I tell myself that it’s possible to love them both equally, even if that also has to include the “but differently” disclaimer. One is familiar, even if it is rarely comfortable. The other is new, exciting, and full of promise. And that just makes me feel all the more guilty.
Years ago, I committed to being a Cleveland Browns fan in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer. I’ve been focused on them for so long now, my feelings for them gilded in the punishing heat of unrelenting disappointment. I know all of their broken promises by heart. I’ve heard the same lies so many times that I can now anticipate those lies before they even tell them.
“They reminded me of the darkest parts of my time following the Browns, and they asked me when the last time was the Browns had really made me feel happy.”
For years, I believed them when they said things would change. Every time they made a grand gesture, promising things would get better and they’d never hurt me again, I bought into it. I greedily gobbled it up, hook, line, and sinker. Eventually, the shocking disappointment and bewildered disbelief fueled a fiery anger. How could they do such things? How could they let it be like this? Didn’t they even care how great it could have been?
Anger takes energy, though, and energy is finite. The surprise wore off. I went numb. I began to expect things to go poorly each time we rounded a new bend, and I was rarely incorrect. To seem less ridiculous to everyone else, I laughed at the many misfortunes, at my own silliness for remaining loyal to them, at the foolhardy notions that they may ever be better.
Finally, I settled in and accepted my future as a Cleveland Browns fan. It was ugly, but it was mine.
I never intended for my new proximity to the Green Bay Packers to change any of that. I was acquainted with them from afar, of course, just like I would have been with any other NFL team. I had no particular bias either in favor of or in opposition to them. They had a rich history, I knew, but so did lots of teams. They were just another team to me.
Before I moved to Green Bay, I was aware of the perceived danger of gravitating toward the Packers. My friends back in Ohio whispered to me over drinks about how this would be a great opportunity to move on from the Browns, about how the Browns had never been good to me and how they weren’t about to start. They reminded me of the darkest parts of my time following the Browns, and they asked me when the last time was the Browns had really made me feel happy.
Still, I defended the Browns and maintained that I would remain loyal to them, even if it seemed easier to find comfort with the Packers. The geographical distance between the Browns and I didn’t have to mean that we grew apart figuratively, I told myself. In fact, I thought it might even be better for us. Maybe some space and some time would do us some good. Maybe outside of the toxic, concentrated environment of northeastern Ohio, where we’d spent so much tainted time together, where we were surround by critics and naysayers, things could be different.
They were, but not in the way that I thought. The Packers, from whom I intended to maintain a comfortable but good-natured distance, immediately disarmed me with their local charm. Their city was in love with them, and they with their city. The team was warm, charismatic, and caring. They were quietly confident, and they seem competent even in the midst of their humility.
Gone were the tensions of the Cleveland atmosphere, the adversarial and defensive relationship between the team and the fans. In Green Bay, every conversation about the Packers wasn’t peppered with bitter criticisms and/or weighed down by a history of scarring distrust.
I know how it will look to everyone. Some of the Browns fans I’ve been closest to over the years will find my new orientation disgusting. They’ll think me disloyal. They’ll say that I abandoned the team when times got hard. They’ll ignore the fact that times have been hard for years and that I suffered through years praying for it to change, praying for the Browns to show that they’re even interested enough to change.
Some will claim it is all about the wins and losses. I can’t say that they don’t matter at all, but it’s certainly not that simple. I’m not dumping the a hardworking but unfortunate Browns team for a flashy, attractive Superbowl participant with lots of wins. The Packers had a disappointing season last season too, but they had it in a much different way. The difference is not in the level of current success enjoyed by the Browns or the Packers; it is in the way they manage and respond to the periods when things are tough.
I still love the Browns, and I’ll still wish them all the success in the world. I want nothing more than for them to turn things around for themselves. I’ll still wear that t-shirt I bought outside the stadium before that preseason game years ago. I’ll keep tabs on the new quarterback they’ve found themselves; I hope he makes them happy in a way the others couldn’t. I’ll sit at home at night and quietly watch their upcoming television show.
I’m not totally leaving the Browns, not right now, at least. We’ve been together too long, and we’ve been through too much, even if a lot of it was disastrous. They may just not be the sole focus of my NFL attention anymore. I’m intrigued by my opportunity to spend some time with the Packers. I think I’d like to get to know them a little better. I know that I’ll never feel exactly the same way about them that I did about the Browns, and maybe that’s for the best.