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Cleveland Browns Are In Playoffs For The 1st Time Since 2002

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

You will pardon Cleveland Browns fans for gloating today just a little bit. They used to be fans of a team plagued by miscues and misfortune, but now they are fans of a team that's going to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Now, these are the Browns. You won't find many experts outside Cleveland picking the team to make it to the Super Bowl. But as Matt Richmond of member station WCPN reports, long-suffering supporters now have at least a week to savor the moment.

MATT RICHMOND, BYLINE: Vanessa Cleaver is a lifelong Browns fan, and she's thrilled after yesterday's victory.

VANESSA CLEAVER: We finally made it back to the playoffs. So that's No. 1 for us. So we just want to go all the way.

RICHMOND: Not long ago, that sort of optimism was hard to imagine. In 2017, the Browns finished two years of historic ineptitude by not winning even one game. They compiled a two-season record of a woeful 1-and-31. After that season, lifelong fan Chris McNeil organized a mock championship parade, complete with buses and cars converted into floats.

CHRIS MCNEIL: You know, you get to your lowest point. It's like anything else in life. Sometimes before you can come back, you have to really bottom out.

RICHMOND: Bottoming out has been a long time coming. The team left Cleveland and became the Baltimore Ravens in 1996, was reborn back in Cleveland three years later and victories have been hard to come by.

BILL LIVINGSTON: You know, it was just a deplorable, cockamamie, slip-on-the-banana-peel organization.

RICHMOND: Bill Livingston was a sportswriter and columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer for more than 30 years. He rattles off a list that every Browns fan can recite - the almost yearly firing of coaches and management, bad draft picks like quarterback Johnny Manziel, miscue after miscue. But that seems to have changed now. The Browns have a new rookie coach, Kevin Stefanski, who's helping make Baker Mayfield their franchise quarterback. So an 11-and-5 season and a trip to the playoffs has put fans into a state of euphoria. Chris McNeil, the mock parade organizer, is like so many Browns fans today.

MCNEIL: I'll tell you what - it's really indescribable.

RICHMOND: This year, they'll play their most hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, again, just one week after beating them yesterday to get into the playoffs. The Steelers' veteran quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, didn't play yesterday but is expected to start next Sunday. He's been the Browns' nightmare for years. The teams are in the same division, and Roethlisberger has a 24-2 and 1 record over the Browns since 2004. But he doesn't scare lifelong Browns fan Annaliesa Henley.

ANNALIESA HENLEY: I have no words. I am just excited. And I am proud of them getting to where they are. And as long as they have the confidence that I have, we can make it all the way.

RICHMOND: As of today, the Steelers are four-point favorites over the Browns for Sunday's playoff game.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Richmond in Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUPLA'S "DEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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