CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns have one of the National Football League’s most fervent fanbases, with followers around the country and the world.
Fans have watched the Browns win titles, but they have also seen them routinely struggle to succeed in recent years.
During the spring, we asked you to tell us “Why I’m a Browns Fan.” More than 600 of you sent in submissions. Today, we’ll share another one of your stories as the NFL season rolls into Week 11.
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 your stories.
Today’s fan is Max Cole, who lives in Alachua, Fla., with his wife of 36 years, Gloria. Cole has two sons and two daughters.
Who is he?
Cole, 79, is retired and he’s lived in Florida since the 1960s. He grew up on a farm in Titusville, Pa., where the first U.S. oil well was discovered.
After serving in the U.S. Army for three years during the Vietnam War, Cole moved down to Florida, wanting to bask in the quality year-round weather. He likes to golf, and his love for playing the sport was a factor in him wanting to live in Florida.
Admiring Otto Graham, meeting him at a Sarasota mall
While growing up in Titusville, Cole could listen to the Browns on a radio station from Erie, Pa. Sometimes he could watch the team on television. Legendary quarterback Otto Graham was one of Cole’s favorite athletes, which made Cole’s affection for the team even stronger.
When Cole was 10 years old in 1950, he and his brother joined his father for a trip to a Browns game. He got to watch Graham, and he wrote in his submission that his fandom began during that game.
“I played sports, and I wanted to be Otto Graham,” Cole said over the phone. “I wanted to be a quarterback.”
Cole closely followed Graham’s pro career, so he knows a good deal about his athletic background. He mentioned how Graham is one of two athletes to win a championship in two professional sports. Graham won a title in 1946 with the Rochester Royals of the old National Basketball League. In the same year, he won a championship with the Browns of the All-America Football Conference.
The other two-sport champion is Gene Conley, who won the World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and three NBA titles from 1959-1961 with the Boston Celtics.
“Otto Graham, he was my hero,” Cole said. “In high school, I got to play quarterback. But yeah at such a high level, people don’t realize what a great athlete he was out of Northwestern.”
Cole was a fan of Graham’s athletic prowess, but even moreso as a man.
“He was a quality guy,” Cole said. “Didn’t get in trouble. He just did what he was supposed to do. Everybody loved him. Perfect guy to be your hero, you know?”
Cole got a chance in 1990 to show some of his expertise on Graham at a mall in Sarasota, Fla., where Graham had retired and was signing autographs. Cole took one of his sons along, who got an autograph. Cole did better, getting a chance to chat.
“I got to talk with him, and he was just overly friendly,” Cole said. “Sat and talked to him. Once he knew that I knew quite a bit about him, he kept talking eventually.”
“I stayed around there probably an hour or so. So yeah, real surreal. It’d be like something you think about, like ‘I want to meet Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus,’ or something like that. Probably was in awe, and it’s something you won’t ever forget.”