Bret Cantley had always wanted to sign up to be a Browns Backer.
On a trip to a recent Lake County Captains minor league baseball game to celebrate his step-daughter’s high school graduation, Cantley signed up with the Burnt River Browns Backers in Mentor. A couple weeks later, the Sandusky native and Wickliffe resident was informed about being the 100,000th member of the Browns Backers Worldwide, the Cleveland Browns’ official fan club.
“I’ve been a Browns fan all my life, even when there were no Browns,” Cantley said. “I really didn’t even watch football that much. I wasn’t one of those that jumped onto another bandwagon and said, ‘Let’s go to another team.’ I was just waiting because I knew they would be back sooner or later. I don’t root for any other team but them.”
As the 100,000th member, Cantley spent Thursday at the team’s Berea facility, where he was presented with a special plaque from team president Mike Holmgren, two tickets to a 2012 home game, two pregame field passes, gift cards to the Browns Team Shop and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, as well as gifts from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In addition, Cantley made an appearance on Thursday’s edition of “Cleveland Browns Daily,” the team’s daily radio program, and will be featured on “Browns Insider” later this month.
“The Browns Backers and our fans are tremendous,” Holmgren said. “This is quite something because there are fans, with this group, all over. We need you and we appreciate it very much.”
The call from the Browns came at a time when Cantley needed good news.
In February, the 42-year old father of six was diagnosed with Stage Four liver and colon cancer.
“I’ve been kind of really down and thinking, ‘Why me?’” Cantley said. “Then, something like this happens and it just brings and boosts me back up and gives me a reason to strive a little harder. I’ve got more time on my hands to enjoy doing stuff. I’m not able to work anymore right now because some of the time, I get down energy-wise and am not able to do a whole lot. I thought this would be a perfect time to do a little bit more, join a group or organization or something, get with some guys and have some fun.”
The Stage Four diagnosis came because Cantley’s cancer started in the colon and spread to his liver. A CAT-scan nearly six weeks ago revealed the tumors shrunk by 30 percent. Cantley goes through treatments every two weeks and has two more scheduled before possibly getting another CAT-scan. Should the tumors continue to shrink, Cantley could undergo surgery to remove them from his liver.
“I’ve learned tremendous things about the body that I never knew,” Cantley said. “Your liver is the only organ that will reproduce itself. They can actually cut sections of it out and it will actually re-grow. It’s not going to keep me down. I’m still living my life.”
Groups from all over the world share the same enthusiasm for the Browns, while raising dollars for local charities and volunteering thousands of hours every year.
To date, there are 341 Browns Backers chapters worldwide, 18 outside of the United States and 323 in the country. Ohio is the home of the most chapters, 140, as well as the largest, the Burnt River Browns Backers with its 1,246 members.
“We’re just really excited to have Bret as our 100,000th Backer,” said Michele DeScioli, manager of Browns Backers Worldwide. “We’ve always appreciated our passionate and loyal members. We’ve always had such a strong fan-base and to reach this milestone means so much to us. We look forward to continuing to grow and celebrating larger milestones in the future.”
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, is a proud supporter of Browns Backers Worldwide. All Browns Backers receive discounted admission, so go to www.profootballhof.com to plan your visit today!