If I was asked right now (which I'm not planning on being) "what was the best day of your life?" I would EASILY respond: December 29th, 2002. It was my best friend and college roommate's 21st birthday - but I wasn't with him.
It was two days before new years, but there was no champagne.
In fact, sometimes I even feel a slight tinge of remorse that the "best day of my life" has something to do with a regular season sporting event. But it did.
That was the day the The Browns beat the Falcons to get into the playoffs. We needed to beat the Falcons, and have either the Dolphins beat the Patriots (in NE) or the Jets beat the Packers (in New York). We beat the Falcons, Dave Wandstadt blew the Dolphins game in the final minutes (literally five minutes after Earl Holmes stonewalled Warrick Dunn at the Cleveland goal line on 4th and goal - as what was left of section 110 eagerly watched through the Team Shop glass on a tiny tv) and then we needed Curtis Martin to BLOW up and upset the Packers...which happened.
To this day, it is the most enjoyable time I've ever had at a game. I even remember what I did the night before, the reason is because I remember thinking "If they win tomorrow, I want to remember everything, even tonight." That Saturday night was 1820 days ago. A lot has happened in that time, but one thing has not. I have not once felt like I did that Saturday night.
The anticipation, the fear, the confusion as to what it will feel like to be back in the NFL playoffs, a feeling still associated with being twelve, like I was the last time. A feeling warped and formed into one without the overwhelming and underlying feeling of instantaneous triumph or sixty minute destruction that years of baseball's seven game series had instilled in me as an adult fan. But here I was, wondering if tomorrow, I would rekindle that emotion. I would be able to awake next Sunday, and there would be a football game. When it came to something this important, even Saturday night was memorable.
The next day was perfect. Early morning tailgating with my best friends. A cold and dreary Cleveland day punctuated by moment after moment, and thoughts of "So this is what it is like."
Atlanta fumbled deep in their own territory after a bueno Gardocki punt. Holcomb, in for the injured Couch (again) found KJ on third and goal. We were up one. A quick stop. A punt to the thirty. Too much time on the clock. We need to eat up clock. 1st down, Green for four yards. Good, lets get four more here. Being at the game I missed Donovan's now famous call, but I will do my best to recite it here without cuing it up.
"Holcomb underneath center, milking the clock. 2nd down they give it to Green, Green stutter step and HE'S THROUGH! GREEN 40, 45, 50, 45, 40, RUN WILLIAM RUN, 20, 15, 10, 5....TOUCHDOWN!!!!"
I was at the Jets 2OT game but I was 5. I was at Metcalf's two punt returns, but I was eleven. This was the best moment of my life as a Browns fan. Ironically, I didn't see it. As Green broke through the line, cut right and outran the linebackers, he had one man to beat: cornerback Ashley Ambrose, number 33. All day, he had gotten past that first wave, and all day, Ambrose, or a safety, or a quick linebacker would trip him up saving a touchdown. As Ambrose approached Green from behind, my frantic friend Jon, grabbed me with both hands and tackled me. I gathered from the crowd noise that Ambrose came up short. We were up 8. Atlanta was only getting one more possession, and moments later the PA guy came on, let everyone, particularly the Falcons, know that the Saints had lost, clinching the 6th and final NFC playoff spot for Atlanta.
That night, as Martin ran all over the Packers, I remember watching from Champps in Lyndhurst. IN attendance that night was Browns receivers coach Terry Robiske, whom we were able to identify despite his lack of star power. Two years later he was the Browns head coach, and as I write this today, his dinner partner that evening, a fifteen year old Chagrin Falls sophomore named Brian Robiske, is one of the most valuable players on the Big Ten Champion Ohio State Buckeyes. But all we cared about was the Jets. It was over by halftime. We were going to the playoffs.
Now here I am, 1819 days later, wondering what tomorrow morning will bring. What will I remember. What Ashley Ambroses, Warrick Dunns or William Greens will creep into my memory forever after tomorrow's game? Or will it be a dissapointment?
1812 days ago, Dennis Northcutt became etched in my memory for dropping a pass on third and nine that would have sealed that playoff game. If he catches it, things might have been different. Think, that that one ball careening off the fingers of a man paid to do nothing but make sure that ball doesn't hit the brown Pittsburgh turf, could have changed so much. After that game the questions started piling up.
Holcomb or Couch? Who's to blame, Butch, Foge Fazio or the players? Maybe one more playoff game would expose a more nagging weak spot to discourage us from drafting a center in the first round. Or maybe another big Green day would help him secure his job and stay out of trouble in the future. Maybe it wouldn't, but 1820 days is a long time to wonder.
Here's to a Browns win tomorrow, and never waiting this long to get here again.
- ► 2009 (27)