I met Eric a few years ago in the Muni lot. When he told me he lived in Connecticut, I didn’t believe him until he pulled out his ID and he wasn’t lying. After we talked for a little bit and exchanged some Browns stories, he said I will see you next week. Well he was right, he came the following week and every home game after that. Eric is good man chasing his love the Cleveland Browns. The week before the home opener this year he told me he had a surprise and I was going to love it.
Well Eric this was the best surprise I could of asked for; welcome home, brother.
If Eric Barr’s story checks out — and it looks as if it does — the competition for the most dedicated Browns fan is over.
We have a winner.
It doesn’t matter how many December games you’ve shivered through, how many road trips to Pittsburgh you’ve made, or how many brown-and-orange tattoos you are sporting. You are not worthy.
Last month, Barr showed up to work at the Kichler Lighting warehouse in East Hartford, Conn., and sat down with his boss.
“He came to me and said, ‘Listen, I’m going to live my dream,’ ” remembers Michael Flanagan, Barr’s supervisor. ” ‘I’m going to move to Cleveland, and I’m going to follow the Browns, and that’s it.’ ”
Flanagan and the other guys around the warehouse had harassed Barr for years because of his devotion to a team in a city more than 500 miles west, a city where Barr had never even lived. They had heard him talk about moving for years.
“I was like, ‘OK, Barr, whatever,’ ” says Flanagan. “We expected him to come back on Tuesday. But he never came back. . . . We were like, ‘He’s really gone. Holy cow, he actually did it.’ ”
In East Hartford, the 33-year-old had a job, with full benefits. He had family. He had furniture.
Now sleeping on the floor of his basement apartment in Berea, Barr has none of that: no job, no family, no furniture. His health insurance runs out at the end of the month.
Yes, ladies, he’s single.
But before we mock the guy, there is something kinda wonderful about him.
“My ancestors came over from Ireland with nothing,” he says. “I have a blanket. I’m already one step ahead of them.”
He’s knows what you’re thinking.
“I don’t think I’m on drugs,” says Barr, who does resemble a young Cheech Marin with less ’stache, more jowls and eyes that twinkle with mischief. “You can do a psychological evaluation on me. But I’m sure I’ll pass.”
He also insists he’s not running from anything.
“The only time I’ve been to jail is when I play Monopoly.”
Despite no ties to Cleveland, Barr has visited more than a few times. For the past three years, he’s driven the 566 miles each way to attend every home game.
Sometimes he did it alone in his 1992 Nissan Sentra E, which recently topped 190,000 miles. The E, says Barr, stands for “empty options.”
“No radio, no air conditioner, top speed of 54 mph,” he says matter-of-factly. “It’s terrible.”
He doesn’t bother to lock it.
On the rides, he says, in between the middle fingers from other drivers speeding past, he kept himself occupied by chanting “Here we go, Brownies” or counting down 99 bottles of beer or singing “Eye of the Tiger.”
“It was kinda tough,” he adds. “I’m not going to lie to you.”
He’d sometimes sleep in the car, settling in for the night at a grocery-store parking lot. Other times, he says, he’d spend Saturday night in the legendary parking lot by the stadium.
“If I parked in the muni lot, they would knock on my window and say, ‘You have to pay money.’ ” I said, “OK, I guess it’s time to get game-ready.”
Watching games in the freezer
Barr’s love of the Browns came from his father, who never lived in Cleveland either. But the elder Barr was a blue-collar guy, says Eric, a machinist, and he identified with the toughness of the glory-days Browns.
Eric and his dad watched games together. When the Browns left in 1995, a teenage Eric cried.
When the team returned in 1999, he’d take breaks from his job at Sam’s Club and sneak into the freezer to call his dad or watch the game.
“We were pretending to stock frozen chickens,” he remembers. “It was 30 degrees below zero in the freezer.”
Eventually, he began going to the games, first once a year with the Southern New England Browns Backers. Then in the spring of 2007, he bought a pair of personal seat licenses on eBay.
“I was the only bidder.”
He made friends with some of the regulars in the muni lot and on Cleveland Browns online forums. Soon, Barr — who is known by the nickname “Ice Cube” after his favorite former Browns player, Gerald McNeil – didn’t have to sleep in his car. He and a bunch of friends now share a half-dozen seats together, in the upper-deck of the stadium in section 537. “It’s up next to Saturn,” says Barr. “That’s where the real fans sit anyway.”
He and some of his friends wear orange jumpsuits to the games. “This is not a costume,” he insists. “This is actually what they wear in the prisons in Connecticut.”
As his devotion to the brown-and-orange grew, he began planning to move to “where the action is.” He even had a job transfer to Northeast Ohio in the works, he says, before the economy tanked.
“People move to Florida because they like palm trees, they like sand, they like beaches,” says Barr. “I like being in the muni lot at 4:30 a.m.”
This year, the move could wait no longer.
“I’m getting older and older,” says Barr. “I’m missing out. I told myself, ‘Just do it. You’ll survive.’ ”
He set his sights on one suburb, obviously.
“I moved to Berea because Berea is where training camp is,” he says. “It makes sense because it’s only a half-mile down the road.”
As he began to telephone landlords, he realized he had a problem. The calls, he says, all seemed to go like this:
“I’m interested in a one-bedroom apartment.”
“That’s great. So you’ve got a job lined up. Where are you working?”
“I don’t have a job.”
“Why are you moving here?”
“Well, I love the Browns.”
“You’re moving here because you love the Browns? [click]”
Finally, after what he estimates as more than 50 calls, he talked to Sandy Jaycox, resident manager of the Riverview Apartments in Berea.
“I thought at first he was joking,” says Jaycox. “I really did. Nobody just up and quits their job to move here.
“I thought, if he doesn’t fax back the application, then we’ll know,” she says. “Then when he did, it was like, ‘Oh, OK, I guess this guy is serious.’ ”
Barr promised to pay the first year of his $480-a-month rent upfront. And a background check came up clean.
On move-in day, Sept. 17, Barr showed up with only the old Sentra.
“I was like, ‘Where’s your stuff?’ ” says Jaycox, laughing.
Turns out, Barr brought only what he could fit in the car.
“His first question,” says Jaycox, “was, ‘Where’s the best place to buy some furniture?’ ”
Barr is actually not that far along. When a photographer and reporter visited his place two weeks ago, the apartment was still bare, save for some suitcases, a shower curtain and the mayonnaise, cheese and Hot Pockets in the fridge. Barr sleeps on an air mattress covered with a Browns blanket. Next to the “bed”: his season tickets.
“If you come in here, you can take anything you want,” he says. “Just don’t take my season tickets.”
He says he went to the grocery store not too long after moving in and bought cereal. He came home and realized he didn’t have a bowl.
He spends part of his days at the Berea library applying for jobs and shining up his resume. The rest of the day he’s at the rec center shooting hoops.
There have been some pleasant surprises — “You can buy beer on Sundays!” — and some criticisms — “Too many deer.”
He’s gone on a few interviews and is confident he’ll find something.
“I don’t have furniture. I don’t have a TV. I don’t have a computer,” he says, serious for a moment. “You do a lot of soul-searching. The first couple nights, I just sat here, it was cold. I just had my blanket and I’m sitting here and I’m like, ‘Is this really worth it?’
“You know something? Yeah,” he says. “I’m going to make it. It’s just going to take a little time. . . . I will survive. Because I am determined. That’s what’s good about Browns fans. We’re resilient. When you knock them down, they keep coming back for more. Why? I don’t know.”
Barr likes to compare his new start to the team’s. Both don’t seem to have much now, but the foundation is there and things — seemingly — can only go one way.
“One day, I’m going to get a job, some furniture,” he says, “maybe a bed.”
Priscilla Barr, who lives in New York City, insists her brother is not crazy.
“I didn’t think it was stupid,” she says. “Actually, I thought it was kind of smart. He’s going out there every other weekend anyway. He might as well move there. It’s his dream city.
“He’s always loved Cleveland, and he knew that was where he was supposed to be,” she adds. “He’s so happy when he’s there. I’m really proud of him for leaving. It takes guts to go somewhere without a job.”
Eric is confident he won’t be jobless for long, partly because he isn’t picky.
“I’ll do anything,” he insists. “I just can’t work Sundays.”