Browns followers from the Columbus space are delighted with the group’s latest success

Brown’s fan Ralph Mausser saw it all.

Sitting four rows from the top of Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1987, he watched “The Drive” play out as Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway led his team 98 yards in 15 games to lead the game by 37 seconds break up. You don’t have to remind Mausser – or any Browns fan – that the Browns lost in overtime just to make their Super Bowl dream come true.

Mausser returned in 1995 to play the Browns’ final home game against the Cincinnati Bengals before the team’s infamous owner, Art Modell, broke fans when he moved the roster to Baltimore and became the Ravens.

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And Mausser was there in 1999 when the Cleveland franchise was reactivated, though optimism about the Browns’ prospects quickly waned after a 43-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

From his nosebleed seats, where he has had season tickets since 1969, the 65-year-old Mausser – yes, he has had season tickets since he was 14 – experienced some of the Browns’ most heartbreaking moments and disappointing losses.

But in a season when the Browns ended their 17-year playoff drought and won their first playoff game since 1994, the Delaware County resident had to watch from home. Out of caution because of the coronavirus pandemic, he decided against season tickets this year – but was still happy about the success of the team.

“I had no high hopes at all about going into the season and then watching the season unfold game after game. It’s surreal – it’s utterly surreal,” said Mausser, who grew up in Cleveland before joining in 1990 Central Ohio moved for work. “Even though I’m home, it’s still the edge of my seat, leaning forward.”

On January 10, an understaffed Browns squad with their head coach and other key players banned from COVID-19 toppled the favored Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild card playoff game. The win was the final exclamation mark in an exciting year that will continue on Sunday when they face the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ralph Mausser has had Cleveland Browns season tickets since 1969.  He grew up in Cleveland and moved to Delaware County for work in 1990, but went to every home game for years.  He canceled his season tickets this year because of the pandemic but was still watching at home.  He was photographed in his home with a slat from his old seat in the city stadium on Thursday, January 14, 2021.

For NFL forecasters, the team’s 11-5 regular season record may have come as a surprise after not even winning a game three seasons ago. But for the Browns’ believers – including those in central Ohio – the season is long overdue, a big payoff after years of loyalty to a team in constant turmoil and instability.

“It’s more of a validation, in a way, of why we were fans, why you’re sticking with it, and why you’re supporting a team that isn’t playing as well as you’d like,” said Jon Neylon, president of Browns Backers Capital Area the regional chapter of the team’s national fan club. “You’re a fan when they’re 0-16, and for the next year you’ll still be a fan.”

As the Browns have improved in recent years, the Browns Backers’ Columbus chapter, which has approximately 150 members, has seen increased interest in membership, Neylon said.

But when fair-weather fans get on the bandwagon, it is the Browns’ most passionate acolytes – those who have tuned in every Sunday for years, praying that the team won’t get another defeat from the jaws of victory – who will most find joy in this year’s triumphs .

Indeed, enduring poor seasons is seen as a badge of honor for Brown’s fans like 39-year-old Brad Garrett, who was born in Cleveland and moved to Pickerington at a young age.

“I didn’t choose to be a Browns fan – I was born a Browns fan,” said Garrett, who now lives at the Lewis Center with his wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 9.

Garrett’s youngest daughter has no interest in exercising, but his oldest, Addison, can’t get enough. Her father took her to their first Browns game that year, a 10-7 win over the Houston Texans on November 15.

It was one of four home games Garrett played this year, and although stadium capacity was limited due to the pandemic, he said the atmosphere was always electrifying.

“It was so much fun,” said Garrett, a training specialist for a pharmaceutical company in Columbus.

Ohio State University student Jackson DeWolfe and girlfriend Audra Nelles were playing the Browns game at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 14 when the team lost to the Baltimore Ravens 47-42.  DeWolfe's father, George, was there too.

Jackson DeWolfe, an 18-year-old freshman at Ohio State University majoring in sports management, inherited his father’s love for the Browns despite growing up on the West Side of Columbus. But it wasn’t until that season that he made it to his first home game – a nationally televised Monday night soccer game on December 14 against the Baltimore Ravens.

Although the Browns lost to Baltimore with a 47:42 walker, DeWolfe said it wasn’t a loss that permeated the crowd, but rather excitement.

“That night everyone knew this team was special,” he said.

If the Browns brave the odds of beating a division rival last Sunday, the team will need even more of that underdog and discipline this weekend as they battle the reigning Super Bowl champions to compete in the AFC Championship to play on January 24th. Regardless of the result of the matchup against the 14-2 bosses, many fans believe that Cleveland’s vaunted season is just the beginning of a new era.

On the one hand, Mausser hopes to be able to renew his season tickets in the next season, if he feels comfortable returning to the home games. Even when he moved to central Ohio, Sunday trips to Cleveland were treasured pastimes for him and the various friends and family who had come with him.

When he returns to his nosebleeds for the 2021 home opening game, Mausser believes the team will give him more to cheer about.

“It’s no coincidence,” said Mausser. “This success will continue for a while.”

@ EricLagatta

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