By Bob Zoellner
What do northern transplants do when their sports loyalties die hard? Gather with like-minded folks and continue to root on their hometown teams.
Especially long-suffering Cleveland Browns fans.
Just one of four teams never to have reached the Super Bowl—the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans are the others—the Browns still have some of the most loyal fans anywhere. Including the Tampa Bay area.
The Brandon Browns Backers, which meets for games at the Brandon Crossroads Bowl (609 Crater Ln. in Tampa), and the South Shore Browns Backers of Apollo Beach, which gathers at the Salty Shamrock (6186 N. U.S. 41 in Apollo Beach) are two of the area clubs for rabid Cleveland fans.
“The Browns Backers Worldwide is considered to be one of the largest organized fan clubs in all of professional sports,” according to the official Browns Backers website, https://fans.clevelandbrowns.com. There are more than 370 chapters in 15 different countries.
It’s all about the Browns and the friendships that are formed.
“I just do it because I love the Browns,” said Greg Jones, who started the Brandon club 16 years ago and serves as its president. “I don’t like to sit at home by myself watching the Browns.”
In that spirit of camaraderie, including the commonality of a shared, painful football history and proximity, both in Ohio and the Tampa Bay area, the two local clubs are planning a combined end-of-the-season outing on the weekend of Saturday and Sunday, January 9 and 10.
The specific day depends on when a playoff game is scheduled for the Browns, who are on an 18-year playoff drought. The gathering will take place on the opposite day of the playoff game.
The event will feature competitions between the two chapters, including billiards, bowling, darts and cornhole, Brandon club vice president Jeff Komito wrote in a Facebook post. There will also be lots of fellowship at the Brandon Crossroads Bowl.
Any proceeds will be divided between charities. The Brandon club raises funds for Friends of Hillsborough County Animal Services and it set up a trust fund for the kids of Marty Leahy, a longtime friend of Jones and former vice president of the club who suddenly passed away in June of 2019 at the age of 43.
The South Shore club donates to the Southeastern Guide Dogs as its primary charity, club president Chris Conger said.
“Last year, we raised $5,000 for them and are close to meeting the same number this year,” he added.
For more information on the Brandon club, visit http://www.brandonbrownsbackers.com/, and for the South Shore club, visit https://www.facebook.com/South-Shore-Browns-Backers-282985712264347/.