Testing The Outer Bounds Of Improbability

gettyimages-1036976804The Cleveland Browns won a football game on Thursday night.  Seriously!  An actual, regular season NFL football game.  And they even came from behind to do it.  The result was so wildly unexpected it’s taken me more than a day to fully process it.

And I’ve also been considering the profound implications of a Browns victory.  It makes me wonder:  if the Browns can somehow be victorious on the gridiron, it basically means that nothing is impossible.  And we all need to brace ourselves, because who knows what might happen next!  In the interests of enhancing public preparedness, I came up with a list of some of the other events that would rank right up there with the Browns winning a football game on the improbability scale:

  •  President Trump is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his Twitter feed
  •  The French Minister of Culture admits that Americanized words like le supermarket are perfectly OK
  •  A scientific study shows that Facebook political postings actually cause people of opposing political views to change their minds
  •  Yankees fans concede the singing Sweet Caroline during the 8th inning of baseball games really is a pretty cool tradition
  •  Kim Jong Un decides to grow his hair out and go with a ponytail
  •  The Grand High Council of Vegans announces that eating an occasional cheeseburger is acceptable and tastes awfully darned good, too
  • The Ohio State Marching Band misspells Ohio during the performance of Script Ohio

I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea.  Be wary, folks!  If the Browns can win a football game, all bets are off!

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Cheer Up! You Could Be Hue Jackson

Are you having a bad day?  For that matter, are you having a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, even a bad two years?

hue-jackson-brownsHere’s a thought that should make you feel much, much better — you could be Cleveland Browns’ head coach Hue Jackson.

Hue’s a guy who came to Cleveland with a pretty good reputation.  Since he’s started coaching the Browns, however, the team has gone 1-32-1.  That’s not a misprint.  He’s won precisely one game, and lost dozens.  And yet, he keeps coaching, and losing.  And to make matters worse, every bad thing that could possibly happen has happened to the guy, and undoubtedly will happen again in the future.  That’s just the way it is.

Today the Browns outplayed the New Orleans Saints on the road, but they lost because their kicker missed two field goals and two extra points.  That’s right — he missed two extra points.  Some NFL kickers go their entire careers without missing two extra points, but the Browns’ kicker somehow found a way to miss two in one game.  It’s so absurd that even ardent Browns fans can only shake their heads in wonderment at the sheer folly and futility of it, and wonder what happened that caused the football gods to cruelly torment the Browns and their fans week after week.

But poor Hue Jackson can’t laugh it off.  He’s got to stand on the sidelines every week as his team finds new ways to lose winnable games, looking resolute in his headset, all the while knowing that when crunch time comes he’s going to get punched in the gut and kneed in the groin by the fates.  Deep down, is Hue Jackson hoping he’s get fired, just to end the onslaught and let him escape the nightmarish horror?

So if you’re feeling down because things are tough, cheer up!  You could be Hue Jackson, the most cursed coach of the NFL.

Testing The Young Gun

Tomorrow night the Ohio State Buckeyes play under the lights in Dallas, Texas, where they will be matched up against the TCU Horned Frogs.  It will be a coming out party of sorts for Ohio State’s new quarterback, Dwayne Haskins.

For four years, J.T. Barrett held the QB position for the Buckeyes with a vice-like grip.  He was a terrific leader and a real winner — literally.  He set just about every offensive record that a quarterback could set, and under his guidance the Buckeyes achieved great success — but they never quite got to the mountaintop with Barrett at the helm.  Some Ohio State fans, possessed of the loftiest expectations, complained that J.T. didn’t have the arm or the accuracy, and was too quick to pull down the ball and run.  That very vocal segment of Buckeye Nation has been clamoring for a drop-back passer at the QB position.

usatsi_10422300-2Well, now they’ve got one, and his name is Dwayne Haskins.  In two games, he’s looked terrific.  Haskins has completed almost 80 percent of his passes, has averaged 270 yards through the air per game, and has thrown for 9 touchdowns against only one interception.  And, so far, at least, his passes are a thing of beauty — arriving on time and hitting receivers in stride and in the hands.  Haskins looks like the real deal.  He may just be the pure passer that Ohio State fans have been dreaming of since Woody Hayes made “three yards and a cloud of dust” synonymous with the Buckeye offense.

But . . . not so fast, folks.  Oregon State and Rutgers, Ohio State’s first two opponents, aren’t exactly national championship contenders.  TCU is a different story.  It’s been in the talk for a berth in the college football playoffs in recent years, and this year it’s ranked in the top 20 going into the game.  And its head coach, Gary Patterson, is a reputed defensive mastermind who will be sure to throw lots of blitzes and weird coverages at Haskins, who’s a redshirt sophomore who will be making only his third start, in hopes of enticing him into turnovers.  TCU knows that if it can get a signature win over Ohio State it will rocket up the rankings and be part of the college football playoff chatter, so we can expect that they’ll leave everything on the field in trying to baffle Haskins and beat the Buckeyes.

Right now, Dwayne Haskins is the young gun.  Tomorrow night, in Texas, we’ll get a better sense of how truly he fires under pressure.

Not 0-1 — For Once

Yesterday, the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers played to a 21-21 tie.  It’s noteworthy, not because ties in the NFL are as rare as hen’s teeth, but because the Browns somehow didn’t find a way to lose.

20180909pdsteelers18-3-1536535019That means that, for the first time in 17 games stretching back to the 2016 season, the Browns didn’t end the game by chalking another one up in the loss column.  It also means that, for the first time in the collective memories of every member of Browns fandom, the Browns won’t be starting the season 0-1.  (For the record, the Browns had lost 13 straight season openers before yesterday.)  And, as anyone who watched the game yesterday saw, the TV commentators repeatedly listed, with an air of wondrous amazement, other ongoing records for futility that the Browns have been setting — like the fact that it has been more than 600 days since the Browns won on a Sunday.  Because we’re talking about a tie game, the non-winning streaks continue, but at least the losing streaks have been snapped.

It was a sloppy, poorly played game that occurred in a rainstorm.  The Browns had a game-winning field goal blocked, were repeatedly penalized at key moments, at times looked like they couldn’t block the Little Sisters of the Poor, and failed to take full advantage of six turnovers by the Steelers — and yet, still, they didn’t lose.  It’s not exactly progress, but at least it’s not more of the same steady diet of outright failure.

They say that a tie is like kissing your sister.  For Browns fans, a kiss — any kiss — is preferable to the normal punch to the face when autumn Sundays roll around.

Hard Knocks, Ho Hum

Russell and I have watched a few episodes of HBO’s Hard Knocks, which promises to be an insider’s look at pro football training camps, coaches, and players. Since this season is features the Cleveland Browns’ training camp, it’s a natural for us.

But after watching last night’s episode, I realized that the show is . . . well, boring. The fact that the exhibition game that was featured in the episode was a 5-0 snoozer didn’t help, but, really, watching a “reality” show about professional athletes isn’t any different from watching a reality show about real housewives or the Kardashians or ice-road truckers or any other group or occupation. After a while, you’ve seen everything, and it all seems pretty rote.

So assistant coaches in the NFL cuss a blue streak? Is anybody really surprised about that? Or about learning that pro athletes often act like adolescents or macho jerks? Or that head coaches are more like politicians than Xs and Os guys? And the “human interest” stories about guys who might not make the team and their families candidly just aren’t all that interesting.

Maybe the Browns are just intrinsically boring, as well as historically inept — or maybe the Hard Knocks concept has run it’s course. Whatever the reason, Hard Knocks is a big ho hum in my book.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

The Tribe is playing the Red Sox in a day game today, so Russell and I decided to head down to Boston and catch a game at Fenway — the iconic ballpark where all of the greats have played. It’s pretty cool to be here, and if you’re a baseball fan who knows the history of the game, it doesn’t get any better than a game at Fenway or Wrigley Field.

Go Tribe!

Betting On Sports

The Supreme Court made a lot of important rulings earlier this year.  One ruling that got a bit lost in the shuffle may end up having an important impact on states across the country, colleges that play big-time sports, and professional sports franchises, too.

300px-eight_men_bannedIn May, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that effectively banned gambling on sports, with some exceptions, in all states but Nevada.  The federal law, called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, was based on concern that allowing widespread gambling might undercut sports as a form of wholesome entertainment.  Nevada, which already permitted gambling on sports, was allowed to continue, but other states were largely barred from doing so.  New Jersey passed a state law allowing gambling on sports and then challenged the federal law, and the Supreme Court sided with New Jersey, ruling  that while Congress has the power to regulate sports betting at the federal level, it can’t dictate to states what their individual laws must be.

Why did New Jersey decide to challenge the federal law?  Do you really need to ask?  Of course, the answer is money.  New Jersey’s casinos were struggling, and it objected to Nevada having a federally sanctioned monopoly on sports gambling.  If sports gambling were allowed in its casinos, New Jersey reasoned, it might promote tourism and increase tax revenues.  And these days, states are all about increasing their revenues.

With the Supreme Court ruling, Ohio legislators are now looking at whether Ohio, too, should legalize gambling on sports.  One argument made in favor is that many Ohioans already bet on sports through the underground economy — so why not take the activity above ground and get some tax revenue from it?  But the existence of the illicit sports betting also poses a challenge, because states that want to legalize the activity in order to earn revenue have to figure out how to make legal gambling as easy and attractive as calling the local bookie.  One issue for legislators to consider, for example, is whether Ohio should allow on-line gambling, so long as the website has some Ohio presence and the state gets a cut of the action.  Or, should such betting be limited to licensed casinos?

And colleges, universities, and professional sports leagues are holding their breath, too.  They opposed New Jersey’s effort to overturn the federal law, because confining legal sports gambling to Las Vegas kept it separate and apart from 99.9 percent of campuses, stadiums, and sports arenas.  Now legalized gambling on sports will be out in the open, and there are concerns that gamblers hoping to get an edge might bribe professional and amateur athletes to throw a game or do something to affect the point spread.

College sports administrators and professional sports leagues are worried about another Black Sox scandal — who can blame them?  After all, it’s been 100 years, and the 1919 American League champions from Chicago are still called the Black Sox.