Surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns won’t be competing in the NFL playoffs this year. Instead, the other three teams in the Browns’ division — the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers — will be vying for the coveted division title and playoff spots. These three teams are division rivals we play twice a year, so we hate all of them. But a legitimate question for Browns fans is: which of these teams do I hate the most? For me, the answer is easy.
It’s not the Bengals. Sure, the upstart Cincinnati team shares the same state and stole the Browns’ colors when the Bengals franchise starts more than 40 years ago, but to be honest the Bengals really aren’t worthy of being despised. For much of their history, the Bengals have been even more inept than the Browns, and that’s saying something. Sure, the Bengals have been to two Super Bowls and the Browns have never been to even one (sob!), but the Bengals always come across as pass-happy, gimmicky glory boys rather than tough guys willing to slug it out in the AFC’s most rugged division. The fact that the Bengals fans consist largely of front-runners who don’t bother with going to games when the team stinks makes the Bengals more worthy of contempt than hatred.
It’s not the Steelers, either. You’d think Browns fans would hate the Steelers with every fiber of their being, given the Steelers’ many Super Bowl wins. Many Browns fans give the pretense of hating the Steelers — but scratch that outward enmity and underneath you’re likely to find a deep reservoir of grudging respect. It’s hard to hate those whom you’d like to emulate. Browns fans want the Browns to be the Steelers, because in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s the Browns were the Steelers — they were the stable franchise, well managed and thoughtfully run, that found great players, ran a great scheme, and regularly appeared in championship games and brought banners back to Municipal Stadium. The Steelers stole that mantle in the ’70s and have kept it since, and the Browns fans want it back. In the meantime, we’ll secretly root for the Steelers because we all feel that they play football the way it should be played.
That leaves the Ravens, and they are truly the team that I hate the most. I hate them because, of course, they used to be the Browns, before the despicable Art Modell took the team away from the city and the fans that loved it — all for the sake of money. I hate them because their new name sucks, they’ve had success in Baltimore, and they’ve won a Super Bowl that should rightfully have been Cleveland’s. I hate their loudmouth, show-boating players who mug for the cameras and have forsaken the quiet classiness that used to define professional athletes. The Ravens’ consistent winning ways confirms that no benevolent, sports-loving deity intervenes in games to reward goodness or promote fairness; instead, only capricious and mean-spirited gods could possibly favor the awful Ravens. I despise the Ravens, and I rail at the fates that conspire to put them in the playoffs year after year, while the Browns wallow in seasons of embarrassment, failure, and futility.