By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — The weather conditions will be suitably brutal. Like the Cleveland Browns’ season.
Despite temperatures forecast in the single digits, thousands of disillusioned fans are expected to attend a parade on Saturday to commemorate — and protest — the historically inept 0-16 season.
Nothing like some floats and frostbite.
The “Perfect Season Parade” organizer Chris McNeil’s tongue-in-cheek tweet more than a year ago spawned a small uprising within Cleveland’s passionate fan base. He’s spent the past few days finalizing preparation for the parade. There will be a bus, RVs, an ambulance and hearse — to symbolically bury the season.
Fans will make a counter-clockwise “no victory” lap around FirstEnergy Stadium to form a zero to match the team’s win total.
“There’s no turning back now,” said McNeil, who has been condemned and praised leading up to the parade.
A season-ticket holder, McNeil never wanted the parade to happen. The Browns, though, turned an intended joke into reality by becoming the second team in NFL history to lose 16 games in a season. In joining the 2008 Detroit Lions, Cleveland’s team has found a new low in nearly two decades of disgrace since returning as an expansion franchise in 1999.
The Browns were stumbling toward a 1-15 record in 2016 under first-year coach Hue Jackson. McNeil, who like other fans was basking in the aftermath of the Cavaliers winning the NBA title to end the city’s 52-year championship drought, posted a sarcastic message on Twitter about the Browns: “This team deserves a parade.”
The sentiment created a stir on social media. Soon McNeil, better known as @Reflog_18 on Twitter, was obtaining a permit from the city to hold a parade. But it was canceled when the Browns finally won on Christmas Eve after 14 straight losses.
McNeil gave money raised to hold the event to the Cleveland Food Bank, a gift that reached nearly $50,000 after Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam doubled the donation.
McNeil never considered the possibility of another parade, but when the Browns lost in Pittsburgh last Sunday, it became official.
He’s organized on the fly, hiring security, taking out insurance and renting portable bathrooms. McNeil set up a GoFundMe account to help cover expenses. Excedrin donated nearly $8,000, saying Browns fans didn’t need another headache after what they’ve endured.
As of Friday morning, the event’s Facebook page says 6,300 people have committed to attend and 20,000 more are interested.
McNeil knows of fans flying from California. Area hotels have informed him that guests intend to attend the parade despite a weather forecast better suited for penguins and polar bears.
In recent weeks, McNeil has sensed the tone change from sarcastic to serious. Browns fans are demanding better.
“Some people are saying they want to turn this thing around,” he said. “Others say they want to fire Hue Jackson or change ownership. Others just want to go down there and have a cathartic experience.”
The Browns haven’t impeded McNeil and understand this comes with the territory after going 1-31 in two years.
“We greatly appreciate the passion of all our fans and we apologize to them for not making 2017 an enjoyable season,” the Browns said in a statement. “We certainly hear them and understand their frustration. Obviously, we want the same thing as our fans; winning results. We are committed to doing everything we can to improve and build them the type of team they most certainly deserve.”
McNeil is criticized by some who feel he’s mocking the Browns and only bringing more embarrassment to Cleveland, whose image was scarred for years by the city’s sports failures.
He argues his goal was to give fans a voice to reach the Haslams.
“People know we have been wronged by this organization and we deserve better and they know while it’s a tongue-in-cheek thing by calling it a parade, it really is a protest,” he said. “We’re not out here saying we’re happy about 0-16. When I think of embarrassment, I think of a team that has won one game in two years.”
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