Browns fans' celebration is deflated

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - This wasn't the way a huge football weekend for Ohio teams was supposed to end for Cleveland Browns fans.

Didn't the Ohio State Buckeyes prove Friday that the heavens were aligned for Ohio teams?

For most of Cleveland's first-round playoff game Sunday against Pittsburgh -- the Browns' first since their return as an expansion team in 1999 -- Tony Lee and other Browns loyalists enjoyed a loud, happy celebration.

As the Browns jumped out to an early lead, Lee sat smiling and calm at the Grill at Gridiron Square, a restaurant inside Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Some fans said they were glad for the chance to relax with the Browns leading 24-7 in the third quarter because they were still emotionally depleted from Ohio State's double overtime win for the
college football national championship.

But their reprieve was short-lived as Pittsburgh rallied to win 36-33.

"They came within three points of beating the Steelers, of knocking off an arch rival. And I thought this was going to be an Ohio weekend. Ohio State wins and then the Browns win. That's what I was waiting for," said Lee, 50 of suburban Chagrin Falls.

Joe Borquist, 31, of Cleveland, said he could not get pumped up for the Browns game until just before its start.

"Until then, I was still worn out from that Ohio State game. That was the greatest game I've ever seen," he said, as he proudly wore a Browns jersey and a just-purchased "Ohio State Champions"

Elizabeth Lewis, 22, of Cleveland, said the loss is "just part of living in Cleveland, and we're used to it."

Lewis was so impressed with Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb in the first half of the game that she bought a No. 10 Browns jersey during halftime at the tavern's gift shop.

"It's like every game, it seems that comes down to the last minute," she said. "We had a winning team this year so we can't complain too much."

Former Browns player Bob Gain, member of Cleveland's 1964 championship team, rode out the emotional game with other fans in the Gridiron.

"I think we should have won the ballgame. I think we outplayed them," he said. "It was just a matter of circumstances, and I thought we had the game all the way through. But the way they played in Pittsburgh, they shouldn't hang their heads down."

Most patrons' clothes matched the Gridiron's brown and orange decor.

But Jim Hood, 39, of the Cleveland suburb Lakewood, braved the crowd dressed head to toe in Steelers black and gold.

In the third quarter, asked to evaluate the Steelers' showing, all Hood could say was, "It's pretty sad."

By the end of the game, Hood was waving his Steelers Terrible Towel and yelping in delight at the television screen, as dozens of Browns fans were saying "oh, no."

"I'm a Browns fan, too, except when they play Pittsburgh. This is great!" Hood said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)