How full? The official Browns Backers club purports to be the largest fan club of any professional team on the planet, with more than 63,000 members of some 200 chapters from the U.S. to the U.K. to Japan. When the move was announced, Browns Backer president Bob Grace took a call from the president of the Australian chapter, who asked, "Should we disband?" They should not, he was told.
Indeed, when our friend Cleveland Brown lived abroad for 15 years, as a member of the Air Force and later as a nondenominational missionary, he heard knowing comments about his name wherever he traveled, from the Philippines to Italy. "Browns fans are everywhere," he confirms, and none is better known than Big Dawg.
So let the Big Dawg eat. He is seated at a table in Coaches restaurant in downtown Cleveland. One almost expects him to be served a bowl of Kibbles 'n Bits and to slurp the food up with his mouth. But in fact, he doesn't order food at all. His familiar dog mask is at home, but his own face looks hangdog enough on this night. On another recent evening, Big Dawg was honored for his devotion to the Browns before a Cleveland Crunch indoor soccer match. His twin daughters accompanied him.
"In the third quarter," he says, his eyes suddenly reddening at the rims, "they announced that it was my daughters' ninth birthday. Their names are Megan and Michelle. We didn't know they were going to do that." Clearly the gesture moved him, for his eyes mist now at the mention of it.
At the conclusion of the Crunch festivities, a fan approached Big Dawg and said, "Man, the Browns must have really been good to you over the years."
And the Big Dawg replied, "The Crunch have done more for me tonight than the Browns did in 18 years."
That irony had first occurred to him earlier that evening as he prepared to kick out the ball to start the indoor soccer game: It was the Crunch who were thanking him for two decades of devotion to the Browns. And so that night, as applause rolled down the arena aisles and reached this giant man, he couldn't help himself.
Beneath a rubber basset hound mask, he wept.
One would have preferred to have filed a happier report, to have given Cleveland a cleaner bill of health. Lord knows, no other American city has endured as many invasive journalistic procedures.
"Reporters from serious publications like The Wall Street Journal, FORTUNE and The New York Times Magazine visit the city at five-year intervals and produce long stories with titles like 'Cleveland Bounces Back' and 'Renaissance in Cleveland,' " travel writer Bill Bryson has said. "No one ever reads these articles, least of all me, so I can't say whether the improbable and highly relative assertion that Cleveland is better now than it used to be is wrong or right."