Staking Claim To A Local Legend

By Ron Ciancutti

The light’s on in the window; she’s waiting by the phone
Talking to a memory that’s never coming home
She dreams of his returning and the things that he might say
But she’ll always be the girl from yesterday
Yeah, she’ll always be the girl from yesterday
--Eagles, “The Girl From Yesterday”

I’d rather be a could-be if I cannot be an are because a could-be is a maybe who is reaching for a star. I'd rather be a has-been than a might-have-been, by far, for a might have-been has never been, but a has was once an are.
--Milton Berle

For those of you who don’t understand the type of twisted addiction that makes Cleveland kids remain Browns football fans all the way through adulthood, some of this article may get confusing. Browns loyalty is an all- consuming obsession in many ways.

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I remember as a kid a cartoon named “Tiger,” created by Bud Blake. The boy featured in it wore a baseball cap 24/7, and you could never see his eyes. Well, in one strip, he’s hanging out with his dog, and a friend says (and I am paraphrasing), “That dog of yours is not too smart, is he?” And Tiger says, “No, he’s not.” And the friend says, “He’s not really very fast either, is he?” Tiger says, “Nope.” And finally, the other kid says, “He isn’t even a decent watchdog, is he?” And Tiger says, “Heck no.” So, in the second-to-last frame, the friend says, “Well, if he isn’t any of those things, what is he?” And in the final frame, Tiger is shown embracing the dog, and he says, “He’s mine.”

If you understand that vignette, then Cleveland’s love of its sacred Browns should be crystal-clear. It isn’t just about rooting for the underdog. It’s more powerful than that. It’s almost parental in that it accepts all faults.

A Piece Of History
That’s why I sat watching with a somewhat sorrowful heart as the Browns’ once-fearless quarterback, Bernie Kosar, reported from the sidelines in the pouring rain at a recent Browns exhibition-game broadcast.

His thinning grey hair was messy, wet, and windblown; his long, lanky body with a shirt haphazardly tucked in and a tie that didn’t match anything draped around his long neck made him appear even more awkward. The standard-issue Browns jacket hood soaked to the scalp accentuated his long Croatian nose all the more. He was the quintessential example of why people say, “That guy has a great face for radio.”

But when the guys in the booth spoke to him and asked for his “I’ve been there” insight, he shone like a new penny. Good old Bernie—how he knows this game of football! And so he began to explain to viewers what was happening, what wasn’t happening, and, honestly, no one else even needed to be there once Bernie had the floor. In those moments, his eyes were clear again, his arm was strong, and except for the microphone in his hand, he could have slung the ball 75 yards “on a rope” to Brian Brennan, Webster Slaughter, or any of the old Browns’ receiving core.

And in that moment, his appearance became even clearer to me. Bernie is that guy next to you at the bar who just got off the late shift at the factory and stopped in for coffee because he was too wound up to go straight home. If he was all tucked in and cleaned up, he wouldn’t be Bernie, he would be Troy, and Troy will never be Cleveland; we love Bernie just the way he is because he’s just the way he was. He is the living representation of our “untucked” city, and we love that, too. And Bernie has done well for himself. He stumbled a bit after retiring, but he’s back on his feet, has some strong business interests, and has sorted out some of his physical ailments, too. Indeed, Bernie got a second wind and has rebranded himself in many ways. But again, at first glance, I couldn’t help but contrast his “old days” to the present: that fresh, dynamic kid who scared owner Art Modell and his wallet to death because he stepped up to the microphone after college and said, “I wanna play for the Cleveland Browns!” You just can’t help but think of that kid winging the ball all over Cleveland Stadium when you see him today, a bit hunched over and a little hesitant in his step, but still a man who has simply lived a piece of Cleveland history and will be branded that way for the rest of his days.

Scars Make Us Who We Are
And aren’t we all a mere compilation of what we’ve seen and experienced? Whether it’s a limp, a scar, a diploma, or a battered used car because the Mrs. took it all in the divorce, we wear the war wounds of the battles we’ve won and lost.

All of us wear out, rust out, or get played out in some way—hairlines, wrinkles, graying beards, more weight—the signs of aged experience. We try to turn the clock back, but can only do so much.

And, please, only do so much! The comb-overs, the dyed white hair that looks purple, the Botox that makes one look surprised 24/7, the wigs … I mean, if you’re in television or theater or in something where your physical appearance is your bread and butter, I understand, but the rest of us? Let’s put it this way—the only people over 30 who should be wearing a baseball cap backwards are catchers or rappers. As Prince once said, “Act your age, not your shoe size.”

So, anyway, thank you, Bernie. Thanks for being who you are and staying true to who you have always been. All these years later, you are still teaching people how to stand tall. I remember well the day you got “Bele-checked” off the Browns and were on a plane to Dallas within a few days of being let go. The local TV stations followed you and your dad through Cleveland-Hopkins Airport, and your dad stood at the window until your plane was airborne. It had been a tough experience for you, and your dad’s eyes were misty because of his empathy for the stalwart young man you were forced to be. He looked at the cameras, sighed, and said, “Well, I put a happy kid on that plane.” Evidently, you were smiling again after days of disappointment.

I recall how every parent in the city related to what your dad was feeling. It was only right that the city continues to give so much love back to you. You were the LeBron story in many ways back in a time when media weren’t foaming at the mouth. And your Cleveland story was the inverse of LeBron; you never wanted to leave home. But your fate was sealed, and off you went to Dallas to earn a Super Bowl ring that you were hoping would one day read “the CLE.”

But, like the rest of us, your plans didn’t quite turn out as you hoped. So, like the rest of us, you had to regroup and reinvent yourself to a certain degree. And since we all got to watch you go through it, it made it a little easier for us to do the same.

There’s a little “has-been” in every one of us because very few have the stamina at 80 to do what we did at 30. But the fact is “has-been” equals “once-was,” and that has so many honorable categories: spouse, provider, father, brother, son, daughter, sister, helper, volunteer, caregiver, etc. Whether you still are or once were any of those, it’s something you should wear proudly. If you’re fortunate, the goal you might miss is replaced by another you never saw coming. Bernie Kosar did not bring Cleveland a Super Bowl, but he wove himself into the fabric of the city and its people and will always be welcomed here. He may not be a lot of things, but he will always be “ours.”

Ron Ciancutti worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He is now retired. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.