Super Ambivalent

I hope the Cincinnati Bengals win Super Bowl LVI. Many of my good friends and colleagues are serious Bengals fans who have suffered through some bad seasons, and I know that a Bengals win will make them very happy. And the Bengals also have a lot of former Ohio State Buckeyes on their roster, and it would be nice to see so many graduates of my alma mater win an NFL championship.

I don’t think I am going to be able to bring myself to actually root for the Bengals, however. Bengals fans should be overjoyed to hear this, because the NFL team I root for has never even made it to a Super Bowl, much less won one. If I were a Bengals fan, I wouldn’t want hapless Browns fans like me to jump on the Bengals bandwagon,, potentially ruining the good karma by deploying their obviously immense jinxing powers.

Plus, the Bengals are a rival of the Browns, playing in the same division and the same state. Browns fans may not hate the Bengals in the same way we despise the Steelers or the Ravens, but we still want to beat them senseless every time we play them. Suddenly rooting for a team that you hoped to destroy a few weeks ago just isn’t in my DNA.

And, if I’m being honest, there’s another, ugly emotion lurking here that contributes to my ambivalence: jealousy. I’m jealous that the Cincinnati Bengals have now made it to three Super Bowls and the Cleveland Browns haven’t been to even one. (The Browns are one of only four NFL teams, along with the Lions, the Jaguars, and the Texans, that have that dismal and dubious history–and the Jaguars and Texans are expansion teams.) And this year started with the Browns Backers hoping that the Browns would finally break through and be where the Bengals are now–but of course the Browns’ season ended in disaster and failure . . . again. Every time we’ll see the Super Bowl logo and its Roman numerals tonight, Browns fans will be reminded that the Browns’ Super dry spell is now LVI years long. It’s painful and embarrassing. Detroit Lions fans no doubt understand this.

And that’s why hoping the Bengals win tonight so my Bengals fan friends will be happy is as far as I can go.

Bottom Of The Barrel 

Today I went to a local bar to watch the 0-3 Browns take on the 0-3 Cincinnati Bengals.  The bar cleverly billed it as the “Someone’s Gotta Win” party and “The Battle Of The Beatens.”  And, of course, someone did win — the Bengals.  In front of the appalled Cleveland fans, they crushed the Browns, 31-7.

The Browns have had a lot of lows since they came back to the NFL and began to perfect the art of futility, but this may be the lowest point yet:  getting drilled, at home, by a bad Cincinnati team to go 0-4, which means the season is effectively over . . . again.  When are Cleveland fans going to stop buying tickets to watch these guys?

Glutton For Punishment

This afternoon I’m going to watch the Cleveland Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals.

That’s right.  I’m going to voluntarily subject myself to more than three hours of bad football, bad karma, and general haplessness.  I’m going to watch a truly wretched 0-12 team play a horribly underperforming 4-7-1 team in a game that is utterly meaningless, even to their own beleaguered fans.

brownsWhy am I doing this?  Well, for one thing I’m a Cleveland Browns fan.  It’s tough duty generally, and an especially awful burden this year — but I’ve consciously avoided watching most of the games until now.  At this point, it’s so obvious that the Browns suck that I have no expectations whatsoever of success.  The Browns are likely to lose every game this year; the only question is whether they will find new ways to suffer a self-inflicted disaster.

So why watch this game, when I’ve avoided the others?  Because the Bengals have had, if anything, an even worse season than the Browns.  Sure, they’ve won games, but everyone expected them to be a Super Bowl contender, and instead they’ve laid a colossal egg.  If the Browns have any hope of winning a game this season, it’s going to be a game like this, where their opponent also reeks and a few lucky breaks might actually produce a W.  And if that were to happen — something I’m not counting on, mind you — it would be sweet that it would be the Bengals who bore the shame of being the only team to lose to the Browns this year.

I’m a glutton for punishment.

The New, Very New, Newest New Coach

Hey, the Browns have a new head coach!  What year is this, anyway?  2014?  2013?  2011? Or, pick just about any year before that?

hue_jackson_web_01_10_2012Look, Hue Jackson seems like a perfectly capable assistant coach.  ESPN thinks he was a good hire, and the fact that he is apparently committed to unload embarrassing butthead Johnny Manziel certainly is a point in his favor.  Some say Jackson is a “perception-changing” hire for the Browns, too.  But let’s face it — we’ve heard the song and dance about how the prior hires, from Mike Pettine going back through all of his predecessors before him, were uniquely trained and qualified and positioned to lead the Browns out of the grim, we’re a laughingstock team that will suck and lose NFL games in impossible ways forever wilderness.  Of course, none of them did.  They all failed miserably, just like the coaches before them did.

Why should I believe Hue Jackson will do any better?  No offense, but it’s not like his prior coaching experience with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders has involved Super Bowl wins.  And every Browns fan remembers how Romeo Crennel, with his New England Patriots Super Bowl rings and defensive know-how, was supposed to turn around the Browns’ fortunes, or how Butch Davis, with his Miami Hurricanes’ national championship fresh in memory, was supposed to do the same.  It didn’t happen for them, or for any of the other would-be Browns saviors, either — and this year, with the NFL playoffs underway, the Browns are on the outside looking in, just like always.

il_214x170-890063290_27m0So I’m going to reserve judgment on Hue Jackson.  What will it take for me to start trusting the hype?  Getting rid of Manziel and his colossal head-case ego, planning and executing a competent draft, and making intelligent free agent acquisitions would be a good start.  But I’m not going to move back to Believeland until the Browns win a few games — in fact, enough to make the playoffs.

If that happens, I’ll gladly admit that, by being skeptical of what might be accomplished by Hue Jackson, I was a Huge Jackass.

Bengals Failure, Browns Failure

Last night the Cincinnati Bengals gave away a game they basically had won.  After looking lost and overmatched for most of the contest, the team had fought back to take the lead against Pittsburgh, but a fumble and then two inexcusable penalties put the Steelers into position to kick the winning field goal.

This is an old story for the Bengals.  For five straight years, and six years out of seven, they have put together lots of talent, done well in the regular season, and then laid an egg in the playoffs.  The final score of last night’s loss was closer than some of them in that string of failure, but the result was the familiar one:  when the chips were down, the Bengals somehow found a way to lose.

635879849966702883-010916-steelers-bengals-ke-2132-1Cincinnati’s loss and running record of post-season collapse inevitably makes me think of Cleveland — because when you think of losing, you think of the Browns.  And I wonder, which is worse:  an organization so wildly inept that they have become an irrelevancy, or a team that has success in the regular season only to lose, again and again and again, in the playoffs?  Would you rather have your team be a running joke for its absolute incompetence, or the object of scorn because it inevitably chokes in the playoffs?

If I had to choose, as a fan, I would go for the chokers rather than the bungling failures, because fans of the chokers could at least enjoy the regular season and dream of the day when their talented team finally makes it to the playoff mountaintop.  But being fans of the chokers isn’t easy, either.  (As an Ohio State fan who barely survived the Cooper era, I know this deep in my bones.)  Each year you let yourself be convinced that this year’s team is different, and this is the year that the team will take that next step — and then you have your heart ripped out by turnovers and ridiculous penalties and find yourself once again knocked out in week one.

One last point:  last night’s game is an example of how the NFL has become almost unwatchable.  It was a dirty, penalty-filled affair between two teams that obviously hate each other’s guts and didn’t have the discipline to avoid the cheap shots.  The key penalty that let the Steelers get into field goal range was an unforgivable head shot against a defenseless receiver that is a poster child example of why the NFL has a colossal concussion problem.  NFL players are big and fast and amazing athletes, but the thuggish behavior is indefensible and just has to stop — it is ruining the game.

The Battle Of Ohio, 2014 Edition

Tonight the Cleveland Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals on national television — if you can call the NFL Network national television.  It will be test of the team that will cause Browns fans to hold their breath for a number of reasons.

First, Browns fans are used to one immutable rule:  if the Browns are on national TV, they will suck.  Sure, the Browns have won some of those games, but the wins have been dismal, low-scoring, ugly affairs.  More often, the Browns get clobbered, embarrassed, and exposed and their hopeful fans get deflated.  It’s one thing for Browns fans to suffer through lame efforts like we’ve seen the last three weeks when the Browns are playing on an watched, regionally televised that gets the worst broadcast team on the network, it’s quite another thing to suffer the red-faced humiliation that comes from getting schooled on prime time.

Second, the Browns’ schedule has been the weakest in the NFL so far, which is why no one respects them.  In their last three games, the Browns have played a winless team, a winless team, and a team with one win — and they lost one of those games and barely eked out wins in the other two.  A win is a win is a win, but the Browns are the flimsiest 5-3 team in the NFL.  The Bengals, on the other hand, are a team that made the playoffs last year and has a lot of talent and experience.  The Browns have beaten New Orleans and Pittsburgh at home this year, but the Bengals will be the toughest test yet.

Third, the Browns are on the road, and playing in a venue where the Bengals have won 14 straight regular season games.  The last time the Browns had a road game, they played an appallingly bad game and lost to previously winless Jacksonville.  How are they going to perform in “The Jungle,” where Cincinnati seems to play like Super Bowl champs?

Still, it’s the Battle Of Ohio, and this is a series where upsets have often happened before.  If the Browns want to make a statement that they are for real, this is a good place to do it.

Browns, Bean Dip, And Beer

IMG_5422Normally if I’m going to drink an alcoholic beverage, I prefer wine, but it just doesn’t go with NFL football — particularly when the Browns are moments away from playing their most important game in years.  So this afternoon it’s cold Yuengling lager, a hearty, grossly unhealthy, and soon-to-be piping hot bean dip that also features hamburger, pork, sour cream, lots of shredded cheese, and salsa, and some nacho chips.

Go Browns!  Beat the Bungles!

Welcome, Brownie!

Today the Cleveland Browns introduced a new, live-action mascot.  He is “Brownie, the Elf.”

IMG_5012A little elf has been a part of the Browns for as long as I can remember.  He’s usually pictured holding a football, wearing elfin shoes and an elfin hat and a self-satisfied smile on his face.  I’ve always like the little pointy-eared elf.  For a time, years ago, there was an effort to put the elf on the Browns helmets, but they decided to stick with the classic, plain orange helmets instead.

When the Browns came back into the NFL, and marketing requirements dictated that they have a mascot, they surprisingly did not go with the elf.  Instead, picking up on the “Dawgs” persona first developed during the ’80s, they introduced a large, upright dog wearing a uniform.  His name is “Chomps.”  I think Chomps sucks.  He’s a generic, fuzzy mascot that could be the mascot for virtually any major or minor league team.

So, I was happy when I saw “Brownie, the Elf” today.  And, not coincidentally, the Browns actually played like a football team today.  It was a pleasure to sit in a cheering stadium and watch the Browns grind down the Cincinnati Bengals on a 90-yard drive in the fourth quarter to put the game away.  It’s one of the best games the Browns have played against a quality opponent in years.  Even the presence of Chomps didn’t ruin the day.

I’m giving the credit for today’s win to the team, of course, but also to Brownie, the Elf.  The more the Browns get back to their roots, the better off they will be.

Who Do I Hate The Most?

Surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns won’t be competing in the NFL playoffs this year.  Instead, the other three teams in the Browns’ division — the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers — will be vying for the coveted division title and playoff spots.  These three teams are division rivals we play twice a year, so we hate all of them.  But a legitimate question for Browns fans is:  which of these teams do I hate the most?  For me, the answer is easy.’s not the Bengals.  Sure, the upstart Cincinnati team shares the same state and stole the Browns’ colors when the Bengals franchise starts more than 40 years ago, but to be honest the Bengals really aren’t worthy of being despised.  For much of their history, the Bengals have been even more inept than the Browns, and that’s saying something.  Sure, the Bengals have been to two Super Bowls and the Browns have never been to even one (sob!), but the Bengals always come across as pass-happy, gimmicky glory boys rather than tough guys willing to slug it out in the AFC’s most rugged division.  The fact that the Bengals fans consist largely of front-runners who don’t bother with going to games when the team stinks makes the Bengals more worthy of contempt than hatred.

It’s not the Steelers, either.  You’d think Browns fans would hate the Steelers with every fiber of their being, given the Steelers’ many Super Bowl wins.  Many Browns fans give the pretense of hating the Steelers — but scratch that outward enmity and underneath you’re likely to find a deep reservoir of grudging respect.  It’s hard to hate those whom you’d like to emulate.  Browns fans want the Browns to be the Steelers, because in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s the Browns were the Steelers — they were the stable franchise, well managed and thoughtfully run, that found great players, ran a great scheme, and regularly appeared in championship games and brought banners back to Municipal Stadium.  The Steelers stole that mantle in the ’70s and have kept it since, and the Browns fans want it back.  In the meantime, we’ll secretly root for the Steelers because we all feel that they play football the way it should be played. leaves the Ravens, and they are truly the team that I hate the most.  I hate them because, of course, they used to be the Browns, before the despicable Art Modell took the team away from the city and the fans that loved it — all for the sake of money.  I hate them because their new name sucks, they’ve had success in Baltimore, and they’ve won a Super Bowl that should rightfully have been Cleveland’s.  I hate their loudmouth, show-boating players who mug for the cameras and have forsaken the quiet classiness that used to define professional athletes.  The Ravens’ consistent winning ways confirms that no benevolent, sports-loving deity intervenes in games to reward goodness or promote fairness; instead, only capricious and mean-spirited gods could possibly favor the awful Ravens.  I despise the Ravens, and I rail at the fates that conspire to put them in the playoffs year after year, while the Browns wallow in seasons of embarrassment, failure, and futility.

The Browns, And The Horror

If you wanted to encapsulate all of the awfulness, and the futility, and the anguish of being a Browns fan in one contest, today’s putrid loss against the woeful Cincinnati Bengals in a pelting rainstorm would be a good way to do it.

We Browns fans have seen this before — and not just because, for the 12th time in 13 years, the Browns have gagged away their season opener.  Once again, the Browns failed to show the toughness and killer instinct to put the game away when they had the Bengals on the ropes.  Once again, the Browns lost the lead in the fourth quarter against a team that they should have beaten and then failed miserably in their attempt to mount their own two-minute drive.   Once again, there were crucial breakdowns that led to plays that made the Browns look like an uncoached pee wee team from Finland being introduced to American football for the very first time.

It is all so tiresome, so embarrassing, and so predictable.  The players change, the coaches change, and the front office officials change, but the horror of being a Browns fan goes on, and on, and on.

It’s Time For The Browns To Win Their Season Opener

Since the Browns came back into the NFL in 1999, their record in the first game of the season has been stunningly awful.

In 12 years, the Browns have won their season opener precisely once — beating Baltimore 20-3 in 2004.  In the other years, they’ve lost in every conceivable way.  They’ve lost to good teams and bad teams.  They’ve gotten creamed and they’ve lost 9-6 defensive battles.  They even lost when Dwayne Rudd was penalized for removing his helmet on the last play of the game.  With astonishing, soul-deadening consistency, the old Browns and new Browns have produced the same result.  The season starts with a dispiriting 0-1 record, the team is in a hole, and they never seem to be able to fully claw their way out of it.  It’s no wonder the team has made the playoffs only once in those 12 years.

This year, the Browns need to find a way to somehow win their first game, against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Beating the Bengals is not an impossible dream.  In fact, if the Browns really are heading in the right direction, the game against the Bengals is a game that they should — really, they must — win.

With Mike Holmgren fully  at the helm of the franchise, a new head coach in Pat Shurmur and a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes, exciting players like Peyton Hillis, Colt McCoy, and Josh Cribbs, and a roster stocked with younger players, it is time for the Browns to start slaying the ghosts and demons that have tormented this star-crossed franchise since its return to the league.  It can be done.  For years, the Browns could not win at Three Rivers Stadium — until suddenly, under Marty Schottenheimer and Bernie Kosar, they could.  On Sunday, it is time for this Browns team, too, to start turning things around.

The Battle Of Ohio

Tomorrow the Cleveland Browns play the Bengals in Cincinnati.  The game is called the Battle of Ohio, but this year it is little more than a mild skirmish.  The Browns are mediocre at best, and the Bengals are downright terrible.  There is so little interest in Cincinnati that the game isn’t even a sellout and will be blacked out.  How pathetic — a rivalry game that isn’t even a sellout!

As disappointing as the Browns’ season has been, the Bengals’ has been disastrous.  Their fans thought the Bengals would be a playoff team and perhaps a Super Bowl contender.  Instead, they are awful.  At 2-11, the Bengals have the worst record in the AFC.  They’ve lost 10 games in a  row, their offense is mediocre, their running game is terrible, and their defense has given up yards and points by the truckload.  The team is riddled with dissension, and the bland head coach, Marvin Lewis, presumably is on his way out at the end of the year.

Secretly, every Browns fan is not surprised by what has happened to the Bengals this year.  Most Browns fans have always viewed the Bengals as the gloryhound flyboys who lack the character and toughness to win.  When challenges arise, they fold up and then start fighting amongst themselves.  Cleveland fans like traditional football, where a solid running game and a tough defense are the foundations for success.  The Bengals always seem to go for easy yards through the air and offensive gimmicks — Sam Wyche was famous for them — and they haven’t fielded a strong defense for decades.  Even worse, their fans are of the fair-weather variety, which is why tomorrow’s game isn’t a sellout.

I’m hoping that Colt McCoy returns to the lineup tomorrow, and that the Browns go back to an offense that is less predictable and more instructive about the team’s future. Let’s give McCoy the opportunity to use the full offensive playbook.  Let’s see if our wideouts can make tough catches and beat defenses deep.  And while the Browns will want to use Peyton Hillis, let’s see if the other running backs can move the ball on the ground.  On defense, let’s focus on shutting out Chad Ochocinco, an overrated loudmouth whose reputation is built mainly on marketing and easy catches.  I’d like to see the Browns thump the Bengals physically.  Those crybaby quitters from the south, and their fans who won’t even come out to support the team, deserve nothing less.

No Quitters Here

The Browns play today in Cleveland against the Carolina Panthers.  The Browns stand at 3-7, the Panthers are 1-9.

This is the time of the NFL season where some teams are still in it, and some teams are out of it.  The Browns and the Panthers are in the latter category.  Some teams in the “out of it” category just quit.  Our neighbors to the south, the Cincinnati Bengals, are a good example.  The Bengals started the season with high hopes and have been putrid.  The team appears to be riddled with dissension, the coach is on his way out, and the players look like they have given up.  If I were a Bengals fan, I would be furious and embarrassed.

Last year the Browns did not quit, even after a string of early losses eliminated them from playoff contention.  It was a tribute to their coaching and the professionalism of the players.  We will see if, this year, Coach Eric Mangini can work the same magic.  Unfortunately, the Browns will be without the enthusiastic play of quarterback Colt McCoy, who is out with a high ankle sprain, and instead will turn to the aged Jake Delhomme.  I’m hoping the Browns can get back on the winning track against a dismal Carolina team.  Even if the playoffs are out of reach this year — and it certainly looks that way — I want to see some character and grit.  The Browns need to show that they aren’t the Bengals.

The Browns (Finally) Win One

I’m happy to see that the Browns got off the schneid yesterday.  They won their first game of the season, beating the Bengals at home 23-20.  As they have done every game this season, the Browns got a lead, but this time they managed to hold on for the win after Cincinnati came roaring back.  When crunch time came, the defense got some pressure on Carson Palmer and forced a punt, and the offense — led by the stout running of Peyton Hillis — got a crucial first down and ran out the clock for the win.

We shouldn’t get carried away with yesterday’s result.  After all, the Browns are 1-3.  From what I’ve seen of their games this year — and the Columbus CBS affiliate has twice shown the Bengals rather than the Browns when their games have aired at the same time — the Browns aren’t going to score points in bunches, and they are prone to getting burned through the air.  Even more irritating, they seem to commit dumb penalties at key points in the game, like yesterday’s unnecessary roughness infraction that allowed Cincinnati to get a late TD.  Still, a win is a win.

When you are 0-3, your principal goal is not to be 0-4.  The Browns accomplished that goal.  Four other NFL teams didn’t.  Next week Atlanta comes to town, and the Browns will be working to keep the ball rolling.