelers. To be given this opportunity is an adventure of a lifetime, even when the wind chill is -12 degrees. On the way into the stadium, as my fingers and face were starting to freeze, I had one thought in my head: to get inside and go to the press box. When I finally made my way to the media entrance, I found out my press pass was not there. I was totally impressed that it only took one phone call to Browns Public Relations from the NFL editor at The Magazine and I was in within 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, with the spot access, I was not able to go onto the field before the game. This was especially disappointing because, as other northern NFL fans will attest, when I was looking for my warmest coat, hat and gloves to keep warm, I realized that everything I owned had the Browns logo on it. Since I had been told that I could not cheer or show favoritism, I could not wear any of it. With the arctic chill in the air that night, finding what to wear turned out to be very difficult. But I managed. And I couldn’t even put my neutral covering to use on the field.
I was lead to the press box by a Browns’ employee. We walked through the back corridors of the stadium and took the service elevators, which are far different from the public side of the stadium and club level I was accustomed to. On the way up to the press box level, we passed the Browns tunnel entrance to the field and the Browns locker room. The excitement started to build. Then we passed the visitor’s locker room and got to the elevator. We are almost there, I thought. The doors opened. Here I am at the Browns/Steelers game in the press box. The night of a lifetime, and then it hits me: The press box is almost sound proof. The view of the field and sidelines was the best I have ever seen, but I could only see about 20 percent of the fans in the stadium. Between the loss of crowd sound and the limited view of the crowd, the press box was an almost emotionally deprived experience. For someone who likes to jump up and down and throw the remote at the television, this was a bazaar experience. The only sound was the stadium announcer describing the play after the whistle. “Quinn with a handoff to Harrison for a gain of four,”in a very monotone voice. After each quarter, we got a handout describing every play, the players involved and a gain or loss. Also we were given team stats and quotes from the Thursday night telecast. With all of this information at our fingertips, I now know how the announcers have so much information on the players and history of the teams.
When the Browns were the first to score, I could sense the excitement of the crowd building throughout the game. Even with the sound buffering, I could actually feel the press box start to vibrate from people in the crowd pounding their feet and seats whenever the Browns would score or get the 4th and short. As the Browns maintained their lead, I started to think this could be the end of the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers 12-game winning streak against my Browns! After the game was over, I stood in the press box for a few minutes still in shock because the Browns had actually held out for all four quarters to win their second game of the season and it was against the Steelers in a televised Thursday-night game. And I had witnessed it from the press box.
As I followed the crowd of reporters down the elevator to the service level to the pressroom and the locker rooms, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I didn’t know which way to turn. There was a cool down period for the players before the reporters were allowed in the locker room, so I took the opportunity to walk onto the field and look up at the almost empty stadium. On my way back to the locker room, Eric Mangini was giving the coach’s interview and I went into the room to watch. The interview was more informal than I had anticipated. As I was standing by the door, the legendary running back Jim Brown came in and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me. I turned and greeted him with a handshake. One more event to make this the best night a Browns fan could have. Once Coach Mangini’s interview was over, I spotted wide receiver Josh Cribbs across the hall giving his interview. There I was standing six feet from Josh Cribbs!
Back down the hall to the locker room I went, but on the way, I saw another interview room. This time it was Brady Quinn at the podium. He had already changed into a well-tailored suit. He was giving his interview and I was impressed with his sense of team and how often he used the words “we,” “he” and “they” instead of “I” or “me” in his interview. This says a lot about Brady Quinn and his attitude about the team.
At this point, most of the players and the coaches were walking down the hallway. The halls were crowded with lots of players and support staff for both teams. I was surprised that other than some of the linemen, most of the players look like anyone else. But I figured out how to tell the players from the Browns support staff: They were wearing very expensive shoes. Some were dressed down, but they were still wearing high-end shoes. It was nice to see some of the players walking out with family. I always knew there was a family section for the teams, but to watch players walk out to their cars or bus with food in one hand and family around them reminded me of school ball. Even though they get paid and have many more fans, the game still remains the same. Friends and family getting together to play the game they love.
Even though I never made it to the locker room, as a Browns fan, this is one of the greatest experiences I could ever have. I was an ESPN The Mag reporter for a night and it was one of the best games ever. It was cold outside, but at times I wished I was out there with the other fans. My wife had the opportunity to go to the Cavs game as a fan reporter the next night and she sat in the arena surrounded by Cavs fans. She could not cheer, but she could still feel the excitement around her as she witnessed LeBron and the Cleveland Cavs win against Portland. Although I was at the more exciting game, the sterile environment took away some of the energy of the experience.