MARK DUNCAN / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND — Home has been anything but sweet for the Cleveland Browns.
Since their return as an expansion team in 1999, the Browns have had a winning record at home just once in 11 seasons at their downtown stadium, where the swirling winds off Lake Erie wreak havoc with field-goal attempts and where the notorious Dawg Pound lacks its old bite.
Sunday, the Browns (0-1) will begin what they hope will be some much-needed home improvement as they host the Kansas City Chiefs (1-0), who began their season at home in refurbished Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night with a 21-14 win over San Diego.
The Browns are just 31-57 since '99 in Cleveland, where the city's die-hard sports fans are looking for something to cheer about with the Indians locked in perpetual rebuilding mode, and after a certain NBA All-Star decided to take his talents to Miami.
“You've got to win at home,” said Browns kicker Phil Dawson, the sole player remaining from Cleveland's NFL rebirth. “You want to win any of them, but the home games are the ones you've got to win. If you can hold your home court and steal a couple wins on the road, now you got a shot [at the playoffs].
“I don't want to make a bigger deal about it than it is, but right now, we just need a win because it's the next one on the schedule.”
The Browns, who have dropped five straight home openers, feel they let victory slip away last week at Tampa Bay. Leading 14-3 late in the first half, Cleveland quarterback Jake Delhomme threw a momentum-swaying interception that set up a touchdown by the Buccaneers, who capitalized on three turnovers for a 17-14 win.
Delhomme added injury to insult by hurting his right ankle on the first-half pick. The 35-year-old missed practice this week, and his status for Sunday may not be decided until he takes the field and tests his mobility during pre-game warmups.
Delhomme wants to make a better impression this week on Cleveland fans, who have spent the past few years watching the team's quarterback carousel spin out of control and wondering when it will finally stop.
After winning just one of their first six home games last season, the Browns beat Oakland and Jacksonville to finish 3-5 at home. Not bad. Not good, either.
While playing in New Orleans, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita saw first hand what winning at home can do for a team and a region. The Saints enjoy one of the best home-field advantages in the league because their fans come to the Superdome ready to party — or to keep one going.
“You don't want to put too much importance on one game, but it's really important to set the tone for the season at home,” said Fujita, who signed as a free agent in March. “Teams who traditionally make the playoffs control their games at home. The years we were successful in New Orleans, we won almost every game at home. In the years we weren't successful, it's because we didn't win at home.
“It's a huge difference maker.”