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Debut creates frenzy

With tickets reportedly going for $800, football fans eagerly awaited the return of their Cleveland Browns.

Usually an emotionless excuse to weed out marginal players and help get the rest in condition, Monday night's Hall of Fame game was different.

The debut of the expansion Cleveland Browns against the Dallas Cowboys caused a frenzy in this city of 84,000 that considers itself the birthplace of professional football.

Cars pulling off the Hall of Fame exit from the nearby four-lane interstate were greeted by a man wearing Browns colors head to toe. He was offering seats for $200 a pop, and that was four hours before kickoff.

Despite a face value of $32, there were reports of tickets going for $800, such was the demand by long-suffering Cleveland fans to get into the 25,000-seat high school stadium.

His name sounded like something that might come out of the fanatical Browns cheering section called the Dawg Pound, but Mike Woofter was wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey as he strolled in.

Even though Woofter's allegiance was clear, he said he still relished being on hand for the first game of the new Browns, three seasons after owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore.

"I felt for their fans when the team left," he said. "All that tradition. You don't mess with tradition like that."

Adding to the frenzy was the location. Massillon, just a few miles down the road, still hands out tiny footballs to each newborn baby in town.

"Football is life here," Woofter said, shaking his head.

Wearing a tie-dyed design in brown and orange, Browns fan Andy Weyand said he had to pinch himself that the franchise was returning.

"I can't believe they're back already," he said. "Three years ago, 1999 seemed so far away."

Out in the tailgate area, where Browns fans started arriving 10 hours before kickoff, three hardcore local fans were working roasting pit to celebrate the return.

"That's a turkey on one end, beef on the other and that's Art in the middle," Scott Moot said. At the center of the spit was a big, plump pig.