CLEVELAND — Some might have pegged it as a celebration, but Chris McNeil, the organizer of the Cleveland Browns‘ 0-16 parade, made one thing clear Saturday afternoon after the Perfect Season Parade 2.0 finished driving and marching around FirstEnergy Stadium.
The parade was held to mark the team’s 0-16 season.
It was a protest — one Cleveland Police estimated between 2,500 and 3,200 people showed up to either watch or take part in.
There was a pickup truck sponsored by a funeral home with a casket on the back, a bunch of Browns-painted buses rolling along the way and sign after sign criticizing Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and the team’s front office. And many fans had bags over their heads.
The infamous Cleveland quarterback graveyard — with painted faux headstones of every Browns quarterback since 1999 — made an appearance too. This was the aftermath of 0-16 in this city, a part-celebration, part-protest and part-cathartic for fans who have followed the Browns and all their foibles throughout the years.
“It was that kind of macabre-type humor that I think the Browns fans have,” McNeil said. “I think we have every right to have after this organization has given us nothing now for how many years.”
McNeil said more people showed up than what he expected, and he was happy with the creativity of the Browns fans who showed up. He also said they had at least four vans full of food to donate to the Cleveland Food Bank along with almost $14,696 of raised funds — including $8,000 directly to the food bank from Farmers Only, a dating website.
Besides the graveyard and the many shots at Haslam, there were signs — and swans — mocking former Browns first-round pick Johnny Manziel and a waste management truck driven by Mike Cooper of Cleveland with “Cleveland Browns 0-16 Super Bowl 20??” stenciled on the side. Cooper said multiple times during the parade and in interviews that his truck was not filled with gasoline from Pilot J, which is the chain of truck stops Haslam owns.
The message from the fans was simple. They were, for the most part, fed up with a franchise that has gone 1-31 over the past two seasons, a large reason the parade was held in the first place.
“We care. Everyone thinks that the people down here are not true fans. It’s actually the opposite,” said 32-year-old Tony Timoteo, the creator of the graveyard. “Everyone says that if you want to protest, stop going to the games, cancel your season tickets. No, we want the team to win. We had to find another media outlet, and Chris McNeil, who is a genius organizer, he came up with another media outlet to show our frustration.
“We’re not going to cancel season tickets, and we’re going to go to the games because we want them to win. That is point blank.”
Timoteo, though, believes new general manager John Dorsey is “going to get us in the right direction.” Timoteo said no one actually wanted to be out there in the cold for a parade, rather for a wild-card weekend home game in subzero temperatures.
“We have nothing to celebrate,” Timoteo said. “We were willing to celebrate one win. My wife and I, we were in our living room with our kids dressed in Browns gear willing to celebrate one win.
“And yeah, we might have been a catch away, that wasn’t guaranteed. But that’s all we wanted.”
The Browns own the longest playoff drought in the NFL, 15 seasons, thanks to the Bills making the playoffs this season.
Some Browns players took offense to the parade Saturday, with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah calling the parade “a joke” on Twitter. Teammate Danny Shelton also tweeted that a parade like this “isn’t encouraging a change, it’s more so encouraging players to avoid the opportunity to play here.”
That parade is a joke don’t call yourself a true browns fan if you go to that thing! Going 0-16 was embarrassing enough as a player. That is like adding fuel to the fire and it is completely wrong!
— Emmanuel Ogbah (@EmanOgbah) January 6, 2018
There are players on this team who want to play and win for the Browns and The Land. Parading around isn’t encouraging a change, it’s more so encouraging players to avoid the opportunity to play here. 1-31 isn’t what we want to be known for but we won’t stop fighting to win here.
— Feast Mode #55 (@Danny_Shelton55) January 6, 2018
There were a few people at the parade to also protest the parade taking place at all, believing that no celebration should happen over a winless season. There were also a handful of people who marched and either held signs or chanted about standing during the national anthem — one of the bigger flashpoints throughout the NFL this season.
And there was at least one sign — and part of one float — from presumably Lions fans welcoming the Browns to the world of 0-16. Detroit went 0-16 in 2008, and the one person on a float with a No. 20 Lions jersey on was holding a sign expressing that.
But for most of those in attendance, there was a bit of fun and celebration despite temperatures in the single digits with a wind chill that reached minus 11 degrees.
Barry and Julie Herbert decided to make the parade part of the celebration of their 22nd wedding anniversary. They’ve been to almost every Browns game over the past few years because they are “dedicated Browns fans.” They said they’ve had season tickets for years, back to the days of Bernie Kosar and the 1980s, when Cleveland made five straight playoff appearances. Barry Herbert estimated he’s had season tickets for around 30 years.
And this parade has been one thing to celebrate in a while since Cleveland has finished nine of the past 10 seasons as the last team in the AFC North.
“It’s a happy thing because, you know what, every time we leave the game, it’s like, ‘Really? Oh my gosh,'” Julie Herbert said. “Here, it’s a happy thing.”
While many of the fans came from Ohio, one group of four — who also marched in the parade — drove from Statesboro, Georgia. They wore signs explaining this, four women making up three generations of the family. Katie O’Grady’s two grandchildren, ages 15 and 14, don’t remember even seeing Cleveland in the playoffs.
“We’ve got to have something to celebrate,” O’Grady said. “And we’re with our kindred folk. We’re with our own kind.”
O’Grady’s daughter, Wendy Forgacs, said something echoed by a lot of Browns fans at the parade: Love the team, hate the management. The signs, from urging the firing of Hue Jackson to having Haslam sell the team, were constant throughout the vehicles that drove in the loop around the stadium and those who walked it.
O’Grady’s granddaughter, Grace, said she’s taken “a lot of hits” at school over being a Browns fan, especially in Georgia last year, when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl.
The four are driving back to Georgia on Sunday and then going to work on Monday.
Kyle Snyder’s float — which was petitioning for Kosar to return and take a role in player personnel — was essentially the back of his truck and the first one in line at 9:30 a.m. He said there was no trepidation participating in the parade. He viewed some of what they were doing as a party, just not the type he had hoped for. He — like the rest of the Browns fans in attendance — were trying to prove a point.
“Oh, it sucks,” Snyder said. “I would so much rather be getting geared up for a playoff game right now than having an 0-16 parade, but we make the best with what we’ve got.
“We’ve got an 0-16 season, so let’s have a parade about it. Let’s do it better than everybody else does.”