This is my 4th Season Opener attending a 'Boys game, but my first since '82 when the hated Bradshaw-lead Steelers beat DAL at Texas Stadium, breaking an 18 year streak. There's something about the anticipation of a new season, especially this one with so many expectations. Some nervousness, too especially against a supposed quality opponent in a historically hostile environment.
I'll approach this from 2 perspectives - the social aspect leading up to and at the game and the X's and O's which of course, will be covered from all angles by fellow bloggers. My decision to attend was based on proximity(I live in Indy) and opportunity(I had business in Columbus on MON after the game). At this stage of my life, I'd rather take advantage of the opportunities as they arise, than regret not doing so later on.
Arrived SAT to some sketchy weather-cool and rainy with some forecasts for rain on Gameday. It cleared off in the afternoon and was able to hit an excellent golf course-StoneWater in the NE burbs. Ate a great steak dinner at Delmonico's(local, not related to the LV chain) in Independence near the hotel. Nothing like some quality beef and grape juice to prepare for the game. The late kickoff gave me the opportunity to hit the links again SUN AM at another quality track-Boulder Creek also on the East side of town. There, the locals I played with who were also going to the game, gave me some solid tips on parking and where to 'prepare' for the kickoff. Also rained even harder SUN AM, but had cleared off heading back to the hotel.
After parking headed to 6th St in The Flats section of downtown. Brief confession, I chose only to wear a Cowboy hat, unsure of how hostile the reception would be. Before everyone goes off, I've attended games at RFK, Giants Stadium a playoff game at ATL Fulton County Coliseum all sporting gear(Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ doesn't count. There's more DAL fans than AZ). Immediately, I regretted it, seeing several groups of people in Cowboy jerseys along my walk. Have to say, from the golf course, to the bar hops and in the stadium, most Brown fans were pretty cool. More on the other side of it later.
Hit several spots on 6th St:
- Johnny's-great old-school eats and drinks, stunning bartender, friendly funny Browns fans at the bar.
- Quick one and done(Peroni on tap!) at Blue Point Grill where I wound up talking to a Cowboy fan from Philly. He did not put his DWare jersey on until after he boarded his flight-wouldn't walk through his hometown airport with it on.
- Couldn't get into Golic's at the end of the block, too crowded, same with the bar opposite. Too bad because that featured 2 bikini clad bartenders serving drinks out of a hottub in back.
- Did manage to make it to The Dive as a last stop, below street level. The highlight there was a small 'Mini-bar' staffed by a midget(small person?)bartender serving 8oz Coors lites for $1. I wouldn't make this up, and wtf a deal's a deal.
Short walk to the stadium, which is down on the lakefront. Most of the tailgating I saw was in the lots back up in the city. Stadium is new, but kind of sterile. Took my seat all the way at the top of Section 344 NW corner end zone. Immediately surprised to see half-dozen Cowboy fans seated immediately to my left abot 2-4 more in front to the left and a couple more a few rows down. As it turned out, these guys were great to cheer with when the Boys made a play. All told, think the crowd was 10-15% DAL fans, more than I would expect.
Browns fans had a cheer they've obviously used before and it gains participants quickly, so its apparent they're practiced, 'A**H**E' in that sinsongy voice. At the beginning, it was reserved for passing groups of Cowboy fans. TO got the loudest treatment after his sprinter's celebration(you can hear it plainly on the TV broadcast of the game).
GameTime! Would like to post a cellphone camera image I took of the intros, but don't know how to do it from a jpeg file. Admittedly, I was nervous, but also cautiously optimistic. Since we all saw the same game and a lot of us share the same sensibilities, some of this might be repetitive, but the in-person perspective might add some dimension.
CLE Started strong with that screen to Jamal Lewis that took the ball to mid-field. The fumbled snap set a tone of mistakes for their offense that would continue throughout the day.
DAL first drive was a thing of beauty-flawless downfield passing, combined with power running made it clear we were going to impose our will on the other side. Taking a lead and playing with the lead most of the game forced CLE to play uphill and neutralized any full-fledged frenzy from the fans in the stands.
Rather than recap the plays, here's my impressions as the game unfolded:
- Special Teams OK. Not great, not terrible, but good enough. Glad an area of concern became a non-factor. Joe A - stand down. This week. Injuries to CLE KR helped, but we helped ourselves as well. Welcome back K Davis, we missed you. My question-who dropped out of the coverage units when he came back ?
- D seemed content to keep plays on front of them rather than exert a lot of pressure. A little unnerving to see G Ellis in space when KWinslow split out, but it worked. Don't think you'll see that MON nite. One thing was clear - this defense tackles very well. I only counted 3-4 missed tackles the whole game, including ST and that was after watching the TV broadcast later. A Henry's stop on B Edwards was huge, there was room to run if he missed. My biggest concern though was Anderson escapaped containment a couple of time for sizable gains, something we can't do against PHL/McNacho. Lastly, is it me or did it seem that Roy Willy was only on the field for about 20 plays?
- CLE O not in synch. Braylon Edwards had just a terrible game-2-3 penalties, 3 drops, one a sure TD, one a would-be 1st down. Anderson OK, but seemed to lock-on receivers. D Stallworth's inexplicable pre-game injury probably didn't help.
- Obvious CLE was going after Romo after halftime by bringing pressure up the middle, not off the edge.
- DAL O - what can you say. A lot of success running off RT, not around the end on that side. The holes were huge, especially when viewing from the endzone angle. Only successful run to the Left was MBIII TD. OL = dominant although sloppy at time - False Starts, Holds when caught out of position(including 2 in a row on 1 series)and a little unsettled in 3rd Qtr. Tony Romo - nothing short of brilliant. His effort to quiet his footwork VERY evident, almost Brady-esque. He makes all the throws(is it me or does his arm seem even stronger on intermediate throws? Saw that in pre-season, moreso now). Well you can add tough to all that - taking those hits, in obvious pain, the going back and throwing darts with an almost 'that all you got?' attitude.
- Rookies - when since the Dirty Dozen have you seen such an immediate impact ? F Jones stood out -even the CLE crowd stood and I heard an audible Ooohhh when he started to take off on those runs. Minor note - Stanbach had 2 catches-good for him, but also was sticking his head(shoulder?) in there with downfield blocks on runs. Surprised I saw more Scandrick than Jenkins in coverage.
- By the middle of the 3rd Qtr the combination of spirits intake and inevitability of the outcome started to turn the crowd. My rule for opposing stadiums is root as hard as you want, just don't be obnoxious. Clearly, not all Cowboy fans in attendance follow that. Sure enough what started as taunting early on became shouting matches and threats by the end of Q3 and some fights broke out after. Order was restored and by the time RCrennel decided to kick the FG, fans were headed for the exit.
All in all an impressive display on both sides of the ball and a rewarding experience for me-glad I could pull this off. Next game to attend - STL where we may reprise the RV Trip we took to DAL the week before Thanksgiving 2006 to see the Colts game. That turned out quite well also.
Semi-related item - while I went to both RazorGator and EBay, felt StubHub had the best combination of price, availability and flexibility for tickets-and they are delivered electronically. Much better that the uncertainty of buying one on the street just before gametime