Planned fan protest fizzles at Browns game

CLEVELAND -- A planned fan protest seemed to fail as Cleveland Browns Stadium was three-quarters filled before Monday night's kickoff against Baltimore.

Two die-hard Browns fans, disgusted with the direction of the 1-7 team, had urged fans to stay away from their seats for the start, hoping it would send a message to team owner Randy Lerner.

There were thousands of empty seats for the opening kickoff, but it was difficult to know if they were because of the protest or late-arriving fans. The notorious Dawg Pound bleacher section -- where the protest's organizers normally sit -- was at near capacity.

Heidi Nicklaus of Cleveland seemed to sum up the sentiments of the majority of the fans and took issue with the boycott's organizers.

"If you're a fan, you're a fan," she said. "If you're not, go find another team to root for. You should be in your seats for the kickoff. I'm a fan. I'm going to my seat."

Dan Kelly, who grew up in Cleveland and now lives in Akron, thought the boycott was a good idea. Kelly, who is 60, has been attending Browns games for 40 years. He wore a hockey goalie-type mask similar to the character that frightened people in the movie "Friday the 13th." The phrase "Wait Till Next Year" was written on the mask.

"I've looked at this stuff since I was a kid and it's always wait till next year," Kelly said.

Kelly, a barber, talks with fans every day and thinks their frustration with Lerner, who also owns the Aston Villa soccer team in the English Premier League, is boiling over.

"They think Lerner's more interested in his soccer team," Kelly said. "They think he's playing with the fans. You shouldn't play with the fans."

Kelly is glad Cleveland has one thing in its favor.

"I'm more of a Browns fan than a Cavaliers fan, but thank God for LeBron (James)," he said.

Justin Miller, who lives near Youngstown, thought the boycott had some merit, but won't abandon his team.

"I've been in the military," he said. "I've traveled all over the country and all over the world. I've seen Browns Backers clubs almost everywhere I've gone. It is frustrating, but I'll never give up on the Browns."

The two fans who initiated the protest online recently met for two hours with Lerner.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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