I totally thought they were gonna blow it. So did you. So did the Steelers. So did the Browns themselves, probably. Sunday night, early in the third quarter of their first playoff game in 18 years, with the Browns clinging to a razor-thin 35-16 lead, somebody tweeted that the Steelers were currently at 40-1 odds to win. And sitting on my couch, nursing my second Emergency Gin and Tonic (my wife had suggested I start drinking), periodically grunting delighted and confused and unfamiliar noises at my television, and ecstatic at the prospect of my beloved and luckless and hapless Browns winning their first playoff game in 25 years, my immediate reaction to that tweet was: How quickly can I figure out how to put $20 on the Steelers?
Could I hunt down a reputable online betting site before Baker Mayfield threw three straight pick-sixes and lost his Progressive endorsement deal? Could I enter my credit card information before another offensive lineman spontaneously combusted? Could I—ah, shit, the Steelers scored another touchdown. 35-23. We were basically losing now. The Steelers’ odds dropped to 10-1, then 8-1. Shit. I began grunting far more familiar impotent-fury-type noises at my television. “Maybe I’ll leave you alone,” my wife remarked. The Browns. The Browns! The fuckin’ Browns!
They won! On Sunday, the Browns—the Browns! The fuckin’ Browns!—won their first playoff game since 1995. (That year, they beat the Patriots 20-13; Vinny Testaverde outdueled Drew Bledsoe, and the no. 1 movie in America was Dumb and Dumber.) In the end, we pounded the hapless Steelers 48-37, thanks to a borderline nonsensical 28-0 first quarter, thanks to the Steelers punting my favorite punt of all time, thanks to the most terrifying fourth quarter of my adult life. They were totally gonna blow it. You know they were totally gonna blow it. How did they not blow it?
Seriously, why did the Steelers keep doing emphatically Browns-type things? (“What? What? WHAT?” I shouted at my television, pacing my living room and holding a confused 2-month-old baby, as Pittsburgh’s first snap sailed clear over Ben Roethlisberger’s head and into the end zone for a Browns touchdown.) Did the Browns really receive the dumbest punt of all time, and not punt it themselves? What is the point of the Browns building a nonsensical 28-0 lead, if not to even more nonsensically blow it? Does any of this make any sense to you? Remember last year when this website did an entire Browns Week—not my idea, for the record—because they were finally gonna be great, and then they totally sucked just like they always did, just with far greater national-TV visibility, and I angrily nicknamed our then-head coach “Freddie Bathrooms” to universal amusement and acclaim? Do we really get to play another playoff game this Sunday? You mean we don’t have to wait until 2046?
Westgate has already put lines up for the AFC games.— Aaron Oster (@TheAOster) January 11, 2021
Bills -2.5 vs Ravens
Chiefs -9.5 vs Browns
Oof, maybe we should wait until 2046. Yes, the Browns are playing the Chiefs this Sunday—playing the defending Super Bowl champs; playing the current odds-on Super Bowl favorites; playing a team with a quarterback who, unlike the accursed Ben Roethlisberger, does not look like the disgruntled night manager of an underperforming Papa John’s franchise—and to be totally frank with you, we are probably gonna get our asses kicked hither and yon. Should I brace myself for a bloodbath? Should I bet $20 on the Chiefs? Should I be content with having gotten even this far? Should I buy this shirt off eBay on Sunday while I watch the Browns get their asses kicked hither and yon? The answers, respectively, are yes, probably, hell yes, and fuck yes.
Forgive me and my fellow Browns fans as we revel in what is, for a great many other NFL fans, the familiar and even mundane sensation of making the playoffs, and winning a game in the playoffs, and gearing up to play another game in the playoffs. No idea how you Packers fans, or Saints fans, or (booooo) Ravens fans handle this. What does not appear newsworthy or even all that noteworthy to you is, to us, an ultrarare and joyously cataclysmic event, a total solar eclipse. I spent Sunday swigging Emergency G&Ts and bulk-tweeting the dumbest crap imaginable. Look at this. This isn’t even close to all of it.
Humiliating. Act like you been there before, right? Except, though I technically had been there before, the last time the Browns won a playoff game I did not have a driver’s license or an email address, and the no. 1 song in America was Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee.” I had since long grown accustomed to total, humiliating failure. Everyone had. Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who now has way more time to dream up stupid new TikTok dances, summed up the national attitude toward the Browns a few days before the game:
#Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster on rivalry with #Browns:— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) January 8, 2021
"I think they’re still the same Browns teams I play every year. “I think they’re nameless gray faces. They have a couple good players on their team, but at the end of the day, I don’t know. The Browns is the Browns."
I found this to be quite astute and almost lyrical, as trash talk goes—even if Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin refers to all the team’s opponents as “nameless gray faces,” there’s no denying that phrase fits the Browns, and fits Browns fans, uncomfortably well. Until now. If only for the next four days. Let us have this. We haven’t had this in literally forever; we may very well never have this again. One of those reputable online betting sites informs me that the Browns are currently +3000 to win the Super Bowl, which I assume means that they won’t actually win a Super Bowl until the year 3000. Personally, I can wait that long. I basically already had.