In the beginning there was hope, and T-shirts.
“PRESEASON CHAMPS,” some of the garments said.
Four wins, no losses.
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And now, three months later — 13 real-deal, regular-season losses later — the team is still perfect (no wins) and, in some Beaufort County landfill, presumably, there are wasted Jell-O shots from a Hilton Head Island bar.
They are orange in color.
And they have been discarded for one simple reason: The Cleveland Browns have a hard time scoring touchdowns.
“We’ve debated if we should give out Jell-O shots for first downs,” quipped Carey Basciano, a Youngstown, Ohio, native and owner of Street Meet American Tavern, where the wasted shots originate. “We throw ’em away about every Sunday.
Which begs the logical question: If you’ve already made them, why not use them?
Because the shots have to be earned, Basciano said.
Because loving the Cleveland Browns is about more than fan-dom and loyalty to a sports team. It’s a life lesson in resilience, the Cleveland faithful say. One you can see taught week after week right here in the Lowcountry, where Ohio license plates rival those from the Palmetto State, and where folks with Cleveland ties take nothing for granted as they celebrate small victories.
Basciano’s tavern, which bills itself as Hilton Head’s “Browns Backers” venue, distributes the complimentary — but highly diluted — vodka-based shots that are as weak as the Browns’ offense and as special as one of its scores when the team manages a touchdown.
According to one fan who watched the Cleveland-Green Bay game at Street Meet, the joint almost ran out of congealed joy Sunday.
“Joe and I are at a Cleveland backers bar in Hilton Head watching the Browns game,” Tom Armagno wrote Sunday at 2:22 p.m. on Facebook, about an hour after kickoff. “They just handed out free Jell-O shots for the Browns touchdown.”
“Do you have to give them back if (or should I say when) they lose?” Rose Armagno replied about a half-hour later.
“No, we actually got three jello shots today,” Tom responded a couple hours later, the game over — a 27-21 Cleveland loss, in overtime. “The manager at the bar said she was worried they might run out today. They usually have to throw the unused ones out from the Browns not scoring any touchdowns.”
The Browns are the only winless team in the NFL this season. They won one game last year. Over the past nine seasons since their last 10-plus-win campaign in 2007, they have averaged about four victories a year.
Chad Perrine, former president of the local Browns Backers club and a past bartender at Street Meet, said of Cleveland fans gathering on Sundays: “Misery loves company.”
Perrine, who moved to Hilton Head in 1998, called it “a sickness on Sundays.” He called it “a waste of time.” And he said these things in the tongue-and-cheek tone of a man who loves his team, knows his team and is raising his children as Browns fans.
“Yes, I’m training them in futility,” Perrine said of his children, Campbell, 10, and Noah, 7.
“There’s David — which is us — and 31 other Goliaths, but David never beats Goliath in our world,” he continued. “So, you have to have a good sense of humor about it.”
But Perrine, remembering his bartender days, said the faithful still gathered to watch the games, no matter how bad the team was doing. Basciano said the same — sure, it’s not standing-room-only like it was at the start of the season, but Browns fans still pack his joint week after week.
The folks at Street Meet plan for about two complimentary Jell-O shots per fan each week. The tradition has been in place for about a decade, Basciano said, most of the tavern’s 12-year existence. Given the anticipated crowd size and the team’s performance — take Week 2’s 24-10 loss to Baltimore, an early season game with a lone Browns touchdown — there might be more waste.
So, they try to tweak the formula from week to week, “just like a regular restaurant manages waste,” Basciano says. Some weeks they might make 80. Others, 30.
They’re always made the day before. Basciano jokes that they’re a great deal, like day-old bread.
“If the Browns were actually good, we just wouldn’t be giving away Jell-O shots,” he said.
Perrine says he hopes his kids learn the value of loyalty and humility from the Browns.
“They’ve already got the reality-check thing down,” Perrine said.
“Not everything worth having is easy,” he continued. “And when the Browns do turn it around, maybe (my kids) will have a chance to go to a playoff game. I’ll probably be in a wheelchair by then.”
When asked about the symbolism of the orange Jell-O shots he used to pass out at Street Meet, Perrine called them “a little minute of celebration ...
... before the wheels fall off the cart.”