Despite Cleveland’s long history of sports heartbreak — or, perhaps, because of it — the city’s fans have gained a well-deserved reputation for being among the most loyal around. And of the city’s three franchises in major professional sports, the Browns are the team whose fans perhaps demonstrate this the best.
While the Cavaliers and Indians have experienced moments of glory over the last 20 years, no matter how fleeting, the Browns’ recent history has been mired in futility and pain, from the original franchise’s abrupt move to Baltimore after the 1995 season to its seemingly never-ending quarterback carousel to its blown lead in a 2002 playoff game — to date, its most recent playoff appearance.
And through all that, fans still come to FirstEnergy Stadium and fill up the vaunted Dawg Pound. In fact, the Browns’ stadium is itself a symbol of the franchise’s rebirth — it was built on the site of the old Municipal Stadium, a new venue being a condition of the NFL returning the Browns to existence as an expansion team for the 1999 season.
Nowadays, Browns fans are still waiting for a return to glory (hence FirstEnergy Stadium’s unofficial nickname, the “Factory of Sadness”), but they’ve got a beautiful venue in which to watch their team play.
- The Approach
Situated on the shore of Lake Erie, across the way from Cleveland City Hall and right next to two of the city’s main attractions (more on those later), FirstEnergy Stadium is quite easy to get to. Drivers can link up with the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway (Ohio Route 2), which links up with Interstate 90 (the main artery through downtown Cleveland) about a mile east of the stadium. East 9th Street and West 3rd Street are the closest exits to the venue.
If you don’t have a car, you have an alternative. The Blue and Green lines of Cleveland’s RTA Rail system stop at West 3rd Street — the station is also clearly marked “FirstEnergy Stadium.” It costs $5 for an all-day pass. Also, the city’s Amtrak station is located next to the stadium, though service is limited and isn’t practical for gameday transportation.
For those visiting Cleveland, most downtown hotels are within reasonable walking distance. Just follow West 3rd or East 9th north, toward the lake. Because parking is somewhat limited around the stadium, the team encourages fans to utilize downtown parking structures and lots, so many fans will be walking from the downtown core to the stadium. Though the building is separated from downtown by a series of train tracks, there are several bridges — some pedestrian-only — for fans to cross.
- The Build-Up
Directly to the east of FirstEnergy Stadium are two of Cleveland’s prime attractions, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center. If kickoff is at 1 p.m. local time, as the majority of Browns home games are, you won’t have much time to spend at either place before the game. But since they’re right there, at least you’ll know where they are so that you can budget some time for one or the other at some point during your visit.
For more traditional sports-fan pregame merriment, look to the Warehouse District, an up-and-coming neighborhood directly south of the stadium, and the area near Public Square, another five blocks away.
A couple blocks further, there’s East 4th Street, a favorite haunt for Cavs and Indians fans since both Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field are down the street, but just as lively on football Sundays as well. You can find a list of specific establishments here.
- The Ambiance
Easily the feature that sets FirstEnergy Stadium apart among NFL venues is the presence of the Dawg Pound, where the Browns’ most rabid fans — those who wear bulldog masks and dog collars — sit. The Dawg Pound, which began in the Municipal Stadium days, is so ingrained in the team’s consciousness that the sections in which those fans sit are specifically labeled “Dawg Pound”, and they can be among the toughest tickets to get depending on the game.
Another element the new stadium adopted from the old one is, well, the elements. Municipal Stadium was notorious for the winds that whipped into it from Lake Erie, and late-season games at FirstEnergy Stadium can bring a chill also — that is, more so than can be expected even for a winter day in Cleveland.
Otherwise, FirstEnergy is a fairly standard-issue football stadium — good sightlines, though the highest rows can feel removed from the action, and wide concourses. A recent renovation brought new, high-definition videoboards behind each end zone.
The Browns have also revamped their concessions offerings over the last few seasons, bringing in more “foodie” fare. Cleveland native and celebrity chef Michael Symon has a presence in the form of his B Spot stands offering gourmet burgers and brats. Loaded hot dogs and cheesesteaks are also sold around the stadium.