COLLEGE PARK – The Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl run has sparked celebrations from football fans across Maryland, with one major exception.
For Cleveland Browns fans that live in Ravens territory, it’s hard to forget that the team playing the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday was once theirs.
“We got backstabbed by Art Modell,” said Larry Elavsky, a Reisterstown resident and president of the Baltimore Browns Backers, a club that meets to watch Browns games. “They should have been our team.”
Then Browns owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore in 1996 and changed the name to the Ravens. To this day, Browns fans maintain their team was stolen.
Unlike their Ohio brethren, Browns fans in Maryland are confronted with the success of the Ravens on a daily basis. In Maryland, local news organizations have been covering the Ravens non-stop in the lead up to the Super Bowl.
Garth Castle, a Browns fan who lives in Frederick, said Ravens fans at work and at the gym tease him. So does his best friend, a Ravens fan.
He’s not even safe online. He said he deactivated his Facebook account after the Ravens won the AFC championship to avoid a barrage of pro-Ravens posts.
“[The move was like] your wife leaving you and moving into your next door neighbor’s,” said Castle, who serves as president of the Frederick Browns Backers, another Maryland-based fan club.
Diane Stinson, a Browns fan who moved from Ohio to Maryland in 1995, still remembers taunts about the Browns moving to Baltimore 17 years later.
“That summer  when I would go to Orioles games there would be Baltimore people saying ‘Yeah, we got your football team,’” Stinson said. “I’m like, ‘You don’t have our football team, you have Art Modell’s franchise.’”
The Browns left Cleveland during a three-year period that saw four NFL franchises move. Since then, the Ravens have gone to two Super Bowls, won four AFC North division titles and earned nine playoff berths.
Cleveland fans would welcome even a small taste of that success.
The NFL rewarded Cleveland with a new franchise, which began playing in 1999 as the Browns. The new Browns have made the playoffs once, in 2002, losing in the first round. A team in the city has not won a professional sports championship since 1964, when the Browns won an NFL Championship in the pre-Super Bowl era.
The city recently experienced the departure of another sports icon when LeBron James left the Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat in 2010. He won his first championship a season later.
Losing an NFL franchise to another city is something that unites both Baltimore and Cleveland. In 1984, Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay moved his team to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. In 1995, Modell packed up his team and moved from Cleveland to Baltimore.
For Browns fans in Maryland, hating the Ravens and loving the Browns are equally important to their sports fan identity.
The Baltimore Browns Backers fan club website underscores this duality, pointing out that they cheer for their team “from behind enemy lines.” One club logo features a Browns mascot, Brownie the Elf, choking a purple raven. Another logo features the famous Browns bulldog with a dead raven in its mouth.
Elavsky said the 250 plus members of his Baltimore fan club all root against the Ravens.
“If they did [support the Ravens] and I found out about it they’d probably be banned,” he said.
As the years have passed, the connection between the old Browns franchise and the Ravens franchise has weakened. When the Ravens went to the Super Bowl in 2000, they did so with three players who were members of the original Browns franchise.
That doesn’t mean the pain is any less real for Browns fans in Maryland as they prepare for Super Bowl Sunday.
Elavksy said he’ll root for the 49ers while watching the game at home this weekend.
Castle said he will not tune in at all.
“I can’t even fathom it,” he said. “I can’t even stomach it.”