Patriots fans laugh, and ‘I just dig in deeper’: A Massachusetts transplant still bleeds Orange and Brown

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns have followers around the country and around the world, and have earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s most loyal and fervent fan bases.

Browns fans share a long tradition that has seen championships and winless seasons and everything in between.

With the the new optimism around the 2019 Browns, wanted to find a way to introduce all of you to each other, Cleveland residents to international transplants, from fans of Otto Graham to fans of Odell Beckham Jr.

So in the spring, we asked you to tell us “Why I’m a Browns Fan.” More than 600 of you responded.

Starting today, we’ll share your stories as we wind through the 2019 season.

No matter their age or their story, the authors of these essays have one thing in common: their love for the Browns.

By the time we’re through, we plan to tell all of your stories.

Today’s fan is Brian Walker, a teacher and author who is from Cleveland and now lives in Massachusetts.

Who is he?

Walker, 54, is a high school teacher at Buckingham Browne & Nichols, a private school in Cambridge, Mass. He is also an author, and his book “Black Boy White School” was released in 2012. The book is fiction, but it has some true elements from Walker’s life. It follows a young black boy from East Cleveland who earns a scholarship to a prep school in Maine.

Walker lives in Massachusetts with his wife Ava Archibald, and their 9-year-old daughter Olivia and 7-year-old boy Archie.

Browns fan Brian Walker

Browns fan Brian Walker keeps his enthusiasm for his hometown team despite living in the backyard of NFL royalty — the New England Patriots. (Photo courtesy Brian Walker)

Why He’s a Browns Fan: ‘It bound us together’

Walker grew up in East Cleveland on Shaw Avenue, where he frequently played football with his friends against kids from nearby Beaumont Street, Elderwood Avenue and Shaw View Avenue. For Walker, playing football ignited his love for the Browns. During their games, Walker and his friends would pretend to be Browns legends Frank Minnifield and Brian Sipe.

“We would play all of these teams, these streets, and it wasn’t a fight,” Walker said. “There was no kind of real animosity. It was just playing football. Playing football and calling out the names of Browns stars because we wanted to be like them.”

Family was an important part of Walker’s affection for the Browns. His parents were divorced, but remained present and active in his life. Both were big Browns fans, and one or the other would sometimes take Walker and his four siblings to Municipal Stadium. Walker’s maternal grandmother would sometimes do so as well.

“It bound us together,” Walker said. “My mom never worried about me like running around in East Cleveland because she knew I was just going to play football somewhere. And if I wasn’t going into Shaw Stadium across the street to play in there, I’d be over on East 133rd Street where a bunch of my friends were, and we’d play for five, six hours in the street.”

Walker left East Cleveland for high school, earning a scholarship to a Maine boarding school named Gould Academy. He attended Ohio Wesleyan, then returned to New England in the early 1990s. As a teacher surrounded by Patriots fans, Walker refuses to root for any of New England’s sports teams.

As the Browns floundered over two decades, he’s had to endure teasing from Patriots fans.

“They laugh at me like ‘Oh, maybe you guys will make the playoffs this year, maybe you guys will have a pro football team actually this year,’” he said.

“They laugh, and I just dig in deeper. And my commitment to the team and to the city, it becomes stronger because of that.

“Because I know one day, just like it happened in what 2016 with the Cavs, one day it’s gonna happen. I just hope I’m on this side of the grass when it does.”

This time is different

Like many fans, Walker remembers the Browns’ most infamous mishaps. The Drive, Red Right 88, The Fumble – each one is seared into his memory.

“They always leave a bad taste in my mouth,” Walker said.

Walker’s wife is a Patriots fan, and she told him that he had grown to expect the worst with each game-changing mistake. But Walker said his mentality changed last season.

“It was something about Baker Mayfield,” Walker said. “I was like ‘This is our guy.’ I think this is gonna be our guy.”

Still, there have been good moments, the type which maintain a fan’s everlasting loyalty. During the 2010 season, Walker and Archibald traveled to Cleveland to watch the Browns play New England. Browns tight end Benjamin Watson had arrived after six seasons with the Patriots. Cleveland produced a stunning 34-14 triumph, by far the brightest moment in another 5-11 season.

During the game, Archibald wore her Patriots gear. When the Browns won, the hometown fans got a rare turn to gloat about Cleveland.

“And they kept trying to offer her drinks or condolences and things like that because she’s sitting there in her Patriots regalia, and the Browns are actually beating them like no problem,” Walker said.

He has passed on his passion to his children. One of the first clothing items he bought for his daughter Olivia was a Josh Cribbs onesie. Patriots tickets are expensive, but he’s trying to get tickets for the Browns’ Week 8 game in New England.

“And we’ll see what kind of jerseys the kids can wear on that day, but I’m hoping my wife will allow me to at least have one of the kids dressed in Browns gear,” Walker said.

“Because I know I’m going to be in it.”

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