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Could football be Cleveland State's not-so-secret pastime?

By Roman Verzub

October 27, 2011

Baseball has been called “America's pastime” for years now, but the truth might surprise some.

Indeed, sometime in the early 1990s it was football that overtook baseball as the favorite sport of thirty-one percent of respondents to a Harris Interactive poll of 2,331 adults. Baseball is ranked third with 17%.

For Cleveland State students, one might assume football to not be the sport of choice, however. Indeed, CSU’s lack of a football team could mean that the trends for students differ compared to the national ones.

This is, however, not necessarily the case. CSU is full of football fans and even football super fans - people who love Cleveland Browns football to their very core - some even traveling with the team so as to not miss a chance to see their favorite team and players take the field and do battle the opposing side. CSU’s football fans and super fans flock to the Browns as the obvious choice for their football-based elation.

One such fan is English major Rachel Wilson.

“I was introduced to [football] in middle school,” she said, “It was right around when the Cleveland Browns returned in 1990, so I was about 11/12 years old.”

Wilson said she fell in love with football right away.

“Words can’t really describe my love for football,” she said, “I love everything about it.”

But Cleveland doesn’t necessarily have the best records in sports. This season the team is going 3 and 3, for example, which is less-than-stellar by most accounts. This is, however, no problem for a super fan like Rachel.

“We all understand that Cleveland is cursed and that the sports teams are bad here,” she said, “you just have to be loyal.”

And loyal she is.

“I love showing my Browns pride everywhere,” she remarked, “if they’re losing I’ll still cheer for them. I still have faith in them. They will win a championship one day.”

Like most sports fans, game time has its set rituals. For Wilson, one such ritual is keeping up with the social media conversation.

“I follow [on Twitter] what other people say about the game, and share my own thoughts,” she says, and this helps to replicate the “one-big-happy family” effect she said she experiences when watching the games live, “It makes me feel like I’m watching the game with others, despite being at home with family or friends.”

What is the most-challenging aspect to describe, however, is perhaps just what it is that makes the sport so appealing to the super fan.

“Football [is] what makes football awesome,” she said, “The players, the coaches, the refs, the fans. Everything. The only good thing about fall and winter is football. Football is more than a sport, it’s a way of life.”

Next up is Promotional Communications major Joey Novitskey. Like Rachel, Joey is a super fan, and she has been one for a long time.

“I was first introduced to football at five,” she said. “My dad took me to a Browns game, and started telling me things like what the quarterback does, the difference between a strong safety and free safety, and the rest is history.”

Novitskey has been to many games, and, having worked with the Browns she can attend any game she wishes, though the last one she attended was against the New York Jets last year.

“I got to stand on the field up until kick-off,” she said, “I surprised my dad and took him for his 65th birthday.”

Novitskey also spoke very-highly of the experience of seeing a game live.

“I love being at the stadium in the thick of the action,” she said.

During play time, when watching in her residence, Novitskey’s attention is unshakable.

“I am focused on every pay,” she said.

And when it came to what it is that makes the game so special, Novitskey had similar points to Wilson.

“Football is so awesome because for me it just is,” she said. “It is the one thing I am most-knowledgeable about. I love that I know everything that’s going on, what yardage is needed for a first down, knowing what every penalty flag is thrown for before the ref tells me. I love the rough, tumble action, and the strong passion for winning. You can’t get this stuff at a baseball game!”

Finally, Physical Education major Thomas Kump takes his love of football to the next level, routinely traveling with the team to away games, a process he describes as “like crossing enemy lines or invading enemy territory.”

“You feel like you do not belong or you are out of place, but I don’t care. I’m here to win a football game.”

Having traveled to the likes of Buffalo, Detroit, New Orleans and Indianapolis, Kump has felt the stigma of being an outsider cheering for the opposition.

“You often feel like everyone is against you, because they are,” he said.
Kump was not, however, always such a fan.

He was introduced during the 2005 season.

“We were listening to a Browns game over a neighbor’s radio,” he recalled, “The Browns won that game by two points. The next week there was nothing on TV, so I turned the Browns game on. They won that game too, and I have never missed a Browns game since.”

Since that fateful day in 2005, Kump’s interest has grown considerably.

“I love football more than life itself,” he said. I prioritize it over so many things. I am willing to miss birthdays, anniversaries, and many other things if a game is being played.”

The feeling Kump gets before games hits him hard.

“I get butterflies before games, especially during player introductions,” he said,” and tears of joy sometimes flow, because I love the players on my team as much as my own family.”

For every lover and fan, even super fan, Cleveland sports has its critics. They don’t bother Kump, however.

“Sometimes it’s upsetting,” he said, “but usually I tell people that I don’t care what they say... I believe in my football team and its players, and they will not change my opinion or rain on my parade.”

Kump vows to “never give up on [the Browns] ever” and to “never miss a game a game for any reason.”

Kump, like many super fans, prefers to watch televised games solo, so that he “can yell and scream at the TV and no one will see it.”

When attending a home game at the stadium however, the company of at least one person is desirable “so that we can share in the moments that will unfold.”

Like other super fans, certain aspects of fan unity, like tailgating are appealing, but not in their entirety.

“[The tailgating experience] is like a brotherhood,” he said, “however I dislike the drinking portion of tailgating, because, if you’re drunk how can you enjoy the game?”

The game itself, whether it’s at his residence, Browns Stadium, or a stadium of the opposing team, is an intense experience for Kump.

“Every football game is an emotional roller coaster,” he said, “You can be mind-numbingly mad and depressed one minute if your team is scored on, or if your team is behind on the scoreboard, and jumping out of your seat ecstatic the next if your team is winning.”

Ultimately, it is the totality of this that makes Cleveland Browns football great for Kump.

“There’s no better feeling in the world to me then winning a football game,” he said.

Kump plans to continue traveling with and supporting the Browns, he said.

“I have a goal in my life that at some point before I die I want to watch the Browns play a game in every stadium in the NFL.”