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    miniming
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    ‘A Special Moment’: Cleveland Browns Snap 18-Year Playoff Drought

    After clinching the Browns’ first playoff berth since 2002 on Sunday, Baker Mayfield drank in the ambiance at First Energy Stadium.

    Mayfield walked to the tune of ‘Cleveland Rocks,’ the city’s triumphant victory song that had been heard so infrequently before he’d arrived in 2018. He saw Cleveland football legends Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe watching over him from jumbotron highlight clips that, to Browns fans, felt more dream-like with each losing season.

    On Sunday, Mayfield allowed Cleveland fans to dream again after his game-clinching third-down scamper clinched a 24-22 win over Pittsburgh. Facing 3rd-and-1 with a minute remaining, Mayfield scurried behind Kareem Hunt on a designed quarterback run Cleveland had implemented last week. Then Mayfield slid past the first-down marker and, upon standing, unwound his right arm for a first-down signal Browns fans waited nearly two decades to see.

    “It’s a moment I will definitely never forget,” Mayfield said. “We are excited to have a chance to be the playoffs. The feeling of walking off the field and the energy in the stadium … it is a special moment for us.”

    “Us” includes Browns fans, whether they were among the 12,000 fortunate enough to witness Sunday’s game at First Energy Stadium or the countless others who watched from home. It also includes left guard Joel Bitonio, the longest-tenured, hardest-suffering Brown who had so often seen the stadium filled with passionate dawg-pounders.

    They never stopped believing, even when Cleveland’s track record suggested otherwise. Bitonio saw 10 wins during his first four years in Cleveland. He saw one combined during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

    Now Bitonio is watching Cleveland’s culture transform. Next Sunday, he’ll play a playoff game for the first time in his seven-year career. He expressed his gratitude in a postgame address to his teammates in the locker room.

    “It was just I appreciate everybody in the room and the work that they put in from the top down, just working to change the culture here,” Bitonio said. “There was a culture of losing and a culture of not being able to finish some of the games that we have been in. I just appreciate everybody and hopefully we are setting the stage for a winning culture in Cleveland for a long time.”

    Myles Garrett knows how Bitonio is feeling. Garrett spent 18 games in Cleveland before earning a win. He spent four seasons thinking about how it would feel to help orchestrate the franchise’s revival.

    He knows how it feels now. He probably never envisioned a mostly-empty stadium, but that didn’t detract from the dream.

    “This is what we imagined,” Garrett said. “This is what we have been trying to do all along.

    Mayfield shared Garrett’s vision. They discussed their dreams, and perhaps no one believed in them more than Mayfield.

    He believed he could lead restore Cleveland’s mojo before the Browns drafted him.

    “If anyone’s going to turn that franchise around, it’d be me,” Mayfield said during the 2018 NFL combine.

    Nearly three years later, Mayfield’s words proved prophetic. Some might quibble with one playoff appearance equaling a steadied ship. And plenty others will make the case that Cleveland and its fans appear too excited about earning the a Wild Card berth.

    The Browns would disagree. They’re excited, sure, but as Mayfield said Sunday, they aren’t satisfied.

    “We expected to be here,” Mayfield said.

    Mayfield knows the next step is harder. He knows that beating the full-strength Steelers (Pittsburgh sat several starters to rest for the playoffs) is different from beating their backups.

    But Mayfield and the Browns also recognize how far they’ve come. They know how many coaches (10) and quarterbacks (27) have aspired to be where they are. They know how long millions of Browns fans have waited to see their team return to the playoffs.

    We all do. It took 18 years. But it’s happening.

    “You have to weather the storm,” Mayfield said. “You have to be able to take those punches. A lot of people here have weathered the storm and rolled with those punches, and you are seeing the benefits of just staying tough and doing that, facing adversity head on and saying we are tired of it, and let’s go onto the next one.”

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