Local Cleveland Browns fans will kick off the team’s season, and the 20th anniversary of the Oxford-based fan club, on Sunday in the uptown “Browns Bar.”
The University-Area Browns Backers are one of hundreds of official local fan clubs for the NFL team. The group was started in 1999, the season the Browns restarted their franchise after the original team moved to Baltimore. The group has dozens of members from the Oxford area who gather weekly in the basement of Mac and Joes, 21 E. High St., to watch the team’s games.
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Jim Schick has been the president of the Oxford chapter of Browns fans since 2001. His wife, Geri, is the secretary for the group. The two are retired Miami University employees who took over the Browns Backers group in its third year and have run it ever since.
“People join not only just to support the Browns, but because they know that their money goes to support our charities,” Geri said.
Browns Backers Worldwide is a non-profit group, so the dues are then donated to charities.
Members of the University-Area Browns Backers pay $10 per season to participate and earn discounts from the bar during the game, like happy hour beer prices and 75 cent wings.
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The backers group has bounced between several locations in Oxford during its history. They had originally met at Top Deck for the first few seasons, then moved to Brick Street and several other locations.
For the past few years, they’ve settled into the basement bar at Mac and Joes and enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with the tavern. The Browns Backers watch every game from the basement bar at Mac and Joes. The decorations they bring in for each game and their regular enthusiasm has nicknamed the room the “Browns Bar.”
The University-Area branch is part of Browns Backers Worldwide, the official fan club for the Cleveland Browns. With more than 300 Backers locations established in the US and around the world, they’re considered the largest organized fan club in football.
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Older members, like the Schicks, run the group, but the majority of the members are Miami students. This leads to a lot of turnover between years, as older members leave Oxford and new students slowly discover the Backers.
Miami senior Owen Churchill has been part of the Browns Backers for the last two seasons. He will be in Cleveland watching the first game of the season live, but he looks forward to getting back to the Backers group during the season.
“It’s a great environment. Everyone is super excited about the team when we’re there in the basement and everybody is wearing jerseys and hats,” Churchill said.
Last season was a historically low point in the Browns franchise. They became the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 during the season and have won just four games in the last three seasons. Jim and Geri said that turnout remained high for most of the season but expects the new changes to the team to bring a lot more excitement.
“There’s the anticipation for all the changes the team made and the improvements they’ve shown during the preseason. I’m expecting a good turnout for that,” he said.
Browns fan who aren’t officially part of the Backers and fans of other teams are welcome to watch the game downstairs as well. But Jim Schick says that the group works hard to keep the atmosphere light during the games.
“Friendly banter is okay with us. But when it starts getting heated, take it outside and don’t come back,” he said.
The first Cleveland Browns game of the season is at 1 p.m. Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.