by Chandler Klang Smith
When I was in college, I was in the habit of going to the local big box retailer and purchasing entirely valueless items that amused me for one reason or another – that stood out as talismans of a mainstream America that, with my retreat into a liberal/creative/intellectual bubble of raucous theme parties and postmodern texts, midnight breakfast and puppeteering assignments, I believed myself to have entirely escaped. I purchased, for example, the Womb Bear, a stuffed animal equipped with an abdominal sound system that emitted a steady whooshing meant to imitate the constant soothing white noise in utero, but which sounded to me like a radio tuned to an ocean planet’s bleakest shore (with an angry, fuzzy face to boot). I bought a zombie cheerleader Halloween costume, complete with a gray pigtailed wig (why gray? didn’t she die as a teenager?). I reveled in the cynicism, the laziness, that was the origin story of all this useless crap. And among my treasures, perhaps most memorable, most hilarious in its sheer failure of imagination, was the magnet, which consisted only of a green strip of Astroturf, adorned with a single glued-on miniature plastic football, the size of a fingernail. FOOTBALL FEVER read the explanatory text, a strip of labelmaker tape stuck on as an afterthought below.
This cake captures the same spirit as that magnet of yore.
The FOOTBALL FEVER magnet summed up my feelings about sports at that time. Like the magnet, sports seemed manufactured and small, all out of proportion to the feverish emotions they were supposed to evoke. I knew people who loved sports – my father, my uncles, my paternal grandparents, who shouted their displeasure at the TV in unison: “Oh what a terrible call!” – but their reactions were alien to me, a response to some stimulus I was not attuned to detect. I did not play sports, did not watch them, and instead of regarding this dismissive ignorance as an obvious shortcoming in myself, I cherished it, took it as a sign that I was different and superior. I was too smart to comprehend sports, that was the problem – too sensitive to feel exultation or crushing disappointment for strangers on a distant field. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand sports. Sports didn’t understand me.
It can be difficult to sympathize with one’s earlier selves, particularly when those selves are pretentious and insufferable. But I find myself living in the mind that previous Chandler furnished and appointed, and in that mind we do not have ESPN: instead we have all of Parker Posey’s movies from the 90’s. This presents certain challenges. I can watch a tennis match or basketball game with attention and interest, but with football I struggle, deeply, to figure out what the hell is going on. Fortunately for me, so do the Cleveland Browns.
On what promises to be a voyage of discovery for us both, Ryan Joe has agreed to assist me in my fledgling Browns fandom. The irony is not lost on me that, while most members of FBC have sworn to wean themselves off the strong intoxicant that is the NFL by reading books, I am using those same books as my gateway drug to sports. I hope that, by meeting each other halfway on this, the current members of FBC and I bring greater harmony to the universe, or at least turn me into a tolerable person to invite to a Superbowl party.
Q: In his essay collection The Disappointment Artist, Jonathan Lethem talks about watching F-Troop and Blazing Saddles before ever seeing a Western – learning the conventions of a genre by consuming merciless parodies of it. In the same way, under your instruction, I’ve learned a lot about the Cleveland Browns, and football fandom in general, through their supporters’ memes and viral videos, some of which can be found here and here. Yet, on a higher level, one could say that the Browns themselves are the ones in fact parodying or subverting football, as this suggests, replacing traditional “plays” with hilarious slapstick and using athletic celebrity as an excuse for Andy Kaufmanesque performance art. Why would they do something like this, do you think?
A: You know when your moron friend is being a moron and you call him out for being a moron and he says something like: “Jokes on you! I was only acting like a moron!” But you know for a fact he’s a true moron. Likewise, there is nothing artful about the Browns’ performance. The last artful thing that happened to the Browns was when former owner Art Modell moved the original team to Baltimore in the middle of the night. That was, honestly, pretty slick.
Q: Thanks for shattering my illusions. What’s the most important thing for me to understand about the actual mechanics of the game, in order to derive the maximum amusement from the Browns’ gridiron hijinks this season?
A: With the Browns, there are no mechanics of the game. If I were you, I’d try to focus on fan reaction.
Q: Johnny Football went back to college! Isn’t that neat? Please describe in detail what you think will go down during his first in-person meeting with his academic advisor.
A: Did you know that in 2011, current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck opted not to enter the NFL draft and to instead complete his final year at Stanford because he really liked the environment and academic culture? (Also, he has his own book club.)
I have no doubt that Johnny Manziel is returning for exactly the same reason.
It’s also gratifying to know he’s still alive.