Christmas Stories: Best. Gift. Ever.

Yes, it’s January 3rd and I’ve got one more Christmas post in me. The missus and I headed back to Toledo for New Year’s/Second Christmas this year because my mom had to work hospice on actual Christmas. Well, that wasn’t the only reason apparently. It turned out that my parents and the missus had been conspiring for months to get me in town for one very special gift I never expected: tickets to the Steelers/Browns game yesterday in Cleveland. Originally, the folks were planning on just coming out here, but they all worked behind the scenes to get me in Ohio so I’d be much closer to the game. For a little while I was surprised that everyone was so sneaky (especially because the missus apparently told EVERYONE and no one accidentally let it slip), but after that, I was just happy and surprised.

And it all almost didn’t happen. We left for Toledo on Thursday morning, but early that morning I woke up with some pretty intense stomach pains. I didn’t really want to go, but felt obligated and wanted to see my parents. Then, I got sick on the way. Twice. The missus took over the driving duties and got my sick butt to Toledo which was even more impressive because she’s pretty pregnant. Oh, and it’s about a nine hour drive total and took even longer thanks to stops for both of us. She was a real champ and got me to town, offering to turn around, but I said no. Being sick in the car’s almost the same as being sick at home, right? The answer is absolutely not, but that’s what I told myself. As luck would have it, I woke up the next day and felt perfectly fine.

As I opened the ticket on our version of Christmas morning–which was actually New Year’s Eve day–I honestly didn’t get it at first. I saw the big Cleveland Browns logo on the one side, but it didn’t click right away. For some reason, I’ve thought about trying to get tickets to see the Steelers play against the Giants, Jets and even the Bills, but never contemplated going to Cleveland to check them out. Luckily my dad’s smarter than me and got this whole ball rolling. He even got tickets in a section that had access to an inside section where you could get food and beer, warm up and not go to the bathroom without freezing your junk off (much appreciate as it turned out to be pretty freaking cold).

Even though the Steelers are a much better team than the Browns, the Steelers still played hard. See, even though they had a spot in the playoffs clinched, they were still going for a win in order to get home field advantage and a by week (basically a week off for you non football fans) in order to get some of their banged-up players in better shape. As it turned out though, the injured Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu returned to action for that game, which was a lot of fun to watch. Seeing my favorite players in action was so much fun! My dad and I hoped that the Browns would put up a bit of a better fight just to keep things more interesting, but that was not in the cards as the score wound up being 41-9, Steelers.

It was actually hard seeing the Browns get beat that bad. My mom is from Cleveland, her mom (my Grandma) still lives there and my dad’s dad is a big fan, so there’s a connection to the city and the team. I even used to have a Browns poster in my room,remember when they were good and when they got sold and become the Baltimore Ravens, which was outrageous even to a non sports fan like me at the time. In fact, this is the only cover of Sports Illustrated without a beautiful woman in a bathing suit on it that I remember. Anyway, I think it was the badness of the Browns along with the badness of the Detroit Lions (the only other pro football team I’ve seen play live) that lead me to not care too much about football.

Years later I got into the sport after getting a copy of a few-years-old Madden game for PS2 in college and playing as the Steelers because my buddy Chad was a huge fan and was always talking about them. It was a good year for football because the Steelers were just getting good with Roethlisberger’s first year. Plus dudes like Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady all made the game really fun to watch. I was hooked! Even now, I keep an eye on the scores for Browns and Lions games, hoping to see both teams turn things around (things are looking up for the Lions). Because of that nostalgia, I didn’t take it to heart when the amassed Browns fans hurled insults at the Steelers fans (I was wearing a new Steelers hoodie that I also got for Christmas under my heavy jacket, so I was incognito). Plus, I don’t take this stuff as seriously as most.

I’ve got to give it to the Browns fans. They’re dedicated. For a half at least. As you can see in the pictures, the stadium was pretty packed at first, but after halftime, it cleared out pretty quickly. Part of that is because of the intense cold (the sun started hiding behind the clouds which dropped temps by ten or so degrees which made my dad and I pop into that heated section a time or two) and partly because of the losing, plus they can just drive home in a few minutes while most of us Steelers fans had driven a while and wanted to watch the game. Some of the bigger Steelers players also didn’t return at the half for fear of stupid injury before the playoffs (the goal IS to win the Super Bowl afterall, you know?), but it was still fun to sit there with my dad and watch the Steelers do their thing. Our mostly Steelers section even started cheering for the downtrodden Browns a bit, shouting “Let ’em have it!” when a touchdown got overturned.

So, huge thanks to my folks and the missus for setting this whole thing up and my Grandma for giving us a place to sleep Sunday night, which gave us a two hour jump on our drive home today. We had a great time!