Browns fans planning Nov. 16 protest
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) One of the most loyal Dawg Pounders is done barking about the sad state of his beloved Cleveland Browns. It's time to bite.
Lifelong Browns fan and season-ticket holder Mike Randall, aka "Dawg Pound Mike," is encouraging other Cleveland fans to stay away from their seats for the opening kickoff of the Browns' Nov. 16 home game against Baltimore.
Sickened by the nearly constant losing since the NFL team's return in 1999, Randall hopes the sight of empty seats for the start of the nationally televised Monday night game will send a loud message to owner Randy Lerner and club officials that fans have had enough.
"We're tired of losing," the 39-year-old Randall said. "We're tired of the booing, of seeing fans leave in the fourth quarter. There are fans who have had tickets for 30 years who are turning their seats in because they can't take it anymore. So many fans are fed up."
Randall and his friend, Tony Schafer, decided to go ahead with plans for the protest following last Sunday's 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. As they walked out of the stadium, they heard fans grumbling about how they're wasting their Sundays and money.
Their hope is that fans stay outside the stadium, on concourses or in the restrooms for the start of the game.
The Akron Beacon-Journal first reported the protest, which Randall and Schafer announced on the Web site www.mobiledawg.com.
"We don't want to see fans with bags on their heads or booing," Randall said. "We love the Browns and will do anything to support them. But we're not being heard. Our goal is to say to the Browns' organization, 'Hey, listen to your fans.'"
Under first-year coach Eric Mangini, the Browns are 1-6 this season and have scored four offensive touchdowns in 81 possessions. Cleveland's defense is the league's worst.
Since coming back as an expansion team 10 years ago, the Browns are 55-113 with one playoff appearance and appear to be on their way to their eighth season of double-digit losses since '99.
Lerner is aware of the response and said in an e-mail that he understand the fans' frustration.
"On the grounds of frustration and irritation with performance, then that's the medicine I (we) are going to take, and I accept that," he said. "The goal this year was to rebuild the culture at the Browns. We felt at the end of last year that we lacked any overall philosophy, approach or direction regarding recruiting, drafting, coaching, preparation or training. As a result, each season was feeling like starting over and 4-12 following 10-6 felt painfully not all that surprising."
Lerner added the team remains open to feedback and support to help the Browns improve.
"We won't become entrenched or stubborn and despite my allergy to be more conspicuous, I do remain eager to seek help and guidance from any and all corners," he said.
Randall, who sits in the front row of the Dawg Pound, the notoriously rowdy bleacher section, doesn't know where to assess blame for the Browns' misery. He has met Lerner and appreciates the ultra-private owner's attempts to turn the franchise around. He knows Mangini needs time, and Randall wishes general manager George Kokinis would let fans in on the team's intentions.
"We have no one who talks to the fans," he said. "Randy isn't out front. The GM is invisible and Mangini has said this was going to be a process and that things would improve. Well, nothing has improved."
Randall said there is no energy in the crowd at home games and that fans are still being told to sit down in their seats or risk ejection. He has spoken to Browns officials about reconnecting to the team's past, but has met mostly with resistance.
"There's nothing in the stadium that even shows the eight championships we did win," he said. "This team has lost generations of fans."
During last week's game, Randall said a young fan approached him and asked, "Will we ever win?"
Lerner recently brought in former quarterback Bernie Kosar to serve as a consultant to the team. Although Kosar's role with the team has not been clearly defined, Randall sees his addition as a positive.
"I love it," Randall said. "Bernie is an offensive mastermind and I think Randy is seeing we need to bring some of the former guys back. It's a good first step."
When Art Modell took his NFL franchise to Baltimore in 1995, Browns fans fought to get their team back. Randall was one of the fans who helped jam the league's fax machines and carried thousands of signatures to meetings, hoping to get pro football back in Cleveland.
It worked, and Randall, who wears something shaded in Cleveland's brown and orange colors every day, is hoping this protest helps the Browns get back to winning.
"We did this as a positive," he said. "We want to send a statement that the status quo cannot go on."