When the Cleveland Browns kick off each week, you’ll find about 35 fans wearing orange and brown cheering on their team at Mac & Joe’s in Uptown Oxford.
The Browns Backers club was founded in 1999 by four Miami University students. Jim and Geri Schick joined up during the inaugural season. Originally, they held their meetings at Stadium Bar & Grill, where Follett’s Bookstore is now. They were there for six years before moving to Brick Street Bar and Grill for two years then settling in at Mac & Joe’s, 21 E. High St.
The Schicks live in Eaton and come to watch every Browns game at Mac & Joe’s. Jim grew up in Hamilton and was a groundskeeper at Miami for 38 years. Geri was the business office manager at Miami’s Shriver Center for 41 years. Both are now retired.
Jim became a Browns fan because of his dad and Geri is a Browns fan because of Jim.
“My dad sat me in front of the TV set back in 1956 and said, ‘this is who we root for during football season,’” Jim Schick said. “I said ‘alright’.”
Schick grew up in the days of Jim and Paul Brown and knew early on that Jim Brown would be a Cleveland legend.
“At that time, Jim Brown was a rookie, and he (Schick’s dad) goes, ‘you watch this number 32, because he’s going to be a pretty good ballplayer,’” Schick said. “I guess he was since he ended up being a Hall of Famer. I’ve rooted for them ever since.”
Officially known as the University/Oxford Area Browns Backers, the group has been a chartered club of the Browns Backers Worldwide Organization since 2001. The group is mainly comprised of local townspeople, but students at Miami are also welcome to join.
“When they started this we just thought, ‘let’s just check it out’,” Jim Schick said. “They’ve treated us great ever since we got here (Mac & Joe’s).”
For a yearly $10 fee, members receive a $10 gift card to Mac & Joe’s. In addition, during Browns Backers’ game viewing meetings, the restaurant offers food and drink specials including 75-cent wings, happy hour prices on beer and free soda. Jim is the president of the group but he and Geri run it, handing out wristbands to members as they come in each weekend. The wristbands give members access to the food and drink specials.
“Working with the Backers is a nice change of pace from the usual Mac & Joe’s scene,” said Kevin Mitroi, the Mac & Joe’s bartender who has served the Browns Backers for the last two seasons. “Once everyone gets settled in with their food and drinks, I’m able to watch along and enjoy the lows and lows of Browns fandom. Can’t imagine spending my Sundays any other way.”
Although they sport the official name “Browns Backers,” the group welcomes fans of all teams. The club has stayed steady in regard to membership over recent years. They have about 60 paid members, according to Schick, with about 30-40 coming to watch the games each week.
“When the Browns are on local TV, we don’t get as big of a crowd, people like to stay home and watch it at their house,” Schick said. “But if we have to get in on NFL Network, we fill this place up.”
Browns fans have stayed true to the orange and brown even though the team hasn’t been successful over the past couple of decades. Demonstrating instability, they’ve had 31 starting quarterbacks since 1999. Currently, Baker Mayfield is the starting quarterback and has a knack for being in the limelight. Greg Haskins has been coming to Mac & Joe’s for the past 45 years to watch the Browns and says Mayfield has stepped into his role as one of the leaders of the team.
“I don’t know if he’s the right guy, but I think he has fallen into and accepted the leadership role,” Haskins said. “He’s got some intensity, which is good.”
Fans in the Dawg Pound, the name of the bleacher section behind the east end zone at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, are known for their intensity and passion, so having a quarterback with those characteristics has helped breed enthusiasm among fans this season.
The Browns (2-6) are in third place in the AFC North through eight games -- two games above the hapless Cincinnati Bengals (0-8). The team has failed to live up to the pre-season hype that surrounded them when they traded for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., in exchange for a first and third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and strong safety Jabrill Peppers.
After those moves, excitement surrounded the team, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002 and hasn’t had a winning record since 2007 and owns the worst regular-season record of all NFL teams since 2010 (36-107-1).
Although this season has been rough for the Browns, there is still hope for a turnaround. The Browns had a rough start to the season, but Sports Betting Dime, a betting website that provides fans and bettors information about sports, reports that the Browns have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the league.
Before the Nov. 3 game against the Broncos, which the Browns lost 24-19, Schick was optimistic about how they would close out the rest of the season.
“I think the second half will be better than the first half,” Schick said. “I know everybody is hoping they make the playoffs, but I think with the way that they started this year, that’s pushing it a little bit. But I still think we could finish 9-7.”
The Browns look to bounce back against the Buffalo Bills (6-2) at home this Sunday, Nov. 10. Kickoff is 1 p.m.
Last week, Schick finished up his 28th season of refereeing high school football. He got into it when his son played high school and college football. He’s refereed games mainly in the Dayton and Oxford areas, including five high school playoff games.
“Watching our son play high school football, and then college ball, we’d be sitting there watching the games with our friends and something would happen, and I’d say, “that’s clipping, that’s holding’,” Schick said. “Everybody sitting around me would say ‘you need to be an official.’”
He stays in shape by running 5K's and 10K’s, and a half marathon in 2012. He and Geri also have three eight-month-old puppies at home that keep them on their toes: a golden retriever, German shepherd and Samoyed mix.
“They always tell us at our state referee meeting ‘now remember guys, you’re a year older, but the kids you’re officiating are going to be the same age every year. Try to stay in half-way decent shape,’” Schick said. “Twenty-eight years later and I’m still running up and down the field with all those teenagers.”
Something that’s been ingrained in many Browns fans is to endure the challenging seasons. Chris Beecroft, a 2018 Miami graduate, has seen 0-16 and 1-15 seasons but still goes to Mac & Joe’s to watch every game. No matter where they are in the standings, Browns fans are known for their dedication to their team.
“You’re born a Browns fan, you can’t change that,” Beecroft said. “It’s like being an Ohio State fan, you can’t root for Michigan. You’re in the Dawg Pound for life.”