CLEVELAND — The crowd of thousands made the familiar march up the inclined sidewalks after a trip to FirstEnergy Stadium.
This time, there were smiles.
A good time had been had by all, for a change, at the “Perfect Season” parade organized to protest the Cleveland Browns’ historic 0-16 season.
The purpose of the demonstration wasn’t forgotten. Fans braved wind chills below zero to gather at the lakefront and express their frustration, anger and disgust with an organization led by owner Jimmy Haslam that’s repeatedly repaid their loyalty with losses.
“Sell, Jimmy, sell,” the fans chanted Saturday as they filed up West Third Street.
“I’m here to protest. We don’t deserve this,” North Ridgeville’s Patty Szylakowski said. “We deserve better people in the front office. We deserve better people coaching and we deserve better players. I’ve been a fan since I can’t remember. I’ve loved the Browns forever and I still do. It’s just we should have won more than nothing.
“Every fan in all the NFL cities should be thinking about this. If they got crap like we did, they would be doing the same thing.”
The Browns joined the 2008 Lions as the only teams to go winless in a 16-game season, and fans in Detroit jerseys attended the parade to pass the torch.
Szylakowski held a homemade sign, with a frownie face, that read: Factory of Sadness!! See you in September!
Comedian Mike Polk years ago nicknamed the stadium The Factory of Sadness in a viral video capturing the fans’ outrage and commitment. He led a group of fans in the one-lap trip around the stadium in a bitter wind, and in a couple of memorable chants.
Those fit for print included: “What do we want? Watchable football. When do we want it? Now.” And “Hey, hey, ho, ho, did we win a game? Hell, no.”
The event was part parade. People love parades, and Cleveland Police conservatively estimated the crowd at 2,500-3,200 with no arrests.
There was a marching band, candy thrown to onlookers and vehicles following each other in a designated pattern — a truck with a dumpster painted orange and brown, “The Struggle Bus” painted orange and an SUV with a Tim Couch jersey extended to include the list of all quarterbacks, general managers and coaches who’ve passed through town since the team returned in 1999.
It was part protest. The Browns are 88-216 in the regular season since 1999. They are 1-31 under coach Hue Jackson, who will return for a third season despite the worst stretch in NFL history. They’re 2-41 since their last road win.
Fans wore bags on their heads yards from the row of plaques of Browns Hall of Famers. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” blared from speakers. Signs read: Jimmy & Dee, Go Jump in the Lake! Browns 0-16, putting the L in the NFL. Worst Owner in Sports.
It was part party. Despite considerable backlash — defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah tweeted the parade was “a joke” and said people shouldn’t call themselves Browns fans if they went — smiles and laughs dominated.
As the playoffs kicked off across the league, Browns fans were forced to lead the league in creativity.
Big Bird in a Johnny Manziel jersey. Santa Claus with “Sad Santa 0-16” across the back of his plush red suit. A “bishop” with a John 0:16 poster that said “Deliver us from Jimmy and Dee” on the back.
An “Owen 16” jersey. A “We suck 00” jersey. A band on a flatbed playing “Hurts So Good” by John Mellencamp.
Organizer Chris McNeil called it a smashing success.
“And no fights, no violence. I didn’t have to wear a flak jacket, none of that crap that would reflect badly upon us,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s looking at this thing and going, look at these idiot Clevelanders who are celebrating 0-16. I don’t think that’s the message. This is a clear message to those people inside the building.”
North Ridgeville’s Tony Timoteo led a group of parading protesters, taking his Browns quarterback graveyard on the road. He was joined by 28 people holding “tombstones” for every starting quarterback since 1999, along with one carrying an inflatable swan in honor of Johnny Manziel’s self-destructive career.
“The support of Cleveland has been unreal,” Timoteo said. “I know everyone thinks we’re anti-Browns, but we’re full-on Browns, there is Browns gear everywhere.
“(The Haslams) know we have a good fan base because we continue to buy season tickets, we continue to go to the games because we want the team to win no matter what. So we’re always going to go, so we had to find another outlet to really voice our concerns.”
The parade collected canned goods and raised nearly $15,000 for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, according to McNeil. The fans embraced the 0-16 protest while celebrating their love of the Browns, shared misery and camaraderie of the city.
“Here we go, Brownies!” chants popped up throughout the early afternoon.
“We’re here to support the Browns. We love the Browns,” Timoteo said.
McNeil talked feet from the Jim Brown statue and flashed back to his days as a kid in the 1980s driving home after important Browns victories.
“Browns fans and Cleveland fans are so passionate, and that’s why this stuff matters,” he said. “This stuff matters in this town. I almost get choked up when I think about it.
“It really is like family. It just says so much about the character of this city, the character of the people here. This is all positive and fun.”