Dee and Jimmy Haslam have witnessed the transformation of downtown Cleveland as the city prepares for one of the biggest events on the NFL calendar, and they can't wait for the rest of the world to see it, too.
The beauties of their stadium and city will be on full display this weekend as Cleveland hosts the 2021 NFL Draft, which will take place Thursday through Saturday on the lakefront beside FirstEnergy Stadium. The construction of the stage, massive video boards and array of lights are almost at full completion, and the Haslams are eager to see how the draft brings out the best of the city.
"We could not be more fired up about the draft here at the Browns, but also just hosting the draft here in Cleveland," Dee said with Jimmy sitting beside her Tuesday in a video call with local reporters. "It's just great for the community. The national exposure has just been tremendous. It's so much fun to wake up and watch 'Good Morning Football' and hear them talk non-stop about Cleveland. That's just the best thing, and seeing the beautiful views."
For the city, the draft is arriving at a near-perfect time.
With vaccinations and other encouraging developments against the COVID-19 pandemic, Cleveland will be home to one of the most notable and publicized in-person events that will symbolize the progress the country has made for a return to normal. Thousands of spectators are expected to attend the draft in-person for each of the three days, and although several safety procedures are still in place, the draft should still create a sense of normalcy for viewers and people choosing to attend.
"It's going to give people some excitement to get out," Dee said. "I know people that are planning on tailgating and coming downtown to experience the draft like they would normally experience a game, even though they might not be up close to the stage. I think it's going to be a tremendous time in Cleveland."
The draft is arriving at a near-perfect time for the franchise, too.
The Browns are a few months removed from one of their most exciting seasons in franchise history. After snapping their 18-year playoff drought in January, the Browns have maintained the level of excitement sustained from their playoff run with several big-name free-agent signings to the defense. Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson III, Troy Hill, Malik Jackson, Takkarist McKinley and Anthony Walker should provide an infusion of talent to give Cleveland a winning defensive formula.
Those transactions have only added to the excitement surrounding the Browns' draft decisions. Several positions are still in play for their first pick at No. 26 overall, the latest they've drafted in a first round since 1995.
"We're glad to be where we are, although it's a lot harder to pick at 26 than it is at one or four or 10, 15 or some of the other places we've picked in the past," Jimmy said with a smile. "We're excited to see what our team can deliver. We're excited about the work (Executive Vice President and GM) (Andrew Berry), (head coach) Kevin (Stefanski) and (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul DePodesta have done to get us ready for the draft."
The anticipation will reach its peak Thursday at 8 p.m., when the official clock begins on the first overall selection. The Browns will be in line to welcome another key weapon for their exciting future, and the City of Cleveland will be the setting for what promises to be an unforgettable weekend.
"Our hope is that it opens up Cleveland not just for the draft, but for people to see what a great place it really is for all kinds of events," Dee said. "We think it showcases Cleveland terrifically."
- The Haslams will never forget the sights and sounds around Cleveland when the Browns continued their playoff-caliber climb through the 2020 season.
From players and coaches jumping around on the field, to the fans in the stadium who made the limited attendance procedures feel as close to a full stadium as possible, the Haslams embraced all of it.
"It was a lot of pressure, and it was really, really exciting," Dee said. "There were a lot of great memories, and I thought every game was intense."
The best moment for them is likely the most popular pick among Browns fans, too — the Wild Card victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Browns found a way to dominate the first quarter despite missing Stefanski, who did not make the trip to Pittsburgh due to contracting COVID-19. The Browns built a 28-0 lead and throttled the Steelers early to secure the win.
That game, and several other big wins, will be remembered when the Browns return in 2021. This time, the hope is that stadiums will be full, which could provide for an even more memorable atmosphere if the Browns can re-create the success from 2020.
"For our fans who have waited so long to see a winning season and to make the playoffs, yeah it's disappointing," Jimmy said. "But now they're going to get a chance this year to come to nine regular season home games."
- The Haslams commended Stefanski for his work in keeping the Browns united and prepared throughout the abnormal settings and conflicts of the 2020 season.
Stefanski won the 2020 NFL Coach of the Year Award for his work, which included a playoff victory when Stefanski wasn't able to be on the sideline due to contracting COVID-19 and rallying players to wins each week despite injuries and other COVID-related absences.
The success has brought a level of confidence to the organization the Haslams have strived to build since they bought the organization in 2012.
"He's extremely organized, smart and unflappable," Dee said. "I think those characteristics are just perfect for Cleveland and as a head coach. We couldn't be more excited about last year and this year, and for Kevin and what he's doing."
- Over the last week, quarterback Baker Mayfield and Stefanski have both expressed excitement in seeing how the continuity among offensive players and coaches will impact the Browns' efficiency for 2021.
The Haslams are certainly eager to see that, too. They enjoyed seeing the growth Mayfield had under Stefanski in his third NFL season, and the expectation is to have Mayfield take another big step next season — he's never experienced an NFL offseason with the same coach from a previous year.
"I think we all understand how important quarterback is in the NFL, so we were delighted to see that," Jimmy said. "To have that type of continuity, which we strove to get here on offense going into the second year with Kevin and Baker, we're just really excited to see."
On Thursday Cleveland Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett revealed the latest #VoicesofCLE public art installation, in collaboration with Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA), Destination Cleveland and Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. Commissioned by Garrett, the new multi-paned work is by local artist Glen Infante whose #VoicesofCLE pieces have adorned many facades throughout the city center. Following last year's civil unrest, the public art initiative began to provide a platform, especially for those of color, for expression and to spark the necessary conversations and actions to inspire change.