CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – For several generations, Cleveland’s Municipal Parking Lot has been a tradition for tailgating before Browns games. It draws in thousands to downtown, many of whom are only there for the party.
While the lot typically opens at 7 a.m., six hours before kickoff, the line to get into the Muni Lot before Sunday’s rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers started before 3 a.m.
Among the first in line to get his bus into a traditional parking space at the front of the lot was Larry Lourello, who calls Sunday’s Muni Lot gathering the best tailgate of the year.
Lourello says he first came to the lot in the 1970s in a pickup truck right out of high school and has been tailgating ever since.
“This is the last bastion of freedom here in Cleveland because this is really a throwback to the beginning,” said Lourello. “Honestly, when it comes down to it, this lot is more important than the game. The game is an excuse for being here. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to win. We want to win like the worst way you could imagine and we just love the Browns. The front line was here at 2 a.m. and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The city opened the gates to the lots at 5 a.m., two hours early on Sunday and the party was just beginning.
By 5:30 a.m., the lots were about 75% full.
By 8 a.m., when much of the greater Cleveland area was just waking up, the lots were nearly full and many of those who were here had been up most of the night.
“The atmosphere is enticing. It’s everyone here with one goal and that’s for the Browns to win,” said Rick Hudgel, of Sandusky.
By 10 a.m., the beer and spirits were flowing and with the lot full, people continued to stream in by foot to join the party.
Revelers were decked in Browns gear mixed with people in Halloween costumes.
The city has 11 rules for the Muni Lot, including ‘no alcohol.’
Cleveland police do have officers monitoring the lots, but they tell FOX 8 that, with the thousands of people who gather there and the limited number of officers, they simply cannot write citations for everyone with a red solo cup.
By 11 a.m., the party was well underway. Browns and Steelers fans were mingling but with alcohol on board, the good-natured ribbing of opponents gained some momentum.
At 11:30 a.m., those who are parked the farthest from the stadium were already tearing down to leave. By noon, the majority of those in the Muni Lot were making their way to the stadium, but not everyone.
A large number of those who could be watching on TV comfortably from their homes had chosen instead to gather with friends and strangers and watch the game on television in the Muni Lot.
They include Darren Brugmann, of Mantua, who was watching comfortably from inside his mobile home
“Here I am after a Buckeyes game last night, drove all the way up here at 3 in the morning. We were the first in line here in the Muni Lot and here we are,” said Brugmann.
Through the first half of the game, the party continued with plenty of beer still flowing and the grills still fired up.
“We do a breakfast, lunch and dinner. We do a breakfast sausage ,we do all kind of breakfast foods and then we switch over and do brats and all that, and then we switch over and do more dinner stuff all day,” said John Susong.
As the game winded down, the people began to leave with a sea of trash left behind.
By 4:30 p.m., the crowds from the stadium were returning to the Muni Lot and bythen, everyone knew the Browns have lost.
It is not the first loss for the regular visitors to Cleveland’s Muni lot who vow they will return.
“Tough loss. You’re going to be a Browns fan no matter what, but at the end of the day, we came, we had fun,” said Phillip Cole.
As darkness fell on Cleveland, all that was left was for the city to clean up the lot and prepare it to return to business as usual early Monday, with no sign of what happened here the day before.