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In The NFL's 'Factory Of Sadness,' All Hope Rests On Johnny Football


Here's a reality in sports - it's easy to root for a winning team. The true test is how loyal fans are in bad times, which means fans of the NFL's Cleveland Browns deserve respect. Their last NFL championship was 50 years ago. Their last playoff appearance - the 2002 season.

Mike Polk Jr. is a Cleveland comedian and Browns season ticket holder. He's made a series of videos of himself outside the Browns' Stadium.


MIKE POLK JR.: Listen, I know that there are way more important things in life than football, but you are supposed to be our pleasant distraction from those things. But all we do is pay you money to put us in a bad mood every week. You are a factory of sadness. I'll see you Sunday.

GREENE: Sure will because Polk tells us fans in this rust belt city are dedicated.

POLK JR.: It really is comical. You know, Cleveland has a million things going for it. For example, we've got this amazing orchestra, like a world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra, and they have a hard time getting people to come and see them. But we will go and watch one of the most miserable football teams in the history of the NFL each and every week and fill that place up for some reason.

GREENE: But the Browns right now are in the playoff hunt. Of course they're replacing their quarterback, Brian Hoyer, this week. And now Cleveland's hopes are riding on rookie Johnny Manziel. He's a Heisman Trophy winner, top college player in the United States. But so far in the NFL, he's been known more for his attitude than his skills. I asked Mike Polk Jr. about the beginning of the Manziel era.

POLK JR.: I actually think that it's probably overhyped nationally a little bit because it's a great story everybody loves. He's like a little Kardashian, that guy. So everybody likes talking about him and what not. And I get that. It's a big deal here in Cleveland, but a lot of people are still kind of torn 'cause there's still a lot of Hoyer supporters despite his abysmal performance in those last couple games.

GREENE: Manziel - I mean, he made news this year for - mostly for giving a obscene gesture to the Washington Redskins' bench in the preseason.

POLK JR.: Yeah.

GREENE: He's known for being very flashy, a partier - doesn't exactly feel like he embodies a city like Cleveland.

POLK JR.: No. It is actually a very strange pairing. And it's been funny to watch a lot of fans do their best to reconcile because if we had to get on board with somebody who might not exactly represent us, I think we'd be willing to pretty much eat glass at this point for a championship.

GREENE: Does anything inside you say maybe this is the moment; this could be our champion; this could be the guy who takes us to the Super Bowl?

POLK JR.: As, like, a longtime Browns season ticket holder, I kind of stopped feeling a long time ago. I've actually heard it described before as - I don't know how they figured this out - but they say right before you drown, you stop panicking; you get this warm sensation all over your body where you just kind of accept your fate. And I feel like I've been there for about four years.

GREENE: Mike, let me ask you this. I understand why you put yourself through this every Sunday. I'm a football fan. I always will be. For people who don't watch football that often, like, can you tell them why you do this every week? I mean, it might seem to them as like some sort of awful self-sacrifice.

POLK JR.: Yeah. It's a perfectly logical question. At this point, it's sort of a point of pride. Like if you play the lotto every single week, you stick in there because just of the fear that your numbers might come up the next day. And also, it really is like there's a camaraderie. We're in this together. And it's something - it's like a community thing. And I don't know what would happen if we actually won. I think we'd lose our identity.

GREENE: You're going to be in the stadium on Sunday?

POLK JR.: Oh, yeah. I'll be there. I'll see everybody on Sunday.

GREENE: Mike Polk Jr., thanks so much.

POLK JR.: Thank you very much for having me. Go Browns.


RANDY NEWMAN: (Singing) Cleveland - city of light, city of magic. Cleveland... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.