July 1, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Championship Sunday painful for Cleveland

It’s always something.

Championship Sunday is the best day on the NFL calendar, but Browns fans can never fully enjoy the two games loaded with the ultimate drama —a Super Bowl bid hanging in the balance.

Before all the guys and gals in their Browns sweatshirts and hats could get comfortable on the couch or barstool Sunday, Braylon Edwards was streaking down the left sideline with an 80-yard touchdown.

This is what former general manager Phil Savage had in mind when he took the Michigan Wolverine —Edwards and his family won’t let his lineage go, so why should we? —with the third pick of the 2005 draft, but the rare moments of brilliance were overshadowed by his drops and off-field antics.

Edwards disappeared just as quickly as he struck, and the Jets crashed back to earth when Peyton Manning figured out Rex Ryan’s defense.

OK, so Edwards won’t win a Super Bowl after being traded early in the season by Cleveland coach Eric Mangini. But Browns fans can never escape some insult or injustice on Championship Sunday.

Their two least favorite teams, the Ravens and Steelers, have hoisted the Lamar Hunt trophy as AFC champs three times since 2000.

Their most hated coach, Bill Belichick, became a genius after his rocky tenure in Cleveland. His Patriots dominated the last decade, as Browns fans couldn’t avoid the unsettling image of his smug smile and ugly gray hoodie.

Then there’s the incredible shrinking list.

Anyone who’s tailgated in the Muni Lot, cursed in the Dawg Pound, donned a Tim Couch jersey or heard of Bernie Kosar knows the Browns have never been to a Super Bowl. The rest of the unfortunate few: Detroit, Jacksonville and Houston —the last two recent expansion franchises.

In the last 13 months, the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints have left the Browns in the dust as they’ve reached their first Super Bowls. The expansion Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers also punched tickets to the Super Bowl in the new millennium.

No franchises experienced greater struggles —or the indelicate balance of national irrelevance and embarrassment —over the last 40 years than the Cardinals and Saints.

Yet their fans can proudly wear conference champion hats and T-shirts. They can talk about those great playoff runs and that exhilarating prelude to the Super Bowl when the world’s eyes were focused on their team and city.

The Cleveland faithful is left with dreams of a drastic turnaround under new president Mike Holmgren. But any talk of the Browns playing in the AFC championship is engulfed in sarcasm or a product of optimism that borders on insanity.

The Browns hold a top-10 draft pick for the eighth time in 12 years. The quarterback of the future —the importance of the position gets magnified when watching Manning, Drew Brees and Brett Favre —isn’t on the roster. Their three division rivals have made the playoffs in the last two seasons.

The Browns haven’t sniffed the AFC championship game in forever —1994 to be exact, when their last playoff win was followed by a loss to the Steelers in the second round. It’s been even longer since the three AFC title game disappointments to the Broncos within four years in the late 1980s.

That’s another drawback to Championship Sunday. There’s no way to get away from The Drive, The Fumble and the ghosts of John Elway and Earnest Byner. Someone always brings them up, because a trip to the Super Bowl would mean so much to Cleveland.

The pain is as fresh as ever, but the joy from those days has faded deep into the recesses of the mind. Exciting victories led to the heartbreak, but the losses persevere.

That’s the life of a Browns fan.

Even on the greatest football day of the year.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.