With all its pageantry, history and star-studded cast, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Enshrinement Weekend is a grand affair.
It’s the biggest event of the year in Canton, Ohio, where it is held, and also one of the biggest on the NFL calendar.
But in 1999, the festivities took on added significance. After an absence of three seasons, the Browns, located just a little over an hour up the road, were back. To help commemorate their return to the field, they had been selected to play the Dallas Cowboys in the annual Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 9 at adjacent Fawcett Stadium to kick off the preseason schedule on Monday Night Football.
And it was exactly 14 years ago tonight, on Aug. 8, that the Browns held an open workout at the stadium. Truly befitting the hoopla of Enshrinement Weekend, it was unlike any day-before-the-game practice the Browns have ever staged, and probably will ever stage.
It wasn’t so much a practice, really, as it was a lovefest as a fan base began to reconnect with its football team.
Thousands of people showed up wearing every piece of Browns garb imanginable, and they weren’t shy about letting their emotions show.
They cheered wildly as the Browns ran onto the field at the start of the early evening session, and the roar never really stopped for the next 90 minutes or so.
They cheered every player’s participation in every drill.
They cheered every completed pass, every run, every kick, every punt -- everything.
In fact, it might have been the first time in NFL history that a team got a standing ovation during pre-practice callisthentics.
There was no displeasing the people on this night. Indeed, the Browns could have just stood on the field in their uniforms and the fans still would have whooped it up.
And why not? The fans had fought to get the Browns back, so this was really and truly their team. And their team was warming up on the field where, 24 hours later in front of a national television audience, it would play its first game of any kind in over 3½ years. This is what the fans had worked for -- waited so patiently for -- and now it was almost here, so this practice was like an opening act to the main event the next night.
Most fans packed the bottom of the grandstand, hanging all over each other as they clamored for the Browns to autograph their footballs, their jerseys, their pennants, their faces, their whatever.
Other fans stood back and just took it all in, smiling all the while.
And when the Browns finally left the field, this time the fans had no tears. They knew the team would be back soon.
Fittingly so, it seemed, the Browns won the game, 20-17, in overtime on Phil Dawson’s field goal, adding yet another exclamation point to the big weekend.
It gave the fans one morer opportunity to cheer, and smile, as if they didn’t already have enough.
This Day in Browns History is sponsored by Cleveland Clinic.