These Dawgs have their day again

Cleveland fans relish modern stadium, return of NFL team

August 15, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- They barked. They carried bones. They came in droves.

Ordinary people transformed into Browns-crazed fans as they took their first steps inside Cleveland Browns Stadium yesterday, drawing closer to the end of the sport's three-year absence here. But in Cleveland, they refer to the wait as "21 dawg years" and are counting down the days until the new Browns' home debut on Aug. 21.

Fans stood in line for nearly 20 minutes through a morning downpour and a brisk afternoon breeze to begin the 15-minute walking tour, which allowed them to take a peek at the 50-yard line seats, the legendary Dawg Pound section in the south end zone and the club level.

And no comparisons could be made between the new stadium and antiquated Municipal Stadium other than the same exact location. Actually, Browns Stadium more resembles the Ravens' PSINet Stadium in size and structure.

"I'm sad about them demolishing the old place," said Cres Corder, 36, a season-ticket holder for 10 years. "But change can be good. It appears real good."

"This is totally awesome," said Michael Haas, 40, a self-proclaimed Dawg Pounder for 15 years. "We got rid of [Ravens owner Art] Modell and had to wait for only three years for this great place. I like that trade."

Forget the rickety, wooden blue seats with horrible sight lines. The new place is furnished with cozy plastic chairs -- all resonating the familiar burnt orange -- and brings fans on top of the field.

Fans also remembered Municipal's bathrooms as near science projects when they worked. The newer version not only has more facilities, but has 73 diaper changing centers and 17 family restrooms.

The plush surroundings don't end there. The new stadium has a state-of-the art sound system and gigantic video screens high atop the end-zone stands.

People now have snack choices that range from peanuts to gourmet pizza. If thirsty, fans can pick from soda to microbrews.

Still, life in a brand new NFL stadium can be costly, as a barbecue pork wrapper is $8 and a southwestern burger is $7.

"This may be a little too ritzy for our football fans," said Jennifer Alexander, 59, who brought her two grandchildren to the tour. "Hopefully, we can make it our home again over time."

Most of yesterday's observers, however, bonded with the stadium immediately.

"It's incredible here from the color to the view," said Mike Zellhart, 36, who brought his son's boy scouts troop to visit the new stadium. "You can almost smell the newness here. That doesn't matter, though, because football here is an old tradition."

The stadium holds 72,000 seats, including 8,500 in the club level and 10,000 benches with backs in the Dawg Pound. The finishing touches haven't been completed, and scrambling workers could be seen yesterday fixing some seats and putting up advertisement signs.

The exterior is dominated by glass windows, brushed metal panels and granite, attempting to blend with its neighbors, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center. It stands as tall as a 12-story building and consists of 1.64 million square feet -- almost the equivalent to the Ravens stadium.

Browns Stadium also has openings in three of its corners to allow views of downtown and the lake. The one enclosed end is supposed to help fight off the wind, but a strong gale in August whipped around that corner and tilted one of the goal posts.

Nevertheless, Browns Stadium will never inherit the nickname, "Mistake by the Lake," which was held by its predecessor. To most Cleveland fans, this place seems more like upscale waterfront property.

"I wouldn't have believed this until I saw it," said Wendy Myers, 31, wearing a newly purchased Tim Couch jersey and a Browns hard hat with bones sticking out of it. "Now we only need those pumpkin helmets running around here. Then, we'll know it's Browns country."

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