Can 'Draft Day' Turn the Cleveland Browns into Winners? Maybe

Kevin Costner in Draft Day
Kevin Costner joins the Cleveland Browns in 'Draft Day'
There is little doubt Cleveland Browns fans are eagerly awaiting May 8th. That’s the first day of the 2014 NFL Draft. The first opportunity the long-suffering franchise will get a chance to bestow hope on its legion of fans.

A little less than a month before, a fictional version of the Cleveland Browns’ draft will play out in the aptly named  Draft Day. The film stars Kevin Costner as the Browns’ general manager, desperately working the system to give the Browns the No. 1 pick.

Knowing that, here’s a question. 

Can Draft Day influence Draft Day?

In other words, can excitement from a feel-good film about a sports team impact the decisions of the Browns’ real front office? Can it inspire coaches and players to deliver a winning season? Can it have an effect on anything?

Just a bit outside the realm of possibility
We’re not new to this sports movie phenomenon. Twenty-five years ago, the modestly budgeted Major League debuted.

Fans recall Major League’s plot and recite its lines by heart. The last-place, hapless Cleveland Indians face a franchise move to Florida if it can’t pull off the impossible - a pennant win. With guts, hutzpah, and pre-crazy Charlie Sheen, the team pulls off the impossible.

And in that moment gives Cleveland it’s first taste of baseball victory in more than 30 years.

Jake Taylor and Rick Vaughn confer in 'Major League'
Jake Taylor and Rick Vaughn confer in 'Major League'
“I was young when the movie came out, still in grade school, but I remember thinking it was very cool that there was a movie about my team,” says Jason Lukehart, managing editor of SBNation’s Let's Go Tribe. Lukehart, who grew up in Chicago, remembers grabbing hold of any information about his out-of-town favorite baseball team, long before the Internet and MLB network. “The Indians existed mostly as baseball cards, the name on my shirt, and a few lines in the newspaper. That made Jake Taylor, Willie 'Mays' Hayes, Cerrano, and Rick Vaughn feel like the real deal to me.”

Truth told, those silver screen Indians were the real deal for a lot of Tribe fans. Back in 1989, Joe Carter was the Indians’ star, Albert Belle was a bench player, and the team ended the season with 73 wins and 89 losses. Thumb your way through the years before and you’ll find a lot of similar records.

“The Indians were pretty crummy in those days,” says Lukehart. “So the movie instilled a lot of team pride for many fans. You see a lot of ‘Vaughn’ jerseys at the stadium, even 25 years later.”

The film debuted at No. 1 and put a spotlight on the Indians in a way the team hadn’t encountered in years - maybe decades. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was 1995.

Nineteen-effing-ninety-five
That season was a like Major League come to life. The Indians finished in first place in the American League Central Division with 100 wins and 44 losses - the first team in the history of the American League ever to win 100 games in a season that had fewer than 154 games.
1995 Cleveland Indians reunion
Fans had to ask, did the film have some sort of magical influence on the Indians’ front office? Did the players recall the fan enthusiasm for the fictional team and play even harder to get a piece of that reverence? Did it matter?

“It was a perfect storm,” says Lukehart. “Jacobs Field opening [the year before] just as a lot of young talent began to really come of age together. Year after year of nothing but sellouts, the Indians weren't just the hottest team in town, they were one of the hottest teams in any town.”

So here we are in 2014 and it’s deja vu all over again. Except this time, we’re talking football.

Here are your Cleveland Browns
To say that Cleveland Browns fans willingness to wait another year to win is wearing thin is like saying water is wet. They’ve been waiting another year for almost 20 years, since 1996 when Art Modell, then owner of the Browns, moved the team to Baltimore.

Maybe it was apropos that they were named for an Edgar Allan Poe story, because the move was a nightmare for fans - just like every season since the team - or at least a team with the same name - was reformed in 1999.

Now, as we approach the 2014 draft and start to build our hopes anew, we’re presented with a situation that feels a lot similar to 1989. And we ask ourselves, could history repeat itself? Could a feel good film about the hapless Browns foretell of a miracle season like that of the 1995 Cleveland Indians?

“I see it as the other way around, so to speak,” says Jon Stinchcomb, journalist and blogger with SBNation’s Dawgs By Nature. “I think the filmmakers chose a team like the Cleveland Browns because the fans are already so incredibly passionate about their team.”

Stinchcomb has a point. The Indians in the 1980s were a middling team in a city not yet on the brink of a renaissance best known, then, for having a flammable river. They were underdogs, at best. And everybody routes for an underdog.

The Browns are in the same position today. True, the city has changed, but so have the Browns. Gone - long gone - are the powerhouse teams of the 1980s with players like Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome, Earnest Byner. What we have … well ...

Not so fast
“The unfortunate reality is that our favorite team has been consistently terrible since returning in 1999,” says Stinchcomb, with no sugar coating. “We're desperate for legitimate reasons to hope our team has a brighter future on the football field.”

So if the movie proves to be a hit and at least projects the feeling that the Browns are about to become a winner, that will have an influence on the front office, right? That’s a legitimate reason to hope, right?

“I don't expect the film to have much of an impact on how the team operates professionally,” says Stinchcomb. Ouch.

But, whatever. What about Lukehart? He’s gotta feel like the Browns are about to get the Draft Day bump ...

“My impulse is to say ‘no,’ and in terms of direct influence, I think that's right,” he says. (Drat.) “Ownership or management isn't going to see a movie and say, ‘We should start doing that.’ I do think a movie can impact a fan base's self identify though, and in turn, that can lead to bigger changes.”

Impact a fan base’s self identity? You mean, like giving fans a reason for hope by relating to the excitement on the screen? Interesting.

Fans make the difference
Remember how we talked about the way Indians fans cheered for the fictional team as though it were the real team? Or maybe, like me, you are an Indians fan and remember sitting in the theater, cheering like you were at a ballgame - then realizing you were cheering like it was a ballgame, thinking that was a bit silly, then not carrying a bit?

Cleveland Browns fans make the difference
It felt a bit like it refueled your passion for the Tribe, right? It gave you new hope - even if, in a way, it’s false hope. Enough that you could last through those final rebuilding years, before the team took off. Maybe that’s what Draft Day will deliver to Browns fans, desperate for something.

Hope springs eternal in Cleveland,” says Alana Coticchia. Coticchia runs and writes The Dawg’s Dish. “We can go 4 and 12 and it’s as if we just bury those painful memories from the past year. The movie will only amplify my excitement.”

Maybe that will be enough to carry us through the 2014 season. And maybe it’ll be enough to give the owners, players and personnel an added sense of purpose, after seeing the fan reaction to the film.

After all, another Costner sports film, Field of Dreams, released the same year as Major League, famously built a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa farmer's cornfield as part of the film's set. Like the film's catch phrase, "If you build it, they will come," baseball fans - real life baseball fans - did, just to see that ball field. They still do today.

So anything is possible. Or as Coticchia says, hope springs eternal.
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