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?

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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.