Finally! Every Sunday from now until February will be an NFL football Sunday - in other words, my favorite time of the year.
My sister, Rhonda, and I have a love for football - particularly the Browns - that goes way back to our youth. Dad was a Browns fan, so by default, so were we. We grew up on football, and at some point, we surpassed dad's interest in the game and football togetherness became our thing. While many sisters might spend time getting pedicures or going to yoga or shopping, my sister and I go to football games. During football season, when we get together, we're talking football. I'll go visit her for the weekend and we plan our activities around Browns games. We plan long weekend vacations around out of town Browns games.
Over the years, we've witnessed our share of memorable moments - and about 90 percent of those have nothing to do with the teams playing on the field. The fans alone provide enough entertainment without the game. We attended a Monday Night Football game when we witnessed a lovely Dawg Pound couple (dressed like dogs, of course) getting married in the end zone. It was also during the game when yours truly and her sister debuted on the stadium Jumbotron. Another season, a gentleman of generous proportions in our section made a habit of coming to cold weather games without a shirt, and when he didn't show up the final weekend, we all assumed he finally came down with pneumonia. And you really haven't seen anything funny until you've watched an extremely inebriated person attempt to locate his or her seat in the nosebleeds.
People aren't the only things we remember. Sometimes the weather stands out, and being Cleveland, you have to prepare for anything. We sweat it out during the first game of the 2002 season as temps soared into the low 90s. I remember we actually moved out of our seats into seats that were in the shade. This game was more memorable, however, because a Browns player, Dwayne Rudd, threw his helmet at the end of the game to celebrate what he thought was a Browns victory. However, he was called for a penalty, the other team kicked a field goal, and the Browns successfully found a way to lose a game when time had expired.
At the other end of the weather spectrum, we attended a mid-December game and had seats in the Dawg Pound. The seats were metal bleachers, and the stadium is open at that end, meaning there is nothing separating you from that wonderfully frigid breeze off of Lake Erie. At kickoff, the temperature was 16 degrees. The snow cover in the aisles didn't help matters either. After the game, I'm pretty sure my feet didn't thaw out until we reached Canton.
Our visits to Cleveland weren't without some controversy though. We were in the stands for the well known "Bottle Gate" the infamous game when Browns fans, angered by a call on the field, threw bottles at the officials. Rhonda and I were sitting in one of the lower sections, which also happened to be right by where the officials went on and off the field. Neither of us knew what to do when the bottles began flying - until one landed about three seats over from where we were standing, and then we quickly high-tailed it out of there. (And no, we weren't throwing bottles.)
Another controversy took place off the field in a situation Rhonda and I refer to as the "Tastykake Debacle." During a cold and very snowy December game against Baltimore, the public address system kept playing promos for Tastykake, promising everyone in attendance a free Tastykake at the end of the game. We spoke quite longingly of our upcoming cakey indulgence, as that was pretty much all there was to look forward to since the Browns were getting crushed. The game was so bad and the conditions so awful that many people left at halftime. We toughed it out, though, until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when we just couldn't take it anymore. We were cold, it was snowing, and the Browns were losing by 35. Well, at least we got a Tastykake to help soften the blow.
On the way out, however, there were no Tastykakes. There were no people handing out Tastykakes.
"What happened to the Tastykakes?" we wondered aloud. All they did was pump us full of gluttonous promises the entire game and now there were no Tastykakes?
"Look! There are wrappers on the ground," Rhonda observed. "They were giving out Tastykakes and we didn't get any!"
No, we didn't get any because we were not the fans trekking out at halftime. But they were somehow rewarded for their fair weather-fannery by each receiving a luscious Tastykake on the way out. The real fans (or at least the ones who stuck it out a lot longer) got nothing. To this day, my sister and I speak ill of Tastykake and the entire controversial situation.
The Dunder sisters have also taken our show on the road. We ventured to the desert of Arizona in 2007 and the beaches of Miami in 2010 to watch our beloved Browns. Coming in to the 2012 season, we held out hope for a Browns road game in San Diego, but that didn't pan out. Maybe next year we will find a nice warm weather city to visit in December.
Rhonda and I have a saying that the Browns always try to ruin our fun. They sure like to try really hard sometimes, but misery really does love company. We've left the stadium feeling down, only to see many others taking it much worse than we were - for example, the guy who decided to kick his headphones across the parking lot. And we've had way more down years than we've had good years, but actually being there for the good times is really exhilarating.
And while thinking back on a lot of these memories make me laugh, what makes these Sundays so special isn't necessarily the Browns or the game - the great thing about it all is getting to spend time with my sister. We've always been close, and now that she lives away, we don't get to see each other much anymore. But it's so fun to call her up early on Sunday morning, bark into the phone (yes, I did say "bark") and say, "See you in Cleveland in a few hours!"
Despite any outcome on the field, any type of weather, and any broken promise of receiving industrially manufactured baked goods, there is no one I'd rather ring in the NFL's opening weekend with than my sister. And we'll be doing it in our little slice of heaven - inside Cleveland Browns Stadium.