CLEVELAND, Ohio – When Craig Rosche was around seven or eight years old, he went to an autograph session in Sharon, Pennsylvania, about seven minutes away from his hometown of Sharpsville.
Hall of Fame Browns running back Leroy Kelly was holding the session, and Rosche got an autograph from one of his favorite players.
“I got to talk to him for about four or five minutes, which was cool as a seven or eight-year old,” Rosche said over the phone. “Very nice guy.”
Rosche, 59, has spent his whole life being a Browns fan. He lives in Millersburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife of 16 years, Mary. Rosche works with the Department of Human Services as an income maintenance case worker.
Though his hometown of Sharpsville is about 75 minutes from Pittsburgh, the Steelers hadn’t bloomed into a powerhouse yet, not making the playoffs once in the 1960s. With the Browns being the team on TV, though, Rosche had a winner to watch and root for.
“My dad went with one of the neighbors to a game up in Cleveland,” Rosche said. “And when he came back, he had gotten me an elf sweatshirt. And also, I guess they stopped for gas at maybe a Sunoco station, and he got me a Browns glass that I always drank my milk out of.”
Rosche was too young to really appreciate the Browns’ championship in 1964, and that’s part of why Kelly and Gary Collins were two of his favorite players. Kelly was Jim Brown’s successor, and as the franchise’s No. 2 all-time rushing leader, he was a worthy one. Kelly ran for 7,274 yards and 74 touchdowns during his Browns career.
“Looking back on it, he was just a grinder,” Rosche said. “He put his head down. You never heard him say anything. Of course you never heard anybody say anything back then. He did his job. Did it well.”
As Rosche got older, he started enjoying the camaraderie with Browns fans that he’s coveted throughout the years. Rosche and his ex-wife moved to Harrisburg in 1986, and when he moved, he would search for places to watch Browns games.
A reader of Browns News Illustrated back then, Rosche initially found a place in Harrisburg to watch the games from the old newspaper.
One day in 1991 the spot he would go to wouldn’t show the Browns game. He helped found what used to be the Central Pennsylvania Browns Backers club in 1992. Rosche got the mailing list for subscribers to Browns News Illustrated, sending a letter to anyone’s zip code who started with 17, which would represent cities in the central part of the state.
“Beginning in 1992 we went from 15 people to about 100, and by 1994 we were up to 294 people,” Rosche said.
Rosche suffered a stroke in 2017, but as a season-ticket holder he still occasionally makes what’s about a 657-mile round trip to watch the Browns, traveling from Millersburg to Cleveland. He’ll usually go to early-season games when the weather is nice because he doesn’t like being in the cold.
But as a loyal Browns fan, Rosche will make an exception if the Browns ever have a postseason matchup.
“If they get a home playoff game at some point, I’ll suck it up and be there,” he said.