Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why I Love the Browns but I Don't Hate the Steelers

We were driving down a suburban Cleveland street the other day, when we passed a house flying not one but two Steelers banners from a giant flagpole. My husband let out a disgusted snort. "That takes a lot of nerve," he said.

I laughed.

My bad. He wasn't trying to be funny.

"No, I mean it," he said. "How could someone fly those flags in Cleveland?"

The idea that someone would live in a Cleveland suburb and root for the Steelers--or worse yet, advertise it--is incomprehensible to my husband and probably a lot of other Clevelanders. I agree that pride in your community should encourage you to root for the home team. But I try to give people a break. Maybe they grew up in Pittsburgh. Or maybe a football player they've admired since his college days plays for the Steelers.

Or maybe they're from Youngstown.

You see, Youngstown is in a very interesting position, geographically speaking. The city lies almost smack-dab between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. People from Youngstown sometimes gravitate to one city, or find themselves going back and forth. My father, for example, would only pick up family members from the Pittsburgh Airport, never from Cleveland Hopkins. On the other hand, he leans toward the Browns rather than the Steelers. Go figure.

When it comes to football, living in Youngstown allows you to take sides in the AFC North without a high risk of injury. You could go to Olive Garden wearing your Steelers jacket and sit next to a guy in a Browns jersey, and there'd (probably) be no chance of you getting socked in the jaw. You could also remain neutral, just happy to see something exciting happening in the area, and not be pressured to choose.

In Cleveland, you see only enough of the Steelers to know you dislike them (like when they beat the Browns). In Youngstown, both Pittsburgh and Cleveland games are often carried on television, so you get a different perspective. It's almost like there are two hometown teams instead of one.

That may be why I don't trash-talk the Steelers, why I don't make jokes about the questionable intelligence of people from Pittsburgh and why I can't help but smile every time I see Terry Bradshaw on TV. The Browns are my favorite team, and I root for them every Sunday. But I don't hate the Steelers.

Because of this, my husband has given me the unattractive nickname of "traitor," and he asks me every Sunday if I'll be waving my "terrible towel." I guess that's what a rivalry is all about. You're not supposed to love one team and kind of like the other. It's like saying (gasp!) that you root for Michigan when they're not playing Ohio State.

I can't get it through my husband's head that my allegiance is with the Brownies. Time and again, I relay the story of my one and only trip to the old Municipal Stadium. I was a junior at Penn State, and my friends and I boarded a charter bus headed for Cleveland. I entered a sea of black and gold, and I guess I stood out in my bright orange sweatshirt. It was a vocal group on that bus.

"Browns fans can't sit in that seat," one guy hollered when I tried to plant myself next to my roommate (who, by the way, was a diehard Steelers fan as well). Everyone else on the bus found this humorous, and during the four-hour ride from State College, Pennsylvania, to Cleveland, I withstood the abuse. "Browns fans can't eat snacks!" "Browns fans can't sleep on the bus!" And then there was the most embarrassing one of all: "Browns fans can't use the bathroom!!"

They laughed as they tormented me, and I didn't feel really threatened. But I got the sense that if I did too much bragging, I could find myself standing alone on the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. So I did a few "ha has" and ribbed them back a little, but I tried to stay low-key.

As luck would have it, the Browns won the game. I couldn't wait to get on the bus and give it back to those Steelers fans. But when I sat down, everyone seemed to have their heads lowered, and no one was talking. I tried to lighten the mood. "Hey, Steelers fans can't sit down the whole way home!" Hee-hee-hee... Oops, no one was laughing; in fact, I distinctly remember a couple of glaring stares thrown my way. So I was forced to ride home in silence, rejoicing in victory silently in my head.

My husband probably would like this story better if it ended with me taking all of the "terrible towels" from the bus and ripping them to shreds in front of the amazed eyes of the Steelers fans. Although I felt a sense of Browns patriotism, I still couldn't bring myself to hate the other team.

Now we find the Steelers in the Super Bowl. For the second time since the "new Browns" have been around. The Browns haven't won a championship since I was four months old. I understand the frustration. And the resentment. So I won't be wearing black and gold on Sunday. But as a Youngstowner at heart, I realize that Pittsburgh is as much a part of our region as Cleveland, and anything that brings good news to the region is a plus. As a Clevelander, though, I'll wear my brown and orange and daydream about the Browns in Super Bowl XLIV. Woof, Woof!

Monday, January 5, 2009

All The News That Fits Together

A guy writes about a city he loves for 45 years, and what does he get? A farewell column that has at least two sets of words mashed together in every single paragraph, making it almost impossible to read.

When Dick Feagler reminisces about the good old days of newspaper journalism in his front-page column of last Sunday's Plain Dealer, he might also be talking about the good old days when someone was actually proofreading the publication.

Just imagine, your swan song after nearly a half-century of covering news, politics and life in general in Northeast Ohio, and you get this: "We alwayscarried enough dimes in our pockets to call the city desk." I read it as "We always scared enough dimes..." the first three times I looked at the sentence.

It doesn't matter if there are only six people left on the staff of a major newspaper: One of those people has got to read the damn stories before the paper goes out the door. Sure, there are printing errors that happen at nearly the last minute of publication, but there is always someone on staff with the responsibility of catching those mistakes prior to thousands of people seeing them. Well, almost always.

It breaks my heart when I see errors in any publication, whether in print or online. I've made a few of my own mistakes in published articles. No matter how hard we try, mistakes can happen. Maybe the problem was caught after the early editions left the printer, and corrections were made later in the day. Nevertheless, this latest boo-boo from the PD makes it feel like there aren't any humans left to blame for mistakes such as this.

Or maybe Dick Feagler made the errors himself, purposely, to see if anyone still reads newspapers. I see that the pushed-in words were separated in the online version of Feagler's column. Maybe it's an old columnist's way of saying, "Hell, everyone's online anyway, let's just throw in a bunch of really bad mistakes and see if one fool out there is reading this and will catch them." I checked the comments under his column online; there were several fools who caught the mistakes in the print version.

Newspapers certainly have changed since Dick Feagler began writing 45 years ago. But then they've changed drastically in the last 5-10 years, too. For those of us who still love to read them, it's a difficult time indeed.