With five games left in the regular season, Cleveland Browns fans are hoping for something that, a year ago, was practically unimaginable - a shot at the playoffs. The last time the Browns generated this much excitement was 20 years ago, when a couple of winning seasons prompted scores of musical homages to celebrate the team. Many fans will recall one such tribute... to quarterback sensation Bernie Kosar. Cleveland Magazine writer Andy Netzel tells the story of three everyday guys who almost struck it big with "Bernie Bernie". But just like Kosar and those Browns teams of the mid-80s, they fell just short.
SFX: Aaaaand at quarterback, number 19...
Can you believe that it has been 20 years since this song topped the charts in Cleveland? 20 years.
SFX: Bernie, Bernie. Oh, yeah! How you can throw! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, Bernie, Bernie, Oh Baby, Superbowl!
OK, the song is not good. Sports songs as a genre generally aren't. But there's something about this one that sticks in your head. Maybe it's because the song it's based on is so popular. That's surely part of it. But Lee Herlands, one of three members of the bleacher bums, who sang the parody, thinks it's the kitchy quality that really makes the song work.
Herlands: It was just slightly off. It wasn't right, which made it right... if you know what I mean.
The Bleacher Bums consisted of singer Donald King, a real estate agent, writer Bruce Kretch, an insurance guy, and the promoter, Herlands, who didn't really have a steady job. They were childhood friends who came up with the idea while watching the Steelers trounce the browns in Pittsburgh. They made the cassette in a mall kiosk. A few weeks later, the song was all over the radio. Herlands got a call from WMMS disc jockey Kid Leo.
Herlands: He says we were more popular at that time than Bon Jovi. Now come on! We're the Bleacher Bums!
But the song had success. Going into the 1987 AFC championship game against Denver, things looked good for the song to make them some money. Well, until the notorious Ernest Byner fumble.
Herlands: I had pre-sold, COD, in a five-state area with 100 different retailers 300,000 cassettes. At the time, you're making about $2.50 a cassette. You're talking about three-quarters of a million dollars for a silly, silly song on a first order. And you have two weeks between the AFC championship game and the Superbowl. Essentially it was a million dollar bet I had on that game.
Denver won the game. It was John Elway, not Bernie Kosar, who went on to the Superbowl. And Bernie Bernie fell straight off the charts.
Herlands: I still have nightmares.
But even without fortune or lasting fame, the Bleacher Bums created a piece of Browns culture that hasn't faded away. Bernie Kosar has long since been cut. The team has gone away and come back. We now have new stars. But still, fans tailgating outside browns stadium still can't forget it.
Fan 1: It brings back some good memories of the Browns winning, and everybody having a good time tailgating, even though tailgate now is a great time, but with the winning seasons and the great songs, it was perfect.
Fan 2: Yeah, it was like a sing-along song. I'd be walking to school after a Browns win and singing it.
Fan 3: I think it was played every five minutes around town, it was played constantly. It was an era of a lot more closeness between fans and players, because they were a part of the team for a long time.
Fan 4: It's just one of those catchy songs.
Don't expect a new version of the song, Brady, Brady or otherwise, says writer Bruce Kretch.
Kretch: I don't see how we could ever do something as good as Bernie, Bernie and have it catch on like that. We're not that talented.