WANTED: NFL TEAM TO SUPPORT AVAILABLE: LOYAL FAN (DESERTED BY CLEVELAND BROWNS); ALL SERIOUS OFFERS CONSIDERED

September 29, 1996

A year ago I began teaching at Old Dominion University, in
Norfolk, Va., which has a football stadium but no football team
of its own. This struck me as funny--until it became part of a
trend. When Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore
last February, he left Cleveland with a football stadium but no
football team. He also left me, a Browns fan for 30 years,
disenfranchised. So I did the only thing I could think of: I
declared myself a free agent.

I immediately notified the NFL head office. (I didn't receive a
response.) I then wrote all the teams in the league--except the
Baltimore Ravens. I explained that I had been a good and loyal
fan of the Browns, following them as I moved from Ohio to
Tennessee, to Florida, to Iowa, to Ohio, to Florida, to Ohio yet
again and, finally, to Virginia. But I would not follow them as
the Ravens. What, I asked, could these other teams do for me?
What guarantees could they give me that they, too, wouldn't
move? Then I got down to business: I said, "All serious offers
would be considered."

Of the 29 teams to which I wrote, 10 replied. Someone in the
Washington Redskins' public relations office called and promised
that the team would never leave Washington. He also said that
the Redskins had been in five Super Bowls--five more than the
Browns, he pointed out--and had won three, and that the team's
owner was committed to winning more titles. This was a nice
change from the Browns' owner, who simply should have been
committed.

The Dallas Cowboys sent six 1996 schedules. The Minnesota
Vikings mailed the team's schedule, ticket information and an
application to become a member of its fan club. The Kansas City
Chiefs sent a team photograph and a list of their fan clubs
throughout the country. The Carolina Panthers mailed a media
guide and a bumper sticker that said THANKS FOR BEING A #1
CAROLINA PANTHERS FAN!

I began to wonder if anyone had read my letter. The Denver
Broncos sent an autographed picture of John Elway! What kind of
sadists are these people? Sending a photo of Elway to a Browns
fan is cruel and unusual punishment.

Rusty Kasmiersky, director of media relations for the New
Orleans Saints, wrote the following: "We have received several
letters like yours. Some have solicited 'goodies' as inducements
to become fans of the Saints. I perceive your letter does not."
He explained that I apparently didn't have the emotional bond
with the team to be a Saints fan. "Best of luck finding a new
home for your affections," he said in closing. I had been
rejected by New Orleans, a team traditionally so bad that its
fans have worn bags over their heads at home games!

If you're a Browns fan, either you hate the Pittsburgh Steelers
or you hate the Cincinnati Bengals (or you hate both teams, if
you're a particularly hateful person). Growing up in Dayton, I
chose to loathe the Bengals. But I will never be able to hate
them again. They sent me an envelope with a media guide, a
spirit flag, a pennant and two team photographs. Two weeks later
I received another envelope from the Bengals, with another media
guide, another spirit flag, another pennant and two more team
photographs.

The Jacksonville Jaguars sent a bumper sticker, a team
photograph, a media guide and a copy of the team's weekly
Jaguars Inside Report. Dan Edwards, Jacksonville's executive
director of communications, wrote, "We are hopeful you will
become a Jaguars fan so that you can root against your former
team, which is still a rival of ours in the AFC Central
Division." This was the kind of thinking that could make me a
Jaguars fan.

The best letter, however, came from Charlie Taylor, director of
public relations for the Atlanta Falcons. Taylor wrote, "As an
old Browns fan who first got hooked on the NFL in the late 1950s
watching Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell, Milt Plum, Lou Groza et al.,
I can understand how you wisely 'got hooked' on Cleveland. While
winning is important, it's the men under the helmet as people;
it's the family going to the game together; it's the group
meeting to watch it on TV; it's the trading card collection;
it's fun."

Taylor added that he once lived in Norfolk, where he had watched
Old Dominion play basketball. (If he had said football, I would
have been suspicious.) And he reminded me that the Falcons have
former Cleveland player Eric Metcalf.

So I had to make a decision: the Falcons or the Jaguars? But why
couldn't I cheer for both teams?

While a player can't play for two teams at the same time (not
even Deion Sanders can), NFL rules do not prohibit fans from
cheering for two teams at the same time. Three months ago I had
no team. Now, thanks to free agency, I have two. There is just
one problem. On Dec. 22, in the last week of the regular season,
Atlanta will play at Jacksonville. I'm not sure which team I
will root for. But I am open to offers.

Chris Lamb is a former newspaper columnist who teaches
journalism at Old Dominion University.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JANE SANDERS [Drawing of man looking at football paraphernalia coming out of mailbox]
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