Organizer: Credit Baker Mayfield, not the 'Perfect Season Parade'

After Browns fans organized a "Perfect Season Parade" last year, the team experienced a seven-win turnaround in 2018. Michael F. McElroy for ESPN

Just less than one year ago, about 3,200 Cleveland Browns fans marched in frigid weather to voice their displeasure about the state of their favorite team.

One year later, the Browns have completed the biggest turnaround in team history: from zero wins to seven, and more importantly, from hopelessness to optimism.

The man behind the “Perfect Season Parade” takes no credit, saying his event did not play a role in lifting any hex or jinx.

“Not at all,” said Chris McNeil, whose kernel of an idea grew into a memorable statement by the fan base. “There are a lot of people saying that, and I’ve seen it plenty of times. But that’s overstating the impact of the parade.”

He has received kudos on social media:

But McNeil knows where the credit belongs.

“The thing that’s turned around the Cleveland Browns is Baker Mayfield,” McNeil said. “That selection by itself has charted a different direction. Maybe holding the parade put some pressure on ownership, maybe it affected some of the decisions. I don’t know, but I doubt it.

“Ultimately, it finally came down to that selection (of Mayfield).”

McNeil, who lives outside of Columbus, had been sick and tired of being sick and tired about his team. So he jokingly tweeted that the 2016 team deserved a parade if it finished winless, and the idea took off. A Christmas Eve victory over the (then San Diego) Chargers prevented that event.

But when the Browns followed a one-win season in 2016 with a winless 2017, McNeil went ahead with it – with more than a fair degree of hesitation. He had heard the complaint that the parade might be a negative for the city, but he also had people committed to attending from out of town – some from as far away as California.

He didn’t want to hold the parade, but he didn’t feel he could cancel it. In the days leading up to the event, he sought a way out, but found none. He obtained permits, hired security, oversaw cleanup and dealt with media. The parade went on, and to his pleasant surprise, it turned into a positive statement by fans who simply wanted better.

“It really was a good feeling,” McNeil said. “I said at the time that it took me back to the '80s when Bernie (Kosar) played. That was the team I grew up with, and those times had the same feel as an 0-16 parade. People were so prideful about the Browns and so positive when so many thought it would be a negative for the city of Cleveland.

“And it didn’t turn out that way.”

And it benefited the needy. In 2016, McNeil donated all money collected for the canceled event to the Cleveland Food Bank. As donations increased – including a hefty one from the Browns and individual ones from some of their coaches -- $50,000 was raised. In 2017, the event garnered another $16,000, and McNeil donated that money to the Cleveland Food Bank as well.

On Jan. 6, 2018, the wind chill was in single digits, temperatures in the low teens. But fans showed up with signs to make a statement – walking counter-clockwise in a large circle around the stadium to form a zero. McNeil called the vibe of the day “very cool and cathartic.”

“We walked away with a good feeling even though really we had no reason to be positive,” McNeil said.

Because, he said, at that point the organization and coaching staff remained intact, and free agency and the drafting of Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward were months away.

“It was a real act of faith,” he said.

Eleven months later, McNeil was part of the sellout crowd at the Browns’ last home game. That day turned into a party in FirstEnergy Stadium, as the fans enjoyed a win over Cincinnati that brought the team to 7-7-1 and signaled a symbolic end to the long years of losing and struggle.

It led him to tweet his feelings about the win, and the parade.

Which led to responses like this one:

The Browns ended the season with the fan base's optimism renewed.

“It’s like the world has changed for my team,” McNeil said.