It took less than one game for NFL side the Cleveland Browns to extinguish the budding hope their fans had harboured during the offseason, and by the time Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler returned a Baker Mayfield interception 38 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Cleveland's 43-13 loss at home in Week 1, fans were throwing beer on the Browns' celebrating opponents.
After Titans cornerback Logan Ryan and the NFL Players Association complained about the beer shower, the Browns investigated.
Eventually, a team official notified a man named Eric Smith via telephone call that he had been identified as the fan who threw the beer and had been permanently banned from the stadium.
Smith was confused by the edict, considering he not only was not the fan who threw the beer but also hadn't even attended the game: He told The Washington Post last month that he was at home with his family at the time of the game, preparing to head to his job as a DJ at a wedding about two miles to the northeast of FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns were unconvinced, however: Bob Sivik, the team's vice president of ticket sales and service, told Smith that they had identified him via camera footage that showed a man with a red beard and a tattoo on his arm showering Ryan with beer.
But after The Washington Post and others wrote Smith's claim, the Browns admitted that their investigation was ongoing and that they had not "explicitly identified the individual involved or taken any formal action of punishment at this time."
While seemingly taking things in stride, Smith also expressed his frustration that the Browns had taken things this far.
"It's about principle now. They need to do something," he told The Washington Post.
Apparently, they haven't: On Tuesday, Smith filed a lawsuit in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court against the Browns, First Energy Stadium, NFL Security, Bob Sivik and fellow team executive Peter John-Baptiste, alleging they damaged his reputation, led to a loss of income and caused him to suffer a panic attack because of ridicule.
In the lawsuit, Smith contends that he has not been to a Browns home game in "over nine years" and that Sivik was "rude, short, and dismissive" when he called Smith at work to inform him of his ban on the morning of Sept. 11, a call that was overheard by Smith's co-workers.
Smith also says in the lawsuit that Sivik called him a "liar" and that he had been identified by video replays of the beer-throwing incident.
After Smith told his story through the media, the lawsuit contends the Browns finally reached out to him to apologise, with Baptiste telling him "our intent was to act swiftly and decisively. Unfortunately, we didn't do enough homework."
Without elaborating, the lawsuit also says the Browns misidentified another man named Eric Smith on Sept. 12.
Smith is seeking a public apology, a public retraction of the charge and unspecified damages in excess of US$25,000. The Browns declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.