CLEVELAND — Browns fan Steve Spencer may have just filled his itinerary for what otherwise would have been a quiet Monday night.
He had no plans to attend a Saturday game between the Raiders and Browns at FirstEnergy Field. Watching a short-handed home team try to find a way to field a full roster in what was expected to be nasty weather conditions did not appeal to him.
The league’s decision to move the contest back more than 48 hours to Monday evening with a more favorable forecast sounds a bit more appealing.
“I’m sure it messes people’s plans up and that’s unfortunate, but I might go get tickets now,” he said outside a popular sports bar. “I’m not doing anything on Monday. It’s supposed to be sunny and warm, so why not? Hopefully we can get some healthy people back and play a fair game.”
The Browns will remain in enhanced protocols and practice at 11:30 a.m. local time on Saturday, hours before they were scheduled to take the field fighting for their playoff lives with more than half their starters unable to participate.
“Our team has consistently adhered to the league’s COVID-19 protocols during the past two seasons, and we will continue to operate in a manner that meets and oftentimes exceeds the guidelines dictated by the league and its medical experts,” a statement from the team read.
“Although we are unable to disclose specifics, we are fortunate that every member of our organization who has recently tested positive was vaccinated, the majority of which are currently asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms.”
It’s possible some of those players will test negative and be able to return in time to play on Monday.
That could represent a “competitive disadvantage” for the Raiders as owner Mark Davis called it. Fans here see it a bit differently.
“They think justice has been served,” said Anthony Lima, one of the top sports radio hosts in Cleveland. “They felt we were under these antiquated protocol rules. Given the league was already starting to do an about-face on this, they thought they Browns would be the only team screwed by the NFL by having to try to find a way to play this game with very limited means and that it could be considered dangerous.”
Lima said the game could have a different feel because of the postponement from Saturday to Monday. The famed Muni Lot, one of the top tailgating destinations in the NFL, may not be quite as rowdy with people leaving work on a half-day as opposed to spending the morning pre-gaming for the pre-game.
In the end, the belief seems to be that there wasn’t an ideal compromise.
“I think the NFL had very few remedies here. Moving this game may have been the better of all the awful options,” Lima said. “The nuclear option would have been a forfeit, which would have cost the players a lot of money and the league a lot of money and would have built up a lack of goodwill.
“Moving the game is still a little bit risky. The Browns are still in advanced protocols and will be testing every day. So we still aren’t even sure who’s going to be playing on Monday. So it’s a calculated risk by the NFL. I thought it made sense.
“It definitely hurts the Raiders too and I get that, but it was just the lesser of all the evils.”
Another fan at a different local sports bar thinks the league may not have done enough in this case in the interest of health and safety.
“Honestly, I think the whole league should have taken a week off,” said Lenny Chormanski, who referenced a popular meme in these parts today instructing anyone with a Browns’ jersey to show up on Saturday in case they needed to play. “I would like to see the league be a little more responsible with the players.”
Spencer isn’t so sure that’s necessary. He said he sympathizes with fans who travelled to Cleveland for the game and now have to alter their reservations or miss the game. Still, he’s glad this move worked out for his favorite team.
“I think it’s good for the Browns and not so good for the Raiders,” he said. “But it sounds like they’ve kind of given up on the season anyhow.”