I had a fantastic experience this past Sunday that I really feel inclined to share. Be forewarned, for this post I’m going to take off my reporter’s hat and write from the perspective of what I really am, a huge football fan. One of my best friends works for the Browns on their staff as a film guy (I believe that’s the official job title). In a nutshell, he’s the guy who organizes all the game film for players and coaches to study. He also sets up the equipment for meetings, in addition to a ton of other stuff which he helps out with just because he’s a great guy and a hard worker. During games, however, his job is to print out and file pictures of each play so that the coaches can see what schemes the other team is running, and hopefully use that knowledge to make adjustments to their game plan. I got a text message from my buddy Friday night saying that they needed extra hands to help out Sunday, and if I could get down to Baltimore, he could get me on the sidelines to help him out during the game. What followed was one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever had which I will do my best to describe to you. I tried to take in as much as I could, but I was pretty overwhelmed by everything that was happening. Anyway here are a bunch of the things which I considered the highlights. Let me say in advance, I learned a lot of things that I probably will not remember to write, so if anyone has any questions about what goes on behind the scenes of an NFL game, please post a comment and I will do my best to answer.
Let me start from the beginning. I got out of work waitering a 75th birthday party in an Italian restaurant in Bellmore, NY Saturday at around 5pm, threw some pillows and blankets in the back of my station wagon to ensure that I would have somewhere to sleep and was on my way down to Baltimore. The drive took me about four hours, so by 10pm I was texting my friend trying to figure out where we would meet. We decided on the Pratt Street Ale House, across from both Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium in the Inner Harbour. Upon entering the bar I got the only disappointing news of the weekend which was that I had just missed out on getting to meet Browns defensive coordinator (and twin brother of NY Jets coach) Rob Ryan by about a half hour. My buddy, who we call Moc has told me a ton of funny stories about Rob Ryan, in addition to stories about what a great guy he is, so I was really hoping to talk with him, but I guess that will have to wait till next time.
I realize this isn’t my “drinking with my buddies blog” so at this point I’m going to bypass the rest of Saturday night and skip ahead to Sunday and the point of all of this which is Cleveland Browns football. I was told to arrive at the stadium by 11am and wear khakis. Here’s where the magic started. Now I’m not sure how it is in most cities, but in New York, you’re not going to a sporting event without paying $15 for parking. However, being one of the early arrivers to the game, I managed to get a spot on the street across from the stadium which I didn’t have to pay for! That was a big check mark in Baltimore’s column in my book. My friend was waiting for me at the statue of Johnny Unitas with my field pass which you can see in the image above.
We made our way immediately out onto the field to finish setting up his equipment, which consisted of a DVD player attached to four printers. Most big football fans have probably seen on TV shots of coaches huddled with players on the sidelines looking at pictures in a binder. Let me take a second to explain how that binder comes to exist. The making of the binder is a four man operation. My buddy Moc was sitting in front of the printers watching the DVD player screen which receives a feed of the game. Just before each snap he would press two buttons which generated two pictures from the printers, one came from a sideline camera and one from an end-zone camera. He would do the same just after each snap. He would then pass the two sideline pictures to me and the two endzone pictures to another guy. The forth guy would sit there making two labels per play. These labels noted the drive number, play number, yard-line, down and distance. The label guy would hand one label to me and one to the guy with the end-zone pictures which we would put on the top left corner of our presnap photo before neatly filing them into the binders. At the end of each series one of the fellas would take both binders, Moc would bark out which coach to bring them to and the guy would run like hell. Surprisingly it was a pretty high stress job, I know for sure I really didn’t want to mess up and have some football coach chewing me out for my binder making. Sometimes former Jet linebacker and current Browns defensive line coach Bryan Cox would wander over to our area when he was looking for the defensive binder. I’m sitting there thinking hell I remember watching this guy play now he’s hovering over me as I fumble to close the pages of an enormous binder. Despite being a bit nervous I was seriously pumped up. With cheerleaders, goofy mascots and even a real live raven with a Ravens emblem affixed to its chest buzzing all around me, I have to say it was an awesome feeling sitting there on an NFL sideline and feeling like I was playing some small part in helping this team compete. I even had a guy standing next to me with a water bottle to squirt Gatorade in my mouth whenever I needed to be refreshed. Okay so maybe that last part didn’t happen, but I can dream can’t I?
Let me get back to how the rest of the day went. After we finished setting up the equipment before the game we went into the locker room where I received my official Browns polo shirt and fitted hat. Who doesn’t love free stuff? I certainly do, though I have to take a minute to say that I absolutely never wear khakis so I felt really strange in them. It made me feel like Dexter, the lovable serial killer from the Showtime series. In fact, I walked around the entire day whistling the theme song to the show and channeling my inner killer. After leaving my own stuff in one of the lockers we had some time to kill (see I told you I’m a killer) so we went upstairs to the cafeteria to get breakfast. The spread consisted of eggs, home fries, bacon and sausage. Being a vegetarian I opted for the eggs and home fries. The food was actually pretty lousy, but I won’t complain about a free meal. They also had free Snapple, Nantucket Nectars and movie style popcorn which seemed like an odd choice for breakfast. On the way up to the cafeteria Moc got a star struck look in his eye when Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome got into the elevator with us. Newsome was a hall of fame linebacker that played for the Browns for twelve seasons between 1978-1990. He has been the Ravens GM since 2002 and as an aspiring NFL GM, he is someone that Moc really admires.
After breakfast we went back down to wait outside the locker room door. After about ten minutes the Browns players started to file out towards the field. This is when it happened. That’s right folks, this is when I saw Seneca Wallace, who led my Madden 2004 team team to about thirty straight Superbowl wins. It was then I knew that although I’m only twenty-five years old, I could now die happily. After all the players the last man to waddle out was Coach Eric Mangini. Mangini looked like his regular ornery self, just seeing him walk by with his stern demeanor made me nervous. I can only imagine how his players must feel. To me this is really Mangini’s downfall as a coach. I believe he is a guy who really has a good feel for the X’s and O’x of football, but to be a head coach in the NFL you have to have a keen sense of how to lead and motivate grown men. Anyway, I hope Mangini can turn things around for the Browns this year, but if things don’t work out for him in Cleveland I hope he finds a job somewhere else down the line because I really think he’s a good coach who is misunderstood because of his personality. Once Mangini and company were done vacating the locker room, we went in and quickly set up two projectors for the team’s halftime meeting. I took this opportunity to look into the players lockers and noticed they all seemed to have really nice shoes. I guess with a room full of young millionaires I should have expected them to have nice clothes, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the Browns’ shoes (if you couldn’t tell by now, it’s the little things in life that make me happy). After setting up the projectors we stocked up on sunflower seeds, bazooka bubblegum and Gatorade and headed out for the game.
As you all probably know, the game itself was really exciting. The Browns hung in there all day with a ferocious ground attack led by Peyton Hillis against the talented Ravens. The Browns acquired Hillis in a trade with the Broncos for former first round pick, Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn. I was amused to hear all the Browns film guys yapping about how they had ripped the Broncos off in that trade. Watching Hillis run it seemed like they were right. The Browns even managed to scrape together a 4th quarter lead, but Anquan Boldin and the Ravens were just too much in the end. I must say there is a much different feeling sitting on the sidelines as opposed to watching a game on TV. Even on a last place team like the Browns, the intensity for the game is palpable. I was sitting around about sixty guys whose livelihoods were at stake in this football game, and despite the fact that few people in the world thought they could win it, they not only believed that they could, they believed that they should win. Another feeling that I experienced for the first time was being surrounded by 74,000 people who were hoping for something directly opposite to what I was hoping for. It was a pretty intense feeling.
After the game was over we packed up the equipment and headed into the lock room area. On the way I saw Browns President Mike Holmgren riding shotgun in a golf cart with his trade mark Cheshire Cat grin hidden behind his mustache. He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen looking as jolly as Santa Clause after losing a Superbowl. Moc knew I wanted to get back to New York in time to watch the Jets/Dolphins game so he went right into the locker room to get me my clothes I had left in there. As I was waiting for him to come back an interesting thing happened. Some nerdy guy ran up to me, flashed his media credential and preceded into the door behind me which apparently he thought I was guarding. As the door shut I caught a glimpse of Mangini standing at a podium talking at the post game press conference. I thought it was funny that I was standing outside the door which I someday would love to be inside of as a member of the sports media. So close physcially, but it’s not an easy door to open that’s for sure.
Anyway I regret to say that traffic was awful the entire way home so it took me about six and a half hours to make the trip. I was forced to listen to the first half of the Jets game on the radio, but the second half was the exciting part anyway. After the Jets pulled out that win and after my day in Baltimore I can safely say I went to sleep Sunday night loving football even more than ever. I’m not going to edit this post too much, and I realize that it’s a bit scatterbrained, but I hope you all can get a sense for the excitement I was feeling as I was experiencing all this. Like I said there was a lot of stuff I saw, but didn’t write about so if anyone has any questions just post a comment and I’ll be happy to answer.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.